‘We know they lie.’ Attorneys focus on witnesses as jury gets Columbus murder trial

A Columbus jury on Monday will weigh the guilt or innocence of two men accused of armed robbery and murder in a 2020 fatal shooting that caused a car crash.

Their deliberations follow closing arguments Friday, when attorneys debated the credibility of two men who were with Quincy Atkins on April 18 when the 20-year-old was shot three times in the back while trying to escape in his Dodge Charger.

Those witnesses, Dwayne Jackson and Anthony McGhee, were so reluctant to testify against defendants Ty’Shaun Sylvester and Jessie Lee Harper that they often refused to answer questions without being ordered to.

The defense attorneys said they were lying. The prosecutors said they were scared.

“Look at their mannerisms,” Sylvester’s attorney William Kendrick told the jury, walking to the witness stand and mimicking the witnesses’ staring at the floor while being questioned. “Does this strike y’all as telling the truth?”

Defense attorney William Kendrick makes a point during closing arguments.
Defense attorney William Kendrick makes a point during closing arguments.

He said prosecutors never showed the jury recordings of the witnesses’ interviews with police, because the police didn’t trust their statements.

“We know they lie,” Kendrick said. “That’s just the truth of the matter.”

Harper’s attorney Sirena Saunders, also emphasized the prosecution’s reliance on Jackson and McGhee to make their case. “If you don’t believe them, they have nothing left,” she said.

The evidence

Prosecutors Sadhana Dailey and Ray Daniel told jurors that Jackson, McGhee and Atkins went to a vacant house at 2900 Cusseta Road to meet Sylvester, who on Facebook offered a Romanian-made Draco semi-automatic for sale.

Prosecutor Ray Daniel speaks to jurors during closing arguments.
Prosecutor Ray Daniel speaks to jurors during closing arguments.

Harper showed up, as they arrived to examine the gun, and he pulled a pistol on them as Sylvester pointed the Draco, demanding their valuables. The pair took a gold chain from McGhee, a cell phone from Jackson and a 9-millimeter pistol from Atkins, the witnesses said.

Atkins told them more valuables were in the trunk and popped it open, then tried to drive off when they went to the rear of his Charger. Both suspects started firing as Atkins, mortally wounded, circled across Cusseta Road and crashed into a house at Betjeman Drive, prosecutors said.

Everyone else ran away afterward, and no one involved called 911. Others who were nearby reported the gunfire around 5 p.m. that Saturday.

On April 28, 2020, police looking for the two suspects saw them in a red Jeep Patriot on Cusseta Road near Andrews Road and tried to stop it, officers said.

Sylvester jumped out and ran, discarding a book bag with two guns in it, and Harper drove the Jeep onto railroad tracks before abandoning it. Both suspects escaped, but were captured that May.

Inside the Jeep, officers found the 9-millimeter that was taken from Atkins during the alleged robbery, investigators said. The guns found in Sylvester’s backpack also were 9-millimeter pistols.

But none of those guns was the one used to kill Atkins, a firearms expert testified, and no bullets or bullet casings found at the seen were 7.62-millimeter rounds the Draco fires, though some bullet fragments found remained unidentified.

Kendrick hammered on that. “Physical evidence in this case is the evidence that does not lie,” he told jurors, of the bullets and casings adding, “All 9 millimeter, none from a 7.62.”

He has alleged McGhee and Jackson were the ones who set Sylvester and Harper up for a robbery that went awry.

Dailey countered that McGhee and Jackson were reluctant to testify because they saw the suspects gun down their friend, and did not want to be known as informants who cooperated with the police.

“They were reluctant to testify because they were scared to death,” she said, later adding, “They didn’t want to be labeled a snitch. That’s what murderers count on: Don’t snitch.”

Senior Assistant District Attorney Sadhana Dailey speaks to the jury during closing arguments.
Senior Assistant District Attorney Sadhana Dailey speaks to the jury during closing arguments.

She said that under Georgia law, both Sylvester and Harper participated in the crimes of murder and armed robbery, whether Sylvester fired the Draco or not: “They are parties to the crime: in for a penny, in for a pound.”

When the police tried to detain and question them, they fled, she said, and officers found Atkins gun in the car they abandoned.

“The defendants wouldn’t have Quincy’s gun if the victims were lying,” she said of Jackson and McGhee. Of the suspects’ running from police, she added, “That’s evidence of guilt.”

Sylvester ran from police twice. He was captured on May 5, 2020, after jumping from another vehicle officers were trying to stop, and running into a stranger’s home in the Benning Hills area, authorities said. He surrendered after a brief standoff.

Harper was caught on Luna Drive later that month.

After closing arguments, Judge John Martin decided to let jurors go for the weekend, telling them to return at 9 a.m. Monday to begin their deliberations.

Sylvester and Harper both are 26 now, and face life without parole if convicted. Each has a prior felony conviction.

Besides murder, armed robbery and aggravated assault, they face charges of using a gun to commit a crime and being convicted felons with firearms.

Sylvester has a June 3, 2016, conviction for first-degree burglary, and Harper was convicted December 18, 2019, for selling marijuana, according to their indictment.