Conflicting testimony marks first day of Houston trial in 2-by-4 killing

bpurser@macon.comJuly 10, 2013 

Gill_Trial

Robert Gill confers with his attorneys at the Houston County Courthouse Wednesday at the start of his murder trial where he is accused of killing a fellow Robins Air Force Base contract worker.

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PERRY -- Jurors heard opening statements and conflicting testimony Wednesday in the trial of a Fort Valley man accused of striking a co-worker with a piece of wood that resulted in his death.

Robert Lee Gill is on trial in Houston County Superior Court on charges of malice murder, felony murder, aggravated battery and aggravated assault in the June 18, 2012, death of Terry Lynn Carson. Both were contract workers for the same company at Robins Air Force Base.

Gill, who has pleaded not guilty, is accused of beating Carson in the head with a 2-by-4 as well as kicking him in the head, according to the indictment.

Gill and Carson got into an argument at work that carried over into a physical fight in the parking lot of Cascade International on Industrial Park Boulevard not far from the base. Exactly what happened next depends on who you ask.

Two versions of events

Houston County Assistant District Attorney Clif Woody told jurors they could expect to hear different versions of events.

In version one, the men squared off in the parking lot to settle the dispute, Woody said. Carson had a bat, and Gill had “a board or big stick,” Woody said.

They exchanged blows, apparently each had enough, and the bat and stick were thrown down, Woody said. But then Gill came from behind Carson’s truck, struck him in the head and kicked him after he’d fallen on the ground in a critical state, Woody said.

In version two, Carson gets out of his truck with a baseball bat and strikes Gill on the arm, Woody said. After the fight, each goes back to his truck, and Gill comes back around Carson’s truck and strikes him in the back of the head, Woody said.

“You can believe one side or the other ... but when it comes to taking the evidence and applying it to the law, it doesn’t matter,” Woody said.

In either version, Gill is guilty of the charges against him, Woody said.

But Houston County Public Defender Nick White, who is representing Gill, told jurors he takes exception to the prosecution’s position that “the evidence doesn’t matter.”

Unlike a civil case in which jurors weigh both sides and make a determination, White said, the burden of proof is on the prosecution. He told jurors that prosecutors have to prove their case not on a preponderance of evidence but beyond a reasonable doubt.

“If you have a doubt that is reasonable ... that is the doubt of acquittal,” White told jurors.

White said his job is to put a spotlight on cracks and holes in the state’s case.

“The facts will reveal themselves,” White said.

White also told jurors he was confident that once the trial is all laid out, jurors would find Gill not guilty.

Witnesses recall fight

Amid the conflicting testimony was a common story of an ongoing dispute between Carson and Gill.

The day of the incident, the men had left work in a heated argument, which continued as they drove side by side in their trucks cursing and yelling at each other, according to testimony from other men who went to the parking lot on behalf of Carson or Gill. The argument escalated at the parking lot.

Chris Copeland testified that Gill “pulled out a stick or piece of wood or whatever” and came at Carson, Copeland’s stepfather. That’s when Copeland said he threw his stepfather a bat.

The men had stopped fighting when Gill came around the back of Carson’s truck and struck him in the back of the head, Copeland testified.

Copeland also told jurors that Gill told him to “tell Terry he was sorry, and he’d pay for the hospital bills.”

Richard White, who characterized Carson as his “boss man,” testified that the men had stopped fighting with the bat and the stick, and he thought everyone was leaving when he looked in his rearview mirror and saw the other men converge on Carson.

White told jurors he saw Gill strike Carson in the back of the head. Attorney Nick White, no relation, questioned him about why he left that allegation out of his videotaped statement that night to police.

Antwan Jolley testified that he saw the men’s trucks at the parking lot and arrived to see Carson chasing Gill with a baseball bat and Gill bracing for blows with his arm. He said he attempted to stop the fight, and Carson told him not to interfere. Then Gill came around the truck at Carson.

“He hit him across the face with a stick, and he fell back and hit his head on the concrete,” Jolley said.

Jolley said the fight was “one-on-one” between Gill and Carson.

An orthopedic surgeon testified that a wrist injury suffered by Gill the day of the incident could be consistent with blunt force trauma delivered by a baseball bat.

A Warner Robins police officer testified that he was able to talk to Carson before his death. He said Carson had no recollection of what had occurred but was aware he was receiving medical treatment. Carson wanted police to prosecute whoever hurt him, the officer said.

Testimony is expected to continue Thursday in the second day of what is expected to be a two-to-three-day trial. Judge Katherine K. Lumsden is presiding.

To contact writer Becky Purser, call 256-9559.

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