Jury finds Fort Valley man guilty of murder in co-worker’s death

bpurser@macon.comJuly 12, 2013 

PERRY -- A Houston County jury found a Fort Valley man guilty of felony murder Friday in the 2012 slaying of his co-worker, who died after the men fought.

Robert Lee Gill was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole by Superior Court Judge Katherine K. Lumsden. Gill, who had three prior felony convictions, was sentenced under the state’s recidivist law, which automatically resulted in the maximum penalty for felony murder.

Jurors deliberated about three hours before also finding Gill guilty of aggravated battery and aggravated assault in the June 18, 2012, incident. Terry Lynn Carson, 41, of Hawkinsville, died two days after the fight from his injuries. Felony murder is when someone dies in the commission of another felony such as aggravated assault or aggravated battery.

Gill was found not guilty of malice murder, which is the intentional killing of another. The sentencing hearing was held immediately after the verdict in the three-day trial.

Daniel P. Bibler, Houston County’s deputy chief assistant district attorney, told the judge that Carson’s family was “too distraught” to address the court during sentencing. He noted that Carson’s widow had experienced financial difficulties since his death.

Gill’s mother, Ellean Rumph, told the judge through tears that she was sorry for what happened. She noted that Gill was her only child.

“I know my son was protecting himself,” she said. “I’m sorry Terry died.”

Gill told the Carson family assembled in the courtroom, the judge, the attorneys and others present that he was sorry for what happened.

“I want them to know that,” Gill said as he turned to look at Carson’s family. “It was no intent to kill.”

The men worked for the same contracting company at Robins Air Force Base, and Gill shared earlier good times he had with Carson. Gill also noted that his last two felonies were 14 years ago. Gill had prior felony convictions of aggravated assault in 1999, of possession of cocaine in 1999 and of theft in 1991.

He said he didn’t think he deserved to go prison for the rest of his life for what happened.

Gill also said he hoped the Carson family will “find it in their hearts to forgive me.”

Charolet Carson, Carson’s widow, wiped away tears as she was leaving the courtroom, saying, “Thank God.”

Ashley Copeland, Carson’s stepdaughter, expressed thanks to all those who supported her family.

Prosecutors contended that Gill and Carson met up at Cascade International on Industrial Park Boulevard near the base to fight, and that Gill came up behind Carson after the men had stopped fighting to get in the last hit -- striking him in the head. Carson, whose head also hit the pavement as he fell to the ground, died from his injuries two days later.

But the defense countered that Gill met Carson at the parking lot to find out what his beef with him was and to diffuse the conflict, so he would not lose his job because of the “drama.”

Gill testified Thursday that he was in fear for his life and struck Carson with a 3-foot-long stick he picked up in the parking lot when Carson cocked back with an aluminum baseball bat to hit him another time.

“Of course, Mr. Carson’s family grieves for their loss, and Mr. Gill and his family are terrified by the mandatory sentence of life in prison,” Houston County Public Defender Nick White, who represented Gill, stated in an email. “The entire tragedy has been devastating to both families.

“I think Mr. Gill received a fair trial, and, while I disagree with it, I respect the jury’s right to make its verdict.”

Bibler, who prosecuted the case with Assistant District Attorney Clif Woody, said in a release issued after the trial, “We are pleased that the jury listened attentively to the evidence and held Mr. Gill accountable for the senseless death of Terry Carson.”

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