SAVANNAH, Ga. (AP) — A biracial man charged with murder in the shooting of a 17-year-old white girl on a Georgia highway says he fired in self-defense after her friends in a pickup truck yelled racial slurs and tried to run his car off the road.
Marc Wilson, 21, of Sharpsburg has been jailed since mid-June on charges of felony murder and aggravated assault. Haley Hutcheson of Reidsville died June 14 at a hospital after she was shot on the bypass that circles Statesboro in southeast Georgia.
A Superior Court judge Tuesday postponed a preliminary hearing for Wilson and imposed a gag order in the case the day after defense lawyers in the case held a news conference to give Wilson’s side of the story.
Attorney Francys Johnson told reporters Wilson, the son of a Black father and white mother, and his white girlfriend had just picked up food from a Taco Bell at about 12:30 a.m. when a pickup truck pulled alongside Wilson’s much smaller Ford Focus.
Johnson said young white men were “hanging out of the window, waving their arms” as they yelled racial slurs at the couple and shouted “your lives don’t matter.” He said the pickup’s driver tried to run Wilson off the road and some type of object struck Wilson’s car before Wilson fired his gun.
“Marc Wilson stood his ground, he shot back, he defended his life,” Johnson said. He said that if Wilson had been a white man defending himself against Black antagonists “he would have been given a medal and not given a prosecution.”
The Rev. James Woodall, president of the Georgia NAACP, said he also fears that Georgia self-defense laws, which allow people to use deadly force when facing grave and imminent threats, haven’t been applied in Wilson’s case because of his race.
“If Black people cannot stand their ground as well, then nobody should be able to,” Woodall said.
During a news conference at Statesboro police headquarters two days after the shooting, weeping relatives described Hutcheson as a loving, opinionated teenager who would start her junior year of high school in the fall. They pleaded for witnesses to come forward.
“There can be mercy. There can forgiveness,” the slain girl’s uncle, Brent Holcombe, told reporters. “But justice has to be served.”
Wilson was arrested the following day.
Statesboro police have released little information on the case. An incident report says that Hutcheson was shot in a “possible drive-by shooting,” but gives no other details.
Records show that after the shooting, police charged 18-year-old Luke Harry Conley, who was in the pickup truck with Hutcheson, with misdemeanor obstruction of a law enforcement officer. The police report doesn’t say why he was charged.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported it obtained investigative documents from Statesboro police that said Conley told police the shooting was unprovoked, but investigators later found out Conley was seen yelling out of the truck’s window before the shooting and that someone in the pickup truck may have thrown a beer can at Wilson’s car.
The police documents also said those in the truck described hearing two or more gunshots before a bullet hit Hutcheson in the head, the newspaper reported.
Statesboro police Capt. Jared Akins declined to discuss the case Tuesday, citing the judge’s gag order. Akins said investigative documents the Atlanta newspaper received were not public records and got released by mistake. He declined to give copies to The Associated Press.
Johnson said Wilson turned himself in to police soon after the shooting and told them he fired his gun fearing for his life, but was arrested anyway. He tried to contrast Wilson’s treatment by police with that of the white father and son who pursued and shot an unarmed Ahmaud Arbery in February after spotting the young Black man running in their neighborhood in coastal Georgia.
Gregory McMichael told police his son, Travis McMichael, killed Arbery with a shotgun after Arbery attacked him. The McMichaels remained free for more than two months. However, both men have been jailed on murder charges since their arrests May 7 after the Georgia Bureau of Investigation took over the case.