A Georgia judge has sentenced a man convicted of killing his father and seven others inside the mobile home they shared. Guy Heinze Jr., 26, was found guilty of eight counts of malice murder. He was charged with the 2009 killings just days afterwards. The judge said shortly after the verdict that prosecutors agreed to drop the death penalty after a juror was dismissed. The last minute plea deal saved the trial from being declared a hung jury. The juror was replaced during the third day of deliberations with an alternate. Prosecutors would only say that there was a “situation” with the dismissed juror that contributed to a deadlock. A guilty verdict was delivered a few hours later.
Prosecutors said they believe Heinze beat each of the victims with a shotgun barrel late at night. They successfully argued to the jury that Heinze had been smoking crack cocaine and got into a fight with the first victim, whom he was trying to steal painkillers from. After killing them, he killed the others to avoid getting caught. The murder weapon was never found. Defense attorneys argued police ignored evidence and alternate suspects in a rush to judgment. They also argued that one assailant could not have possibly beaten all the victims to death. Heinze had told police he found the victims’ bodies after returning from a late night away from home. Under Georgia law, Heinze faced an automatic life in prison sentence without the death penalty “on the table”. The only thing Superior Court Judge Stephen Scarlett had to decide was whether the defendant would ever be eligible for parole. Ultimately, Heinze was sentenced to life without parole.
The victims were: Guy Heinze Sr., 45; Rusty Toler Sr., 44, his children: Chrissy Toler, 22; Russell D. Toler Jr., 20; Michael Toler, 19; and Michelle Toler, 15; Brenda Gail Falagan, 49 (Rusty Toler’s sister), and Joseph L. West, 30 (Chrissy Toler’s boyfriend). Chrissy Toler’s 3-year-old son, Byron Jimerson Jr., survived, but had severe injuries to his head. Heinze told police his father went to live with the elder Toler’s family when he was younger and that he considered Rusty Toler Sr. to be his uncle and his children his cousins.