Fire chief’s son charged in highway killing will stay in jail

STATESBORO – In a case closely watched as a test of whether the state’s “stand your ground” law protects people of color, a Southeast Georgia judge refused bond Tuesday for a biracial man charged with killing a white teenager.

Bulloch County Superior Court Judge Michael Muldrew called 21-year-old William Marcus Wilson a “significant threat,” although Wilson, the son of Coweta County’s fire chief, has no prior criminal record. Muldrew also refused a request from Wilson’s attorneys to reduce the charges from murder and aggravated assault to reckless conduct causing bodily harm.

Wilson will remain jailed as he awaits indictment in the killing of Haley Hutcheson, a 17-year-old white girl shot in the back of the head June 14 on Statesboro’s bypass highway.

By Wilson’s account, after he and his white girlfriend had made a late-night run to Taco Bell, they were harassed in traffic by a group in a Chevrolet Silverado pickup, Wilson’s lead attorney said in a Zoom news conference last month before the judge had issued a gag order in the case.

The attorney, former NAACP Georgia President Francys Johnson, told reporters that Wilson saw males in the pickup hanging out the windows, yelling a racial slur at Wilson, calling his white girlfriend a “n‐‐‐‐‐ lover,” and screaming, “Your lives don’t matter.” He alleged the truck tried to run Wilson’s smaller Ford Fusion off the road, causing Wilson to fear for his and his girlfriend’s lives. Wilson heard something strike his car, so he fired a legally-possessed handgun at the truck, the attorney said.

One shot went through the truck’s back window, killing Hutcheson, who was riding in the center of the back seat.

In denying bond, the judge did not refer specifically to that news conference but pointed to public statements that were apparently “made for no other reason than to influence the public and to influence witnesses.”

Muldrew also pointed to threats the Hutcheson family has received through social media and emails, though no evidence presented at the hearing linked threats to Wilson or his family. Haley’s aunt testified that the family opposed bond and described threats from strangers to vandalize Haley’s grave and urinate and defecate on it.

Credit: WTOC-TV

Credit: WTOC-TV

It also didn’t help Wilson that his girlfriend at the time of the shooting didn’t testify on his behalf at Tuesday’s preliminary hearing. Her version of events came only through the testimony of a Statesboro police detective, Travis Kreun, who described interviewing her following an anonymous tip pointing to her and Wilson.

Kreun said the girlfriend told him that a pickup truck, whose driver seemed drunk, swerved like it was trying to run them off the road, with its passengers flipping them off. She said she did not hear any racial slurs, but she couldn’t have heard because of the sound from her window being rolled down. When Wilson pulled the gun out, she said she told him, “Don’t do that,” the detective testified. She said she thought that when Wilson fired, he shot at the ground.

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The detective said when he first talked to Wilson by phone, Wilson said that he and his girlfriend had encountered racism recently and that he heard “certain things I didn’t like” coming from the pickup. “Everything going on in this country, I’m not going to let me and my girl get run off the road,” Kreun quoted Wilson as telling him.

Judge Muldrew hearkened back to the girlfriend’s testimony just before denying bond.

“Quote, Marc got mad and pulled the gun and shot,” Muldrew said. “Mr. Wilson’s anger appears to have overtaken him.”

Credit: Bulloch County Sheriff's Office

Credit: Bulloch County Sheriff's Office

Wilson’s attorneys on Tuesday put two of the last people to see Haley alive on the stand. The 18-year-old driver of the pickup, Mason Glisson, testified that the three boys in the truck were drinking beer and the girls were drinking bottled Smirnoffs, but he did not see anyone taunting Wilson, yelling racial slurs or throwing anything at the car.

The defense also called Luke Conley, 18, who was riding in the back seat on the side facing the Ford Fusion. Police have charged Conley with obstruction in the case, which the detective explained Tuesday was for giving conflicting accounts on whether he saw someone he knew in the car.

Asked by one of Wilson’s attorneys if he yelled a racist slur at the car, or if he yelled “n----- lover,” or if he threw anything at the car, Conley responded to each question, “I plead the right to the Fifth Amendment.”

Credit: Evans County Sheriff's Office

Credit: Evans County Sheriff's Office

In unrelated cases, Conley has two other criminal cases pending against him in two counties.

In Evans County, Conley faces charges of felony criminal damage to property in the first degree and misdemeanor battery, stemming from a December melee in his yard in Claxton. In that incident, he and his friends allegedly beat a car with pipes and bats, then pulled another boy out of the car and beat him.

Five weeks before Hutcheson’s death, a Georgia State Patrol officer arrested Conley on drunk driving and hit and run charges in Statesboro.

Another teen who was in the Silverado the night of the killing, Ashton DeLoach, 18, also faces charges in the melee in Claxton. And Glisson was riding in the passenger seat when Conley was arrested for drunk driving.

Conley’s attorney, who accompanied him in court Tuesday, declined to comment about the prior charges.