Sylvester Harden Jr. had been dead three hours when one of the people accused of beating and pistol whipping him got the news.
The scene played out early Friday afternoon in a small courtroom at the Bibb County jail, three blocks from the hospital where Harden died at 10:30 a.m.
Suspect Seymour Passard stood still, hands behind his back, when a magistrate judge mentioned that the charges against Passard had changed.
“The person died in the hospital,” Judge Barbara Harris said, turning to a sheriff’s investigator. “When was it, this morning?”
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As the judge’s words sank in, Passard, 23, swayed and shook his head in disbelief.
Two other suspects, also in the courtroom, now face murder charges as well in Harden’s death.
Passard, along with Yolanda Butler, 25, and a man named Ceyunta Cater, 22, were first charged with multiple counts of aggravated assault in an alleged attack Thursday at Harden’s house on Nisbet Drive.
The trio went to the house because an 11-year-old girl there had earlier called Butler, her cousin, and told her of “inappropriate activities going on in the house,” Bibb County Sheriff David Davis said.
According to investigators and a sheriff deputy’s report, what happened next was a hapless amalgam of street justice and, as the sheriff put it, “downright stupidity.”
Butler and the two men reportedly pulled up at Harden’s boxy, vinyl-sided, three-bedroom house in a Chrysler 300 about 8:45 a.m. Thursday.
The house, a 1,000-square-foot rental in southwest Macon, sits a mile and a half south of Eisenhower Parkway, just east of Interstate 475.
Butler apparently was looking to pluck her little cousin from the house where there were “inappropriate comments” or “some inappropriate media,” Davis said.
The Bibb County Sheriff’s Office said Friday evening that there had been inappropriate touching and pornography shown at the residence and that Levi Moss was charged with child molestation, enticing a child for indecent purposes and probation violation. The victim was not identified.
There were at least five young children in the house, including the 11-year-old girl, who was the oldest. Another girl there told deputies that the 11-year-old, who had told Butler to “come and get her,” opened the front door when the car arrived.
Two men in ski masks toting pistols burst inside and began whaling on Harden, 40, apparently mistaking him for Moss.
“When they came into the house -- I guess for the lack of a better term we could call them the hit squad -- (they) didn’t know who they were looking for,” Davis said. “They just got the first adult that they saw. And that’s terribly unfortunate.”
Moss, 29, who was Harden’s cousin, fled to a neighbor’s house to call 911. Having seen the bandits ride away with his daughter, Moss “was crying and screaming hysterically” when deputies got there, a report noted. Earlier, while Harden was being pistol-whipped, one of the attacker’s guns fired. The bullet didn’t hit anyone. Harden yelled for his four children to run next door.
Before long, while investigators were at the house, the 11-year-old girl returned in a car with her grandmother and Butler, who was later taken into custody.
Butler, according to her Facebook page, has studied child psychology at Macon State College.
Davis said she “took it upon herself to gather up a posse. ... It shows a lack of critical thinking. ... Borderline stupidity if you ask me. ... They didn’t even know who they were trying to beat up.”
Anyone with information about this incident is asked to call the Bibb County Sheriff’s Office at 478-751-7500 and ask to leave a message for the on-call investigator or call Macon Regional Crimestoppers at 877-68-CRIME.
Telegraph writer Jeremy Timmerman contributed to this report. To contact writer Joe Kovac Jr., call 744-4397.