'I felt like God's hand was around me'
A judge Thursday morning set a $200,000 bond for two soldiers accused of tossing grenade simulators into a Dawsonville crowd earlier this month.
A lawyer for one of three Dahlonega soldiers said his client cannot pay the $200,000 bond set by Northeastern Judicial Circuit Superior Court Judge Jason Deal.
"I really don't see how he can do it," said Ridge Rairigh, who represents 34-year-old Jeremy Wade Morgan, an Army staff sergeant at Camp Frank D. Merrill
Morgan, who lives in Dawsonville, was arrested along with Spc. Nicholas Gregory Wendt, 25, and Sgt. Thomas Daniel Campbell, 21, on Aug. 8 after tossing two Army-issued training grenade simulators into a crowd of 16 people in the Ingles parking lot on Ga. 400 in Dawsonville. All three soldiers are stationed at Camp Frank D. Merrill, an Army ranger training facility in Dahlonega.
The crowd included a 7-month-old who was in a stroller and an 18-month-old toddler who was sleeping in the back of a parked truck.
Deal said he realizes the $200,000 bond set for Wendt and Morgan is high, but warranted due to the serious nature of the crime.
"This is an appropriate bond for someone charged with 16 counts of aggravated assault and cruelty to children," Deal said.
In addition to the felony aggravated assault and two cruelty to children counts, the pair is also charged with domestic terrorism, possession of destructive devices and possession, transportation or use of a destructive device with intent to intimidate and 16 misdemeanor reckless conduct charges.
Deal said he would revisit the bond amount in a few weeks if the defendants could not raise the money.
Campbell, who authorities say was driving the car in which Wendt and Morgan were traveling, was not scheduled to be in court this week.
Camp Merrill Company Commander Capt. David Nelson said the three soldiers work in support roles at the camp and are not training as rangers.
Morgan is a noncommissioned officer in the human resources department where Campbell also works. Wendt works on communication equipment, Nelson testified Thursday.
Dawson County Sheriff's Investigator Sgt. Ray Goodie said the trio had been drinking when they left Morgan's Dawsonville home around 11:30 p.m. Aug. 7.
Witnesses said the trio cruised through the Ingles parking lot three times around 1:30 a.m. before tossing two grenade simulators, typically used in military training, within about 40 feet of the crowd.
Goodie, who spent six years in the military before joining the sheriff's office and is familiar with the explosive devices, said the first exploded near the crowd, while the second one did not detonate.
He read the instructions on the simulators while testifying in court, which cautioned users to wear a safety glove "on the throwing hand" and turn away from "after tossing."
"I believe the devices could hurt someone even though they aren't intended to," Goodie said.
During court Thursday, Goodie said no one was physically injured in the explosion, though victims have reported having nightmares.
Upon questioning by Raraigh, Goodie said he "probably wouldn't have taken out the domestic terrorism" warrants.
Wendt's attorney Brett Turner said the incident, which he described as a "dumb prank," had been "severely overcharged."
He suggested the devices should be considered hoax devices rather than explosive devices.
"Based on the testimony this far, it does appear this was a drunk and stupid thing to do. Unfortunately, sometimes when people do drunk and stupid things, people get hurt," Deal said.
The Dawson County District Attorney's office argued against bond saying the men were flight risks and have access to explosives.
"The domestic terrorism ... is probably going away, but the rest are serious charges," said Assistant District Attorney Conley Greer.
"Regardless of what the intent was, there were two toddlers out there in that group. The state's position is they can get these things. The Army can't even lock down their own explosives. How can they lock them (the suspects) down?"
There was little discussion throughout the proceedings concerning how the defendants came to possess the explosive devices.
According to court testimony, the explosives had been in Morgan's possession as far back as January, his wife Amanda Morgan said.
Nelson said the soldiers should not have had the devices, and the Army is conducting an investigation of its own.
If either suspect is able to make bond, Nelson said their leave privileges will be revoked, they would be closely monitored and he would insure they are present for any court appearances.
Morgan would also be required to live in the camp's barracks, rather than at his home in Dawsonville with his wife and two children.
Additional bond conditions placed by Deal include random alcohol and drug screenings, weekly check-ins with pre-trial services officials and confinement to the camp with monitored supervision when the soldiers are not working. Neither man can possess any weapons, including training simulators.
Goodie said he believed Deal made the right call in setting the bond high.
"These are serious charges, even without the domestic terrorism," he said.