By Daniel Silliman
After 10 months of investigation, an expanded investigation, a re-investigation and a supplemental investigation, the verdict in the shooting death of a 19-year-old is the same as it was when police first walked through the door: justifiable homicide.
A Clayton County grand jury returned the findings Wednesday in the shooting death of Marques McGhee.
McGhee was shot to death while apparently breaking into a 16-year-old friend's home on Camp Road. The grand jury returned a "No Bill," meaning the 16-year-old boy, who is not being named because he is a juvenile, will not be charged.
"I'm sure it's not the outcome that the McGhee family wanted," said Jewel Scott, Clayton County District Attorney, "but I hope that when they've healed sufficiently, they'll understand that we did all that we could in respect to this case."
Clayton County Police initially investigated the 6388 Camp Road homicide. Officers at the scene when it happened Feb. 20, said it looked like an open-and-shut case. McGhee was killed inside a broken window and was wearing black clothes and a black mask.
The 16-year-old under scrutiny told police he was alone at home at about 11:30 a.m. the day of shooting because of spring break. He said he was eating cereal and heard glass breaking. The teen said he got his father's handgun, a 9 mm, and walked into the garage, finding a man dressed in black with a black mask covering his face.
He fired, he told police. He fired and fired until the gun was empty.
When officers arrived, they found McGhee had been shot eight times, in the legs, chest, back and head. When they pulled back the man's mask, the teen saw McGhee, a 19-year-old, who once had been his friend.
What looked like a simple investigation became more complicated.
The two teens went to the same high school. Played basketball together. The younger student had been having trouble at school, had been getting into fights until he was befriended by McGhee. The 16-year-old was, according to his family, getting beaten up on the way to and from school, until he made friends with McGhee, an older boy who protected him. The two pals were arrested while riding in a stolen car, court records show. The younger teen went to face the charges in juvenile court and the older teen was sent to face charges in Clayton County Superior court.
The relationship between the two teens was more complicated than initially thought, but the evidence collected by detectives was consistent with the 16-year-old's story.
Detectives found a rock inside the broken window. McGhee was dressed in "typical burglar clothes," police reported. There were shell casings where there should have been shell casings, bullets were where there should have been bullets. It looked, the police department said, like a justifiable homicide.
However, the Clayton chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, disagreed. McGhee is black and the 16-year-old is white.
The NAACP organized the grieving McGhee family into a protest. The family and the civil rights organization took over a public comment session at a Clayton County Board of Commissioners meeting, criticizing the police and the investigation. They held a rally for McGhee, demanding justice. They said the police department's investigation was sloppy, unprofessional and tinged by racism.
Under public scrutiny and urging from the chairman of the county commission, the county police expanded the investigation and looked into the case for two months, before turning it over to the district attorney's office for review and re-investigation.
The district attorney's office spoke with the McGhee family twice, District Attorney Scott said, and expanded the investigation to include witnesses who knew both teens, and their relationship.
According to the family, and to some of the teens' mutual friends, the 16-year-old owed McGhee some money related to their stolen car arrest. The pair were going to stage a burglary at the younger teen's Camp Road home, to settle the debt. McGhee's family, and the local NAACP, said the shooting was set up to look like a home invasion, and, that the 16-year-old had actually invited McGhee to the home.
"The facts we have is that Mr. McGhee was invited over to the house," Matthews said, "and he knew [McGhee] was coming and they talked on the phone, so he knew who was actually coming to the house."
The additional witnesses brought forward by the family, however, only had secondary knowledge of the rumored scheme to stage a burglary, Scott said.
The district attorney's office investigated the case for another eight months, after receiving the file from detectives.
The case was presented to a grand jury on Wednesday. The grand jury found the 16-year-old was within his legal rights to shoot McGhee -- confirming the police department's initial statements and conclusion.
"It was what I anticipated," Scott said, "because of the actual evidence that we were able to gather, the witnesses we spoke with, and what the law actually says."
Scott Eskew, the Clayton County police department's lead detective on the McGhee shooting, said he wasn't surprised by the grand jury's findings and was pleased that it vindicated the department.
"The grand jury supported our findings and what we suspected all along," Eskew said. "I thought that it was offensive and disgusting that the NAACP, led by Dexter Matthews, took an incident that was a tragedy for two families and turned it into something political."
Following the grand jury findings, Matthews repeated his criticism of the police, and said he believes justice has not been served.
"It was messed up from the start, the way the police handled it," Matthews said. "We're trying to understand this decision. It's kind of strange that they didn't bring any charges, and we're disappointed."
In the coming days, Matthews said, he will be filing open records requests for the investigation files.
The 16-year-old is attempting to move on with his life, according to his family's lawyer, Steve Frey. He was threatened, in the days following McGhee's death, and the family's Camp Road home was hit by a drive-by shooting.
The family moved out of the county.
"He's in school again, doing fine, and he's just overwhelmed that this is finally over," Frey said. "The police did their job. I believe the police did their job in the beginning and the supplemental investigation just simply proved that."