BRUNSWICK, Ga. — A jury reported being deadlocked Thursday on murder charges in the trial of a Georgia man charged with killing his father and seven others inside a mobile home they shared, and the trial judge ordered them to keep trying for a unanimous verdict.
It was the first sign of a potential mistrial in the trial of 26-year-old Guy Heinze Jr., who could face a death sentence if convicted of clubbing the eight victims to death. The jury of eight women and four men heard a full week of testimony before beginning deliberations Wednesday afternoon. They have been sequestered at a hotel, with no access to TVs or computers or cellphones, since Oct. 15.
The jury foreman told Glynn County Superior Court Judge Stephen Scarlett after lunch Thursday that the jury was split 9-3 on a verdict for Heinze. The judge instructed him not to say whether jurors were leaning toward conviction or acquittal. Scarlett then ordered them to go back to work.
Heinze was charged with the Aug. 29, 2009, slayings just outside the port city of Brunswick six days after he reported finding the bodies to police. In a frantic 911 call he cried: "My whole family is dead!"
The jury announced its deadlock after deliberating nearly 11 hours over two days. The foreman said jurors had agreed unanimously only on two drug possession charges against Heinze, who tested positive for marijuana, cocaine and a prescription painkiller in his system after the killings. He said jurors were divided on all eight murder counts plus one count of aggravated assault related to the beating of a small child who survived the attack.
The jurors' names have not been given in open court since the trial began. The judge has occasionally referred to individual jurors in court by first name or number.
Prosecutors said Heinze had been smoking crack cocaine when he attacked his father and the others in the dead of night as they slept. Police found the victims scattered between five rooms of the cramped mobile home. Autopsies showed they suffered more than 220 wounds combined and each died from skull and brain injuries. No murder weapon was found, but police suspect they were beaten with a shotgun barrel.
Heinze's defense team argued that one person couldn't have slain so many people without anyone escaping. Attorneys worked to persuade the jury that police ignored alternate suspects and evidence as they rushed to build a case against Heinze based entirely on circumstantial evidence.
Heinze's lawyers also said there was no compelling motive for him to kill his father, 45-year-old Guy Heinze Sr., and the others. Rusty Toler Jr., 44, was slain along with his four children: Chrissy Toler, 22; Russell D. Toler Jr., 20; Michael Toler, 19; and Michelle Toler, 15. Also killed was the elder Toler's sister, Brenda Gail Falagan, 49, and Joseph L. West, the 30-year-old boyfriend of Chrissy Toler. Her 3-year-old son, Byron Jimerson Jr., ended up the sole survivor but suffered severe head injuries.