The killer of Wiley Hudson, a Family Dollar employee who was parked on a dirt road in east Macon, resting and playing a game on his phone while waiting for his shift to start one morning in late December 2015, pleaded guilty Monday. He was sentenced to life in prison.
Torrance Deon Rouse was 20 years old when, three days before Christmas that year, he happened upon Hudson, 43, sitting in a Nissan Xterra along Lakeshore Drive. Rouse shot Hudson in the head through the SUV’s window and then tried to set the SUV on fire.
The vehicle didn’t burn, but Rouse, for a while at least, eluded the police.
Rouse was arrested months later after a relative tipped off the cops and has since told investigators it was a sudden move that Hudson supposedly made that compelled Rouse to shoot him.
At a hearing Monday morning, Rouse, 23, pleaded guilty to malice murder and was sentenced to life with the possibility of parole, which means he can become eligible for release from prison when he is in his early 50s.
Rouse, an 11th-grade dropout from the town of Montrose in Laurens County, said little at Monday’s proceeding. He mumbled through much of the proceeding with “yes ma’ams” when prompted by Judge Verda M. Colvin.
Prosecutor Jonathan W. Gordon described the final moments of Hudson’s life, reading into the court record how Hudson that day had dropped off his wife, Jeanie Hudson, at work at another Family Dollar store in east Macon and then driven to a secluded dirt lane to await his shift at the other eastside Family Dollar.
“He sat in the car, he listened to music, he played a game on his phone, a game that he and his wife enjoyed playing and competing against each other,” Gordon said.
Shorty before noon on Dec. 22, 2015, the authorities were called to a spot off Recreation Road near some apartments where someone had reported a possible automobile fire. Hudson was found dead at the wheel, a bullet hole in one of the SUV’s windows.
For months, the killing went unsolved. But in May 2016 an aunt of Rouse’s put the cops in touch with his cousin, who told detectives that Rouse had, around the time of the shooting, confessed, saying, as Gordon put it Monday, “that he had shot a white male in the head.”
Gordon said Rouse told the cousin “he was going to rob Mr. Wiley Hudson but Mr. Hudson made a sudden movement” and Rouse shot him. Rouse and Hudson are not thought to have known one another.
Hudson’s widow then addressed the court, reading from a prepared statement, saying that while Rouse’s conviction brings her some peace, her life “has been devastated and destroyed.”
“My husband was killed for nothing,” Jeanie Hudson said. “It was a senseless crime committed by a man with complete disregard for the importance of human life.”
Hudson’s mother, Janice Wood Bassett, also spoke Monday, recalling a final message her son had sent. The message was sent Dec. 17, Wiley Hudson’s birthday.
“I work all day,” the message had said. “I’ll celebrate my 43rd birthday with Family Dollar customers.”
Bassett recalled that her son was an avid reader and public-radio listener. Sometimes he’d call and tell her to tune in so they could listen together. Other times they chatted about animals, birds, whatever came up.
Later, Leon R. Hudson, the slain man’s father, stood before the judge and said, “People need to realize that there’s right and there’s wrong.”
Clutching a birthday card his son had given him some years ago, he spoke directly to Rouse, seated behind him.
“There’s no anger no more. … The hate is not there for this young man,” Leon Hudson said, adding that one day Rouse will “face the almighty judge — God — and I hope his life is changed. … It’s a different kind of courtroom, and you will answer for your sins. … I only hope that God has mercy on his soul.”
He said he has forgiven Rouse and that he prays prison will change Rouse for the better.
As she sentenced Rouse, Judge Colvin referred to Hudson’s family and told Rouse, “I hope you heard them, because I get the feeling you’re kind of half here and half not. And if you’re not fully engaged, the question becomes, ‘Will there be a change in the man?’ … If you get the possibility of being paroled, you have to find your humanity so that you can once again become a human being. You understand what I’m saying, young man?”
“Yes, ma’am,” Rouse replied.
“This,” the judge went on, “is sad all the way around. … But most of all for this family, who loses a son, a husband. The only thing they can hope is that your soul will be changed as a result. … May your soul find peace.”