Attorneys made their final arguments before the jury Wednesday, June 30 in the trial for three defendants accused in the slaying of Hall Sheriff’s Deputy Nicolas Blane Dixon.
The jury entered deliberations after six days of evidence and testimony followed by closing arguments in the trial for Hector Garcia-Solis, 19, London Clements, 18, and Eric Velazquez, 19.
Both sides have focused on what level of criminal planning the defendants allegedly did leading up to July 7, 2019, the night of the deadly shootout, and what, if any, actions by the defendants support a charge of malice murder.
In closing, Chief Assistant District Attorney Wanda Vance walked the jury through the charges and what evidence she believed supported each of the counts and made an emotional reminder to the jury.
“When I get ready for work, I put on heels,” Vance said. “Blane Dixon put on a vest knowing he might get shot.”
Though Garcia-Solis’ defense has not contested most of the charges, his defense attorney Rob McNeill said there was no malice in what happened that night. He submitted to the jury that in his client’s heart “he was a scared kid that day, and I think he could have done something with his life.”
The last witness of the trial was Garcia-Solis, who appeared to become emotional on the stand while being questioned by his attorney Matt Cavedon and admitted to killing Dixon, saying “You gotta confess to your sins.”
McNeill said if he has heard a defendant cry once, he’s heard it a thousand times.
“Most of the time, 99.9% of the time, the tears shed by a defendant are because they’re feeling sorry for themselves for ‘what’s going to happen to me?’ It’s ‘poor me.’ It’s ‘poor me’,” McNeill said.
McNeill said Garcia-Solis has not denied his responsibility in this case, arguing that what he showed on the stand was genuine.
“He cries himself to sleep every night,” McNeill said. “Not because of, ‘Oh,what’s going to happen to me?’ But it’s, ‘Why me? Why did I get to live? Why am I alive now when a man as fine as Blane Dixon died?”
Superior Court Judge Jason Deal heard arguments Tuesday, June 29, from Clements’ attorney Dan Sammons for a directed verdict on three of the charges — malice murder, aggravated assault on a peace officer and felony murder predicated on aggravated assault on a peace officer — meaning the jury will not consider these charges. The judge granted the motion, writing in the order that the court “finds that the state has failed to present sufficient evidence to support the charges” in these three counts.
There are still two other charges Clements faces in the indictment: conspiracy to commit robbery and burglary, and felony murder predicated on that conspiracy.
Since the original arrest, Sammons has argued that mere presence at the scene of a crime does not make the person guilty.
Vance has referred to Clements during the trial as an “instigator” for the events of July 7, 2019, as he is not charged with any of the burglaries from the day before.
“He is so much more than merely present, and there’s nothing in evidence that disputes that,” she said.
During the trial, the defense has mentioned training hours for the officers involved as well as discussing the plan of using tracking devices on the stolen car, which was chased by Dixon that night.
“Nowhere did you hear about any debriefings, any action taken by the Hall County Sheriff’s Department to prevent this kind of thing from happening again,” McNeill said. “And let me tell you something. They can talk about how dangerous this crew is all they want. But just ask yourself one thing: What would have happened if you’d had really violent criminal people that actually were going ‘tonight’s the night’ and were prepared to escape by any means necessary, people (who) knew what they were doing? I guarantee you, it wouldn’t have been pretty.”
Vance brought up the defense’s contention that the acts, given that some of the alleged burglaries happened near a busy thoroughfare like Atlanta Highway, showed a lack of sophistication or experience.
“That makes them more dangerous, not less,” Vance said. “That makes them terribly dangerous.”
Responding to statements made by the defense during the trial’s opening, Vance said the state was not seeking vengeance but “justice.”
But defense attorney Jason Wilson, representing Velazquez, said this was a case where the “prosecution has far overshot what he’s guilty of.”
“I’m sorry, Ms. Vance, but … it’s because of vengeance,” Wilson said. “Vengeance is not the same thing as justice. Justice is about trying to bring balance. Justice is about trying to bring some type of harmony to society so that society can go on. Justice is sending Hector to prison for the rest of his life.”
Wilson said his client was in no way a party to some of the more serious charges of the indictment.
“It’s just four guys driving around trying to feel tough,” he said. “In the future, perhaps, I don’t know, maybe they would have committed a burglary in the future, but at this point, they were just driving around.”
The jury stopped deliberations at 5 p.m. Wednesday and will resume at 9 a.m. Thursday, July 1.