Biracial student charged with murder says he was standing his ground

Defense attorneys say he wouldn’t face charges in killing of 17-year-old girl if he was white
William Marcus Wilson, 21, faces murder and aggravated assault charges in the June 14 killing of 17-year-old Haley Hutcheson in Statesboro. His legal team, however, says Hutcheson was in a vehicle with other teens who were shouting racial slurs at Wilson and trying to run his car off the road. SPECIAL

William Marcus Wilson, 21, faces murder and aggravated assault charges in the June 14 killing of 17-year-old Haley Hutcheson in Statesboro. His legal team, however, says Hutcheson was in a vehicle with other teens who were shouting racial slurs at Wilson and trying to run his car off the road. SPECIAL

The state NAACP and other civil rights activists say a homicide case pending in Southeast Georgia shows that the state's controversial "stand your ground" law doesn't apply equally to Black people.

William Marcus Wilson, a biracial, 21-year-old college student, faces felony murder and aggravated assault charges in the June 14 death of a white, 17-year-old high school student, Haley Hutcheson. In local news reports, his arrest mug shot has been juxtaposed with a photo of Hutcheson smiling and holding a small child, with Wilson portrayed as the culprit in a late-night highway shooting in Statesboro.

But Wilson’s lead defense attorney, former NAACP Georgia president Francys Johnson, said in a news conference Monday that his client fired at the other vehicle out of fear for his and his girlfriend’s lives.

After the two made a late-night run to Taco Bell, Johnson said, they were harassed in traffic by a group in a black Chevrolet Silverado. The attorney said that males in the pickup hung out the windows, yelling a racial slur at Wilson, calling his white girlfriend an “(n-word) lover,” and screaming, “Your lives don’t matter.” The Silverado then tried to run Wilson’s smaller Ford Fusion off the road, according to Johnson. When Wilson heard something strike his car, he shot at the truck, Johnson said.

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Twenty pages of investigative records on the case, released by the Statesboro Police Department and based mostly on accounts from passengers in the Silverado, describe two to three shots being fired, then a final bullet going through truck’s rear window and striking Hutcheson, who was in the center of the back seat, in the head. Hutcheson died later at East Georgia Regional Medical Center.

Wilson turned himself in to police on June 17 and has been held in the Bulloch County jail since then.

Pat and Amanda Wilson, the parents of 21-year-old Marc Wilson, spoke in a news conference Monday held via Zoom. Pat Wilson is Coweta County’s fire chief. JOHNNY EDWARDS / JREDWARDS@AJC.COM

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Johnson and other members of Wilson’s defense team expressed outrage Monday that police omitted the self-defense angle in their public statements about the case, accusing police of giving far more credibility to the accounts of the four white teens who were with Hutcheson in the pickup. The driver told police that he, the other two boys and two girls had all been drinking earlier.

Wilson and his girlfriend told police about the racial slurs and nearly being run off the road, the defense attorney said, but the investigative notes say little about their accounts other than that his girlfriend “admitted observing Wilson shoot in the direction of the black truck” and that Wilson “admitted to shooting ‘under’ the truck.”

“Make no mistake about it,” Johnson told reporters Monday in a Zoom meeting. “We believe that if Marc Wilson was a white gentlemen that night, accosted by a truckload of angry, belligerent, possibly drunk black men, and he used a legally-possessed firearm to defend himself and his passenger, that he would have been given a medal and not given a prosecution.”

Statesboro police, though, told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution last week that evidence including uninvolved eyewitness accounts pointed away from a “stand your ground” scenario, in which people in fear for their lives can legally respond with lethal force.

Lead investigator Capt. Jared Akins said if evidence had showed Wilson shot in self defense, that would have been discussed with the district attorney’s office. “At this point in time, what the evidence points us toward is that there was an altercation that led to a shooting, and that shooting led to her death,” Akins said. “And the shooting itself is an aggravated assault.”

Police would not elaborate on the nature of the altercation before the shooting.

“There are different people with different views of what happened, and who said what,” Statesboro Police Chief Mike Broadhead said. “I think it would be unfair to the defendant in this case for us to make comments that support or don’t support the statements that he made, or that other people made. Those things need to come out in the courtroom.”

However, one of the boys in the truck, Luke Harry Conley, 18, faces an obstruction charge in the case for apparently withholding information during the investigation and trying to influence his friends to do the same. Conley, who was sitting next to Hutcheson in the back seat, described the shooting as unprovoked, but a supplemental police report says that evidence suggested someone may have thrown a beer can at Wilson’s car.

“It is believed that Conley has involvement in the case,” the supplemental report says. “He was seen yelling out of a window of the victim vehicle just prior to the shooting.”

Conley did not respond to a message from the AJC.

Georgia NAACP state president James Woodall said in the same news conference that the case is “shaping up to be a public lynching.”

Johnson, the defense attorney, compared the handling of case against Wilson with that of the case against the men accused of the fatal shooting of a Black jogger in Glynn County in February.

“That’s the test – whether the metes and bounds of ‘stand your ground’ will matter for Marc Wilson, like they were purported to matter for the killers of Ahmaud Arbery,” Johnson said. “Remember, they were able to cloak themselves in ‘stand your ground’ and self-defense claims and avoided arrest for more than 72 days, even though there was video evidence to contradict them.”

Another of Wilson’s lawyers, Decatur attorney Mawuli Davis, said police should have charged the occupants of other other vehicle with aggravated assault and for causing Hutcheson’s death.

Wilson, whose father, Pat Wilson, is Coweta County’s fire chief, has a bond hearing Tuesday, and his parents said they hope to bring him home.

“As a mother, I know that it must be very hard what the Hutcheson family has had to go through,” Amanda Wilson said, “but I know that had the roles been reversed, and Marc not reacted the way he did, we would be mourning the loss of two lives instead of one. And it would be his and his girlfriend, and we would have never known what really happened that night.”