Police say Sampleton was bound and killed in his kitchen on Dec. 19, just minutes after he arrived home following early release from school for the holidays. The classmates are accused of targeting him because they coveted his expensive basketball shoes and electronics.
So far, only Larnell Sillah, 16, is charged with murder. The other two young men — Romaine Stewart, 18, and Achiel Morgan, 15 — are charged with armed robbery. Police say Stewart and Morgan helped plan the heist but did not participate in it.
Burglary charges also are pending against Sillah and Romaine for a September 2012 break-in at a house in the 1100 block of Stony Point in Grayson, which is in the neighborhood where the two teens lived, prosecutors said.
Police are continuing to investigate the burglary in hopes of finding the murder weapon. The handgun used to shoot Sampleton was .45 caliber, Whaley said.
A Sig Sauer .45-caliber handgun — along with other handguns, shotguns and assault rifles — was among a dozen firearms stolen from the home.
According to Whaley, Sillah’s and Stewart’s fingerprints were found on the window the thieves used to gain entry to the burglarized house. He also testified that Stewart, Sillah and another man offered to sell a confidential informant a .45-caliber handgun for $150 at around the time of the burglary. Stewart told the informant they obtained the gun in a robbery, Whaley said.
Sillah’s attorney, Tom West, was scheduled to argue a motion for bond Tuesday, but that hearing was delayed after he was disqualified over a conflict of interest.
Gwinnett County prosecutors voiced concerns that West had represented a man who may have arranged the sale of the gun. Superior Court Judge Debra Turner worried about West’s ability to conduct a “thorough and sifting” cross-examination of a former client. Prosecutors have said the alleged middleman for the gun sale, Hanad Abdul-Rahman, is likely to be called to testify at Sillah’s trial. Abdul-Rahman is being held on unrelated drug charges.
Sampleton’s mother attended the hearing but left hurriedly without speaking to reporters. Sillah’s mother, Natalee Hardie, said after the hearing that her son had been falsely accused and that police made a mistake in arresting him. She said that her son’s fingerprints were probably on the window of the burglarized home because he is friends with the homeowner’s teenage son.
“The child that got murdered, I feel for that mother,” Hardie said. “I cry every day for her. But if that was my child, I would want the right person to be prosecuted, not the wrong person.”