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Jurors begin deliberations in Austin Stryker murder trial
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Defense attorney Kyle Denslow speaks with defendant Austin Stryker on Tuesday, Nov. 9, 2021, during closing arguments of Stryker's murder trial in Dawson County Superior Court. Stryker is on trial in the death of Hannah Bender of Lumpkin County in September 2019. - photo by Scott Rogers

Jurors began deliberations Tuesday afternoon in the trial of a 24-year-old Dawsonville man accused of fatally shooting and stabbing a 21-year-old woman.

The jurors worked past 5:30 p.m. and were released by Superior Court Judge Kathlene Gosselin for the evening. Deliberations will resume at 9 a.m. Wednesday, Nov. 10.

During closing arguments, Assistant  District Attorney Shiv Sachdeva described Austin Stryker as a "stone cold killer" in his final words to the jury.

Defense attorney Brock Johnson walked the jury through the list of witnesses. Though the defense did not contest the evidence collected by law enforcement, Johnson said he disagreed with their conclusions.

“I don’t believe that Austin murdered Hannah,” Johnson said.

Stryker, 24, of Dawsonville is on trial in Dawson County before Gosselin on charges of malice murder; felony murder; aggravated assault; aggravated battery; possessing a firearm and knife during commission of a felony; violations of Georgia’s Street Gang Terrorism and Prevention Act; concealing the death of another; and tampering with evidence. 

Bender, 21, of Lumpkin County was killed between Sept. 14-15 while riding in a Mazda pickup truck with Stryker and Isaac Huff, according to previous court testimony. As the truck neared the Sweetwater Juno Road area of Dawson County, Bender was allegedly shot in the head without warning by Stryker, according to testimony given in a plea hearing in April

The jury left the courtroom around 1:30 p.m. Tuesday after hearing closing arguments and instructions by Gosselin.

The trial proceedings ended with a mistrial looming. Gosselin dismissed three jurors for COVID-19 reasons on Nov. 4, leaving her with no alternates for the 12-member jury pool.  

The defense formally rested its case at 9:30 a.m. Tuesday. On Monday, Stryker took the stand and told the jury that Bender was holding the gun when it accidentally discharged, killing her.

During closing arguments, Johnson argued that Stryker needed Bender “a lot more than he has any incentive to kill.”

“Why on Earth would Austin eliminate, purposefully kill an individual that was going to be useful to him to get money, to get drugs?

“There’s no smoking gun,” Johnson said. “There’s no individual that places the gun in his hand and testifies as to seeing Austin shoot Hannah.”

Sachdeva said no other witnesses testified to seeing Bender with a gun. 

All of the expert witnesses brought to the stand by the state said they believed it was not an accidental shooting, Sachdeva said.

Sachdeva called the defense’s theory “disrespectful” to Bender and her family.

“They want your verdict to say, for the whole world to see, that Hannah Bender lost her life because she foolishly pointed a gun at her head while holding a cellphone and shot herself,” Sachdeva said of the defense’s theory.

Johnson jumped up from his seat and objected to Sachdeva's continued comments about the defense theory of an accidental shooting, which Sachdeva considered belittling to the intelligence of the jurors.

Isaac Huff, who took a plea deal and testified at trial, was in the truck when Bender was shot.

“Why would Isaac Huff accept 12 years in prison if all he was was an innocent bystander?”

Sachdeva asked the jury, adding Huff knew what Stryker intended to do.

Stryker is also facing multiple gang-related charges for a group known as “THIS.”

Johnson called it “kids playing mafia,” as Stryker testified that he drew inspiration from the John Travolta “Gotti” movie.

“This is a six, seven-man gang with one senior citizen, one high school graduate, and the state has charged Austin with 11 counts accusing him of violating the Georgia Street Gang Terrorism Act,” Johnson said. “That’s more criminal counts than there is gang members.”

Murder trial of Austin Stryker

Austin Stryker faces murder charges in the 2019 death of Hannah Bender of Lumpkin County. The trial began Nov. 2 in a Dawson County courtroom before Northeastern Judicial Circuit Superior Court Chief Judge Kathlene Gosselin.