A Black driver in Georgia accused of murder for what his lawyers say was a case of self-defense remained behind bars on after a judge on Tuesday issued a gag order and continued a preliminary hearing for an undetermined later date. The deadly episode in Statesboro presented a unique case centered on the state’s Stand Your Ground law, which many times claimed by white defendants who have killed Black people.
William Marcus (Marc) Wilson‘s defense team says their client was being chased last month by a pick-up truck carrying white people yelling racial slurs and threatening physical harm. One of Wilson’s lawyers previously said there is “evidence” that a “truckload of belligerent racists” had “attempted to run him off the road.” That was when Wilson used his legal firearm to shoot a “warning shot” that fatally hit one of the truck’s passengers. Wilson told police he was trying to defend himself but was still forced to turn himself in and ultimately got charged with one count of felony murder and one count of aggravated assault in the death of Haley Hutcheson, who was 17 years old.
A preliminary hearing was held in Statesboro on Tuesday but it was cut short after witnesses subpoenaed by Wilson’s lawyers announced they had tested positive for COVID-19 and would not be able to participate because of social distancing guidelines. Local news outlet WTOC reported that both the defense and prosecution had “a line of witnesses to testify why Marc Wilson should or should not be granted bond.” However, because the hearing in Bulloch County Superior Court was cut short and set to continue at another date, Wilson had to remain jailed.
The gag order issued by Judge Michael Muldrew was extensive and prohibits anyone involved in the case from doing things like discussing criminal histories of Wilson and his alleged assailants if any exist. However, Wilson’s lawyers have maintained that the police instantly criminalize their client and local press has offered sympathetic coverage to Hutcheson and cast the defendant as the villain despite the law being on his side.
Riding with Hutcheson inside the pick-up truck were Mason Edward Glisson, Luke Harry Conley and Ashton Robert Deloach, all 18. Francys Johnson, one of the attorneys representing Wilson, said in a press conference on Monday that four of them “have a reputation” in the area and that they were afforded special privileges by police.
The situation unfolded June 14 when Wilson and his girlfriend, who is white, 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.
Johnson 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 also 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.
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.”
It was unclear when Wilson’s next court date would be.