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Murder defendant testifies Hannah Bender was holding gun when it accidentally went off, killing her
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Austin Stryker takes the stand Monday, Nov. 8, 2021, in Dawson County Superior Court during his murder trial for the death of Hannah Bender in September 2019. - photo by Scott Rogers

The suspect on trial for murder in the September 2019 death of Hannah Bender testified Monday afternoon that the shooting was an accident.

The defense called defendant Austin Todd Stryker as its first witness in the 2019 slaying of the 21-year-old Lumpkin County woman. The case is being tried before Northeastern Judicial Circuit Superior Court Chief Judge Kathlene Gosselin in Dawson County.

“I remember the gunshot, and my ears were ringing, and she (immediately) slumped over,” Stryker, 24, of Dawsonville,  said Nov. 8. “I realize I didn’t cock it to make sure a bullet wasn't in the chamber.” 

Bender was allegedly shot in a Mazda pickup truck she was riding in with Isaac Huff and Stryker. 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

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.

Stryker went on to say he stabbed Bender thinking that draining blood from her body would make her lighter so he could pull her body out of the car by himself. 

Stryker has been charged with 24 offenses including murder, aggravated assault and aggravated battery in the death of Bender of Lumpkin County. Several others face lesser charges, inlcuding Huff and Dylan Reid, who pleaded guilty in April

Gosselin also denied a motion Monday from defense attorney Kyle Denslow to strike a count each of murder, aggravated assault and aggravated battery from Stryker’s indictment. The state medical examiner testified to some uncertainty about when Bender was stabbed, but the prosecution argued the charges should stick since cause of death was listed as “shooting and stabbing.”

Defense attorney Brock Johnson laid the foundation for Stryker’s case by asking his client about his financial situation and substance use at the time of Bender’s death. Stryker testified about an alleged armed robbery at the Dahlonega Dollar General and his intent to steal a kilogram of methamphetamine from an area dealer.  

Stryker testified that shortly before the shooting, he was showing Bender the Ruger .380 handgun as proof that he had the “tools” to take from the dealer.

He said he handed Bender the firearm while she was holding her cellphone in one hand. He elaborated that she ended up switching items in her hands to then hold the gun in her left. 

Bender was holding the gun with her index finger up and thumb in the trigger guard, Stryker said, when he told Isaac Huff to slow down driving the truck they were in. Then, the gun went off.