COVINGTON - Two men accused in the shooting death of Rufus Tony Richardson were found guilty of the crime Friday afternoon in Newton County Superior Court.
The jury quickly returned a guilty verdict against the defendants, Christopher Jarrell Rozier, 20, and Xavier Damone Dyer, 19, on charges of murder, aggravated assault, sale of cocaine and possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony.
A third co-defendant in the case, Willie Dyer, who is the cousin of Xavier Dyer, was acquitted on all charges by the jury.
The body of Richardson, 55, was found on the side of a dirt road near Ga. Highway 162 last January. He had been shot six times, including twice in the face.
Authorities say the plot to murder Richardson was hatched because Rozier, Xavier Dyer and an alleged co-conspirator in the case, Liberty Harris, 38, believed he was working as a confidential police informant.
Harris allegedly came up with an idea to kill the victim by providing him with crack cocaine laced with rat poison.
Xavier Dyer, also known as "Pretty Boy," and Rozier, also known as "Big Boy," received the sale of cocaine charge after they were involved in drug deal with a confidential informant, who was working with agents from the East Metro Drug Enforcement Team, subsequent to the murder investigation.
Prior to turning the case over to the jury for deliberation, attorneys on both sides presented their closing arguments Friday morning.
Assistant Public Defender Teri Smith, who represented Willie Dyer in the case, told the jury that the majority of the witnesses who were called to testify never even mentioned her client and that those who did were either untrustworthy or failed to implicate him in the crime.
"You haven't heard much from me because ... the evidence in this case does not implicate Willie Dyer," she said. The jury apparently agreed with that assessment.
Smith also reiterated to the jury that there was no motive or physical evidence to tie her client to the shooting.
"There's no way you can look at the evidence in this case and say that your mind is not wavering, unsettled or unsatisfied," she said.
Rozier's attorney, Andre Sailers, repeated his opening statement to the jury telling them that his client wasn't guilty because "everything out of the mouth of a liar is doubtful."
Sailers also asked the members of the jury not to rush in their process to reach a verdict and to give Rozier a fair trial.
"Chris Rozier has been waiting a year and a month to show you he's innocent," Sailers told the jury. "What the state has given you is a case full of holes, a case full of doubt."
Sailers said that there was no murder weapon, fingerprint evidence or blood evidence to tie his client to the crime and questioned the credibility of the physical evidence that was collected by investigators.
"Police are human beings. They do what they can to make cases," he said. "Not all police are good police. They're trying to convict my client with this made up stuff."
Sailers insinuated shell casings found in the backyard of Rozier's residence may have been planted there due to the configuration of the area where they were found.
Bernadette Davy, a firearms examiner with the Georgia Bureau of Investigation Crime Lab, testified on Wednesday that eight 9 mm shell casings, six of which were found at the crime scene and two of which were found in the yard at Rozier's home, were fired from the same firearm.
Xavier Dyer's attorney, Lee Sexton, told the jury that if they disregarded the questionable testimony of several of the state's witnesses, that their case against his client essentially came down to a hat that was found in a trash can at the home of his parents during the execution of a search warrant.
The state contends that the hat was one worn by the victim, but Sexton says that since the state never tested it for DNA evidence, that they can't prove that it was.
"That's probably the most important thing that needed to be done in this case," he told the jury.
Furthermore, Sexton pointed out to the jury that Xavier Dyer's father, Ronald Dyer, testified that he received three of the hats like the one said to be worn by Richardson when he purchased a car from Peach State Auto Auction in Loganville.
Sexton also asked the members of the jury to make a list of their doubts about the case during their deliberations.
"If there is one reasonable doubt in this case ... It is your duty to acquit," he said.
Assistant District Attorney Melanie McCrorey took exception to several of the defense attorney's characterization of Harris as being the state's "star witness."
"If Liberty Harris was all we had, we wouldn't be here," McCrorey told the jury.
Harris' contradictory testimony, which was heard on Tuesday, was granted immunity by Judge Horace Johnson Jr. in the case, meaning that what she testified to against the three defendants could not be used against her at her own trial. She still stands charged with murder and aggravated assault in connection with Richardson's death.
McCrorey said that the state's true star witnesses, were the experts who testified about the case's physical evidence.
"They corroborate the few kernels of truth you can pull out of Liberty Harris," she said. "You should have no reasonable doubt left in your mind."
McCrorey also blasted Sailers' insinuation that law enforcement may have planted evidence in the case.
"It is offensive to come into this court without a scintilla of evidence and accuse law enforcement of planting evidence!" she declared. "They were going to throw away 122 years of experience and training for this. It's offensive!"
The prosecutor said that not only would you have to believe that they would have planted the shell casings, but that you would also have to believe they had the murder weapon, due to the testimony of Davy, who said that all the shell casings were fired from the same firearm.
"This case is not about police planting evidence, this case is not about crackheads, this case is about this man (Richardson)," she said. "He had people who loved him."
McCrorey proceeded to show the jury pictures of Richardson's body and the mud that was on his pants near the knees.
"He's on his knees ... they show him no mercy because he's a crackhead who's crossed them. And like the nothing they think he is, they leave him in the bushes," she stated. "Justice in this case, justice for this community, justice for this man holds that you find them guilty and call them what they are, cold-blooded murderers."
According to McCrorey, Rozier and Xavier Dyer will be sentenced Feb. 28. Willie Dyer was expected to be released from the county detention center Friday evening.
Joel Griffin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.