A Black driver jailed after fatally shooting at a “truckload of belligerent racists” trying to run him off the road should be held to the same legal standards as white defendants who cite Georgia’s Stand Your Ground laws, defense attorneys said on Monday. Lawyers representing William Marcus (Marc) Wilson hosted a virtual press conference to publicize the weeks-old case in the town of Statesboro one day ahead of a preliminary hearing in the case.
The 21-year-old college student was charged last month with one count of felony murder and one count of aggravated assault in the death of Haley Hutcheson, a 17-year-old inside the pursuing truck that defense lawyers say carried white people yelling racial slurs at Wilson and his girlfriend, who is white. But Wilson is legally allowed to carry the weapon he used to defend himself, his lawyers said, and should never have been charged in what they described as an unfortunate consequence.
The situation unfolded June 14 when Wilson and his girlfriend went for a late-night drive to Taco Bell. After getting their food, they say a truck began following them with its occupants yelling racial slurs and trying to run them off the road. The truck was allegedly playing music from “The Purge,” a movie about the one lawless night every year when vigilantes are all but encouraged to go wild with violence. Believing his life was in danger, he “fired off a warning shot” that struck Hutcheson, according to an online petition demanding Wilson be freed from the Bulloch County Detention Center.
“Marc Wilson and the occupant — his girlfriend — were in sheer terror that night,” Francys Johnson, a civil rights attorney based in Georgia, said during the press conference. “They expressed that to law enforcement … We think evidence will show that what Marc confronted was ‘a Black man’s worst nightmare.'”
When asked how he could be sure the incident was “racially motivated,” Johnson scoffed at that choice of language and said the people inside the car chasing Wilson were “yelling phrases like ‘nigger,’ ‘your lives don’t matter’ and called his girlfriend a ‘nigger lover.'”
He declined to comment when asked how many times Wilson shot his gun.
Johnson said the Statesboro Police Department mismanaged the case from the start by immediately criminalizing Wilson despite state laws that should afford him his freedom. It is the same law, they said, that delayed arresting Ahmaud Arbery‘s killers for more than two months and also the same law that allowed George Zimmerman to be acquitted of killing Trayvon Martin in 2012.
“Marc Wilson and his girlfriend were not believed. Instead, they were treated like criminals. They were criminalized from the very moment this case began,” Johnson said. “They’ve been maligned with misleading statements from the community to suggest that they’re members of Antifa.”
As of Monday, the people inside the truck chasing Wilson have not been arrested and Johnson said the truck involved was never even impounded, let alone inspected. He said the people in the truck are “known in Claxton,” a nearby city. “They have a reputation,” he added without elaborating.
Lawyers said they were reviewing closed-circuit security video footage from nearby businesses that night. However, while “portions” were able to be recorded, the alleged chase and the shooting took place in an area without any surveillance cameras.
Johnson said the police arrested the wrong person and that Wilson was not to blame for being a victim of a racist circumstance that he legally defended himself from to unfortunate results.
“The people in the truck should have been charged with felony aggravated assault and charged with the death of the passenger in their vehicle,” he said.
Mawuli Davis, one of the other lawyers representing Wilson, agreed that the case “shouldn’t have been handled the way that it was” and that “there should be no charges against him.”
Other lawyers on Wilson’s legal team include trial attorneys Martha Hall, Gary Spencer and Nefertara Clark. Johnson started a GoFundMe campaign to help pay for legal fees. As of Monday night, the amount donated had not crossed the halfway point of its goal of $25,000.
The Georgia NAACP state president, who also spoke during the press conference, said there is a lack of due process for Black people in America and cited what he said were inaccurate reports about Wilson that criminalized him from the start.
“He was the one who was literally defending his and his girlfriend’s lives,” James “Major” Woodall said. “Black people’s lives are not as important and valued under the law.”
Wilson’s parents also joined the press conference. His father stressed how he and his wife taught their son to trust law enforcement. But after seeing how police responded to the case, “I believe that trust has been broken,” Pat Wilson said.
“To know that he has been labeled, he has been pictured as someone that is part of terror, is so disheartening,” he added. “I know this young man has been about love, about peace. He did all he could to make a difference to save not only his life, but he was more concerned with her life.”
Wilson’s mother, who is white, suggested her son and girlfriend would have been lynched to death had he not used his legal firearm to defend himself.
“Had the roles been reversed and Marc not reacted the way he did, we’d be mourning two lives instead of one and we may not have ever known what happened that night.”