Defense attorney warns against ‘rush to judgment’ in triple killing

Bryan Rhoden was denied bond during an appearance at a virtual bond hearing from the Cobb County Adult Detention Center. Pool photo: Ciara Cummings, CBS46.

Credit: Pool photo: Ciara Cummings, CBS46

Credit: Pool photo: Ciara Cummings, CBS46

Bryan Rhoden was denied bond during an appearance at a virtual bond hearing from the Cobb County Adult Detention Center. Pool photo: Ciara Cummings, CBS46.

A high-profile attorney for a triple-murder suspect on Sunday urged the public and the news media not to assume Bryan Rhoden is guilty of killing a Kennesaw golf pro and two other men.

“No rush to judgment can be justified in any case, least of all such as serious case as this one,” criminal defense attorney Bruce Harvey said. “Let’s leave the case to the courts, not the court of public opinion, to preserve as much as possible an untainted, impartial jury pool.”

Rhoden, 23, was arrested Thursday and charged with the July 3 shooting death of golf pro Gene Shiller, 46, at Kennesaw’s Pinetree Country Club. Rhoden is also charged with killing two others — 76-year-old Paul Pierson, from Kansas, and 46-year-old Henry Valdez, of California — who were found dead of gunshot wounds at the scene.

Gene Siller’s funeral service will be held at 11 a.m. Monday at Dunwoody United Methodist Church.

Credit: Family Photo

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Credit: Family Photo

Pierson’s and Valdez’s bodies were in the bed of Pierson’s pickup. Arrest warrants said the two men had been bound and gagged with tape.

On Sunday, Harvey — who has been in the thick of numerous high-profile cases, such as those involving Atlanta’s infamous Gold Club and former NFL star Ray Lewis — declined to comment on the murder charges.

“I will get to that in due course as long as we adhere to adjudicating cases in the courts and not in the media of any kind,” he said.

Defense attorneys Bruce Harvey (right) and Don Samuel listen to testimony during the murder trial against Claude "Tex" McIver in March 2018. ALYSSA POINTER/ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM

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But Harvey took aim at recent media reports of Rhoden’s prior arrests. This includes a case in 2016 when Rhoden was charged with shooting a 19-year-old at Georgia State University. Rhoden, then an 18-year-old student, was also shot in the chest following an attempted drug transaction, authorities said at the time.

The Fulton County District Attorney’s Office later declined to prosecute either party.

Rhoden has other alleged offenses pending against him, including simple battery and obstruction charges for a January 2020 encounter with police at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport. He was also arrested later that year when Atlanta police allegedly found 44 marijuana joints and $3,000 cash in his bag during a traffic stop.

Rhoden, an aspiring rapper, has not been convicted of those offenses, Harvey said Sunday.

“Under our system of law, any person accused of a crime is only to be held accountable for that alleged crime, not by character assassination or unproven allegations,” the lawyer said. “We have seen too many times recently the police assassinating the character of an innocent person who they killed.”

Harvey reminded the public that “we cling to that time-honored and tested foundation of the presumption of innocence. It surrounds us all and to diminish it diminishes us all.”

Except for the arrest warrants, authorities have disclosed little information about the golf course case. At a press conference on Thursday, Cobb police chief Tim Cox declined to discuss what led authorities to Rhoden after the shooting or to cite a possible motive.

In a statement released early last week, Cobb police said they believe Siller may have “happened upon a crime in progress” and was “killed because he witnessed an active crime taking place.” An agency spokesman said Thursday that most details related to the investigation would likely have to come out in court.

Also Sunday, Harvey criticized Cobb Magistrate Court Judge Don Hicks for holding a first appearance hearing for Rhoden on Friday without his attorneys being present. Harvey said he and co-counsel Stephen Katz had already filed papers with the court that said they were representing Rhoden, and Harvey said he showed up for the hearing not long after it ended.

At the hearing, which lasted just two minutes, Hicks said it was his understanding that Rhoden had retained lawyers. “Have you had a chance to talk to your counsel?” the judge asked

Rhoden said he had.

Cobb County Magistrate Court Judge Don Hicks, who presided over the first appearance hearing for Bryan Rhoden. (Cobb County Magistrate Court)

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“There are no attorneys present,” Hicks observed, with the hearing being held on a video feed with the judge in his chambers and Rhoden in a courtroom at the jail. “Have they agreed we can proceed with this with just talking to Mr. Rhoden directly?”

Hicks proceeded anyway, explaining to Rhoden it was a “somewhat informal hearing.” After Rhoden said he understood the charges against him, Hicks declined to set a bond and scheduled a formal bond hearing for July 27.

Siller’s funeral service is scheduled for 11 a.m. Monday at Dunwoody United Methodist Church, followed by a private burial. He lived in Cumming with his wife, Ashley, and their two sons, 7-year-old Beau and 5-year-old Banks.