Crime

New details on UGA professor’s death revealed: History of choking, flower ritual instead of 911

Lawyers make closing arguments on hearing for murder of UGA professor

Ocmulgee Judicial Circuit District Attorney Stephen Bradley and defense attorney Frank Hogue make closing arguments during a commitment hearing for Marcus Lillard. Lillard is charged with the murder of UGA professor Marianne Shockley in May.
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Ocmulgee Judicial Circuit District Attorney Stephen Bradley and defense attorney Frank Hogue make closing arguments during a commitment hearing for Marcus Lillard. Lillard is charged with the murder of UGA professor Marianne Shockley in May.

The mystery surrounding the death of University of Georgia entomology professor Marianne Shockley in Baldwin County last month took even stranger and more puzzling twists Friday at a hearing for the boyfriend accused of killing her.

Shockley was dead when the authorities responded to a hot tub drowning in the wee hours of May 12.

She and her boyfriend, Marcus Lillard, an out-of-work car salesman, had traveled that day to the home of an acquaintance of Lillard’s, a former psychologist named Clark Heindel. His house sits just east of the Oconee River on the outskirts of Milledgeville.

Lillard, 41, and Shockley, 43, first met in college and had been dating for about a year after reconnecting. They got to Heindel’s place the evening of May 11, and according to Friday testimony in court, they listened to music, smoked marijuana, drank beer and ended up in Heindel’s hot tub.

A Georgia Bureau Investigations agent testified Friday about possibly-hallucinogenic tea being found at the house and said that Lillard’s recollections about that night have varied.

Lillard is reported to have sent text messages and phone calls seeking advice on what to do to revive someone not breathing. Those interactions happened shortly after 11 p.m. that Saturday, according to testimony.

But no one called 911 to the home at 115 Watson Reynolds Road until after 1 a.m. Sunday.

Heindel, 69, shot and killed himself not long after sheriff’s deputies got there.

Lillard, of Milledgeville, is accused of murder, aggravated assault and concealing Shockley’s death. He was arrested a month ago.

At the end of the nearly two-hour hearing, Judge William A. Prior Jr. decided there was enough probable cause. He bound the case over to Superior Court for presentation to a grand jury in the coming months.

What happened?

Michael Maybin, the GBI agent who testified Friday, explained how investigators have begun trying to piece together what happened.

Maybin said Lillard was naked but wrapped in a towel when the first sheriff’s deputies and EMTs arrived at what they described as “a very weird scene.” Lillard was helping do CPR to revive Shockley, but footage from the officers’ body cameras also showed Lillard, for reasons not clear, touching Shockley’s vagina.

Maybin said tests revealed Lillard had cocaine and marijuana in his system, but it isn’t known if he was intoxicated. The agent said Lillard has told investigators he had stepped out of the hot tub and gone into the woods near the house to collect firewood to build a fire, and that when he returned Shockley was slumped over in the pool. Lillard also told agents that when he went to lift her out of the tub, he dropped her and she cut her head.

Heindel told the cops that he and Lillard “thought she was gonna come around,” or be revived. Maybin testified that Lillard said he thought Shockley may have been “faking it” and “playing with him,” though she had been “lifeless” and appeared dead.

Heindel gave a brief account of the circumstances that night, but said he was in the far end of a nearby swimming pool, away from the hot tub, when Shockley fell unconscious.

Shortly after speaking with police, Heindel walked inside the home and shot and killed himself. He left a suicide note but it didn’t provide any further detail on the episode, Maybin recalled.

“He just said that he did not know what happened to Marianne, but it had happened on his watch and he can’t live with it. He said he’d had a good life and it was time for him to go,” he said.

Shockley’s body was near the hot tub at the pool’s deep end when the EMTs got there. Nearby were a few Bud Light and Corona beer bottles, along with scattered clothes, bloody towels and, oddly, around her body were hydrangea flowers and leaves.

Lillard explained to investigators that the hydrangea debris got there when, while trying in vain to resuscitate Shockley, that he and Heindel shook the flowers over her body “for some kind of ceremonial” rite, Maybin testifed.

“That’s what they were doing instead of calling 911,” the agent added. “I think (Lillard) said it was something Clark was into or something, some type of ritual, that he had been to South America and learned that stuff from some kind of religion.”

Maybin said Lillard also told the investigators that Heindel went in his house to make “some type of tea” to, as they were doing CPR on Shockely, “pour in her mouth to help revive her.”

‘Rough and violent’

Lillard has denied strangling Shockley, Maybin said, and also said he didn’t think Heindel had harmed her or had sex with her.

Lillard said he and Shockley hadn’t had sex but had kissed.

In the days before it was known publicly that Shockley had died of manual strangulation, one woman, a past lover of Lillard’s, went to investigators and told of “multiple, multiple occasions” when he choked her during sex, Maybin said.

“She would describe him being very rough and violent during sex,” Maybin said, adding that Lillard choked her to unconsciousness. When she told Lillard to stop, Maybin said Lillard had replied, “Shut up and take it.”

Five other women have since said that they, too, were choked during sex with Lillard, though not all had passed out in what were described as consensual encounters, Maybin said.

Baldwin District Attorney Stephen Bradley, upon questioning Maybin during the hearing, asked if investigators had asked Heindel’s past sexual partners if Heindel had choked them during intercourse.

None of them told of any such behavior, Maybin said: “They all described him as normal, boring sex.”

The revelations about sexual choking presented another possibility of how Shockley may have died.

At Friday’s hearing to determine probable cause for the case to continue, Lillard’s lawyer Franklin J. Hogue asked Maybin a hypothetical question.

“Would you agree,” Hogue began, “that if, if it’s the case that your theory is that Miss Shockley died during rough sex where choking was involved, that it could be accidental?”

“Well, in my opinion,” Maybin replied from the stand, “when a grown man puts his own hands around (someone’s neck and squeezes) ... to me that’s intent to take somebody’s life.”

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