BRUNSWICK, Ga. -- Jurors saw photos and a videotape of blood-splattered walls, a pool of blood on a bed and bludgeoned victims Tuesday as Guy Heinze Jr.'s death penalty murder trial opened.
The 10-woman, six-man jury, four of whom are alternates, had taken their oaths about two hours before Glynn County police Lt. Keith Stalvey testified to finding seven bodies and two victims still alive Aug. 29, 2009, when he arrived at a mobile home north of Brunswick.
The bodies were those of Guy Heinze Sr., 45, his longtime friend 44-year-old Rusty Toler Sr. and Toler's three children -- Chrissy Toler, 22; Russell D. Toler Jr., 20; and Michelle Toler, 15. The other victims were Rusty Toler's sister, Brenda Gail Falagan, 49, and Chrissy Toler's boyfriend, Joseph L. West, 30.
Toler's son, Michael Toler, 19, was alive but died the next day. Chrissy Toler's son, Byron Jimerson, survived severe head injuries and lives with his maternal grandmother.
As jurors were riveted on the crime scene video that showed the victims' bodies lying about the house in front of bloodied walls and beds, one of Toler's family members appeared to be weeping in the front row of the courtroom as another turned from the screen and kept her head down.
When the prosecution introduced 20 grisly photos as evidence, the jurors all seemed to examine each one carefully.
Stalvey testified of going from room to room in the single-wide mobile home finding people dead and badly injured.
Stalvey said he ordered that Heinze, who had spoken to a 911 operator, be kept at the scene.
"He was telling me his whole family had been murdered. We needed to get all the information we could from him,'' Stalvey testified.
Heinze also said he had bought crack cocaine the night before from Joseph West, Stavley testified. Heinze said he had smoked the crack and driven to St. Simons Island about 2:30 a.m. Aug. 29 and met his younger brother Tyler Heinze there.
Heinze said he drove home about 8 a.m., found the front door unlocked and went inside and found his father lying dead just inside the door, Stalvey testified.
"He told me he had walked through the house and found that everyone was dead,'' except for his cousin, Stalvey testified.
He claimed to have put his hand on the stomach of his "cousin,'' and felt him breathing, Stalvey said.
Heinze had no blood on his hands, he said.
In his opening statement Assistant District Attorney John B. Johnson said that the person Heinze identified as a cousin, Michael Toler, 19, had been most savagely beaten and there was blood all over his bed and the room.
When asked what he had done after walking through the mobile home, Heinze said he had gone outside "smoked a marijuana cigarette,'' and then asked a neighbor to call 911, Stalvey testified.
Also in his opening statement, Johnson referred to the 911 call and something Heinze said to a neighbor.
Before police arrived, Heinze said his family had been beaten to death and that statement showed he knew how everyone had died, Johnson said.
The first police on the scene thought the victims had been shot, Johnson said. Stalvey testified his first impression was that everyone had been shot.
Heinze told officers he checked the victims for life by placing his fingers on their wrists, Johnson said.
"One of the things we're going to see is there was an awful lot of blood in this house,'' Johnson said.
In spite of that, Heinze had no blood on his hands, Johnson said.
He also told police that he had walked throughout the house, but the blood of only two victims, that of his father and West, was on the sandals Heinze wore, Johnson said.
Also, police found Michelle Toler's cellphone in the car Heinze was driving: It had the blood of West who was beaten to death in the same room as Michelle, Johnson said.
In his opening statement, Heinze's lead defense attorney, Newell Hamilton Jr., told the jurors no one person alone had ever beaten eight people to death.
Noting Heinze's size, 5-foot-8 and 180 pounds, Hamilton said, "Forget the impossibility of him physically committing this act.''
There has never been any documentation of a person killing even six people with "some blunt force object,'' Hamilton said, "not to mention eight and almost killing another.''
But Johnson had already addressed that argument in his opening statement by saying that Heinze was at least "a party to" the beating deaths.
Hamilton accused Glynn County police investigators of concentrating exclusively on Heinze as a suspect from the time they arrived at the scene.
He said that Glynn County investigators made mistakes in their investigation and that evidence had been discarded.
Johnson had asserted that only one victim, Michelle Toler, who had a broken hand, had defended himself. Johnson said that Russell Toler Jr., had also been stabbed several times after he died of a brutal beating.
Hamilton said that was wrong, that defense experts will testify that several of the victims tried to defend themselves.
"Rusty Toler Jr. put up a heck of a fight,'' as did West, and Michelle Toler tried to defend herself, Hamilton said.
As a result of those struggles, the killer should have suffered some injuries, but Heinze Jr. had none, Hamilton said.
Hamilton also explained Heinze's references to the victims as his family even though the only relative he had in the trailer was his father.
Guy Heinze Sr. and Russell "Rusty" Toler Sr. had become friends as young men. They weren't related, but the two men had moved their families in together, Hamilton said.
"While they weren't biologically related, they regarded themselves as kin,'' he said. "They cared for each other. ... They went hunting together. They went fishing together.''
That was how Guy Heinze Jr. grew up and came to recognize Rusty Toler Sr. and his family as his own, Hamilton said.
Presiding Judge Stephen Scarlett recessed court about 5:30 p.m. and told jurors that court would resume at 9 a.m.
Scarlett had ordered the jurors sequestered as is typical in high interest death penalty trials to prevent them seeing news accounts of the trial.
He also said he would hold court on Saturdays until the trial is done.
Terry Dickson: (912) 264-0405
Copyright 2013 - The Florida Times-Union, Jacksonville