When Justin Wingate left his godfather’s house a year ago, he had thousands of dollars in cash and told his friends, “I did what I had to do.”
Handcuffed and dressed in an orange Bibb County jail jumpsuit, 19-year-old Shantia J. Horton, of Decatur, testified Wednesday that Wingate had asked her to drive him to Macon to get money from his godfather’s house, and her understanding was that the godfather, Wilkins, would not be home.
Horton said she was in the car when Wingate counted out a large amount of money and handed cash to her boyfriend, 20-year-old Tavion Simms, as well as 19-year-old Adrian Jamar Sparrow. He gave her $3,000 in $100 bills.
She said she didn’t ask questions about the money and didn’t know that 58-year-old Michael Wilkins was dead until days later.
Jurors deliberated for about an hour Wednesday before finding Wingate, 20, guilty of murder and armed robbery in Wilkins’ Jan. 23, 2010, shooting death, said prosecutor Nancy Scott Malcor. Wingate, of Dekalb County, will be sentenced Thursday.
Wilkins was fatally shot at his home on Springwood Drive near Northeast High School. In exchange for Horton’s testimony in the trials of Wingate, Simms and Sparrow, prosecutors will recommend that Horton be sentenced to 13 years in prison and seven years on probation on a robbery by force charge. The murder charge and a pending drug charge will be dismissed.
Ted Johnson, Wingate’s attorney, has said that no evidence would be presented during the trial about the gun, DNA or an eyewitness to the killing.
He said there’s evidence that a neighbor saw someone other than Wingate driving Wilkins’ truck on the day after his death.
“Justin Wingate would not have to take, rob, pilfer or murder,” Johnson told the jury during opening statements Tuesday. “Mr. Wilkins would give it to him. He didn’t have to take it.”
The prosecution also called Simms to the witness stand Wednesday, but he refused to answer questions.
Chief Judge Martha Christian charged Simms with 30 counts of contempt and sentenced him to 600 days in the Bibb County jail and a $5,000 fine.
Simms and Sparrow were ordered to testify in the case in exchange for an agreement that the prosecution wouldn’t use their testimony against them at their own trials.
Sparrow testified Tuesday that he, Simms and Horton traveled to Macon with Wingate to get money from Wilkins because Wingate had just celebrated his 19th birthday.
He said Wingate went into Wilkins’ home alone. When Wingate returned to the car, Wilkins stood at the door and waved at the group as they left.
Sparrow admitted that police found about $1,800 in cash on him when he was questioned in Atlanta.
He explained that he had the money Wingate had given him, and that his mother had given him money from her tax refund.
Horace Wilkins testified Tuesday that his brother had converted his 401(k) retirement account into cash after growing concerned about the stock market, and that kept a large amount of cash in a safe at his home.
Macon police Sgt. Wilton Collins said the safe was open and empty when police arrived. There was no sign that the safe had been forced open.
Hull said Wingate knew Wilkins kept a great deal of cash at his home. Police found Wingate with a large amount of cash when he was arrested Jan. 27, 2010.
A co-worker spoke with Wilkins on the phone Jan. 23. The phone call was the last time anyone heard from Wilkins before police discovered his body Jan. 25, Hull said.
“He told me his godson was there” and said he’d call me back, Denise Collier testified Tuesday.
Information from Telegraph archives was used in this report. To contact writer Amy Leigh Womack, call 744-4398.