Photo by Kathy Jefcoats
Lola Wroten (right) shares photos of her oldest child, Anthony Wroten, with Clayton County Assistant District Attorneys Travis Meyer and Katie Powers.
It was a murder case that went nowhere for more than three years.
Clayton County prosecutors had no physical evidence –– no weapon, fingerprints, or DNA.
Murder charges were brought against Nahshon Minor and Alan Hudson, and a grand jury indicted the pair in 2009. But, discouraged and disgusted with the lack of evidence, District Attorney Tracy Graham Lawson dismissed the case. Lawson wondered if anyone would be held responsible for the shooting death of Anthony Wroten.
It was July 23, 2008, and Anthony Wroten, 30, was living in the Bridlewood subdivision, in Riverdale. The father of five daughters had grown weary of living in Georgia and was planning a move to Mississippi, said his mother, Lola Wroten. His youngest had just been born there.
He left his house, not knowing that five young men were waiting and watching. With Wroten out of sight, Hudson kicked in the back door and the suspects began searching the house. Clayton Assistant District Attorney Katie Powers said they were looking for drugs and money.
Hudson stood at the front window, standing guard. When Wroten suddenly returned home –– prosecutors never learned why –– Hudson gave a shout to Minor. "Minor came down from upstairs and opened fire on Mr. Wroten the moment he walked in the door," said Powers. "He fired 17 shots.”
Wroten was shot in his head, torso, both arms and right leg. The men fled, leaving him to die. Minor had stolen the gun and ammunition 10 days before in another burglary just a few doors down from Wroten. The gun belonged to a military veteran. Assistant District Attorney Travis Meyer said Minor was apparently afraid that he'd be recognized from the neighborhood. With the lack of evidence, the story could have ended there. But Lawson's staff was undeterred.
Linking the gun to the case
Prosecutors learned that Minor told some people he disassembled the gun and threw it into a ravine behind apartments in College Park.
"We went out there, three years later, and our investigators rappelled down into the ravine to look for that gun," said Powers. "The vines were a couple of feet deep, so it was hard to even walk through it. They took metal detectors, but they didn't find anything."
Minor was locked up in the Clayton County Jail, doing a year for stealing. "He told people in the jail that he was the shooter," said Powers. The case was starting to come together. The Georgia Bureau of Investigation said the bullets came from the type of gun that was stolen, and Minor had used the same ammunition that gun shoots, that had also been stolen.
"Once Hudson was able to talk to us, he told us Minor had used the same gun that was stolen," said Powers. "That's what sealed it."
Hudson, who was 17 at the time of the shooting, also agreed to turn state's evidence against Minor.
Getting the case back on track
The case was reindicted last year. On the eve of a trial that could have landed them both in prison for the rest of their lives, the pair agreed to plead guilty. All charges against Hudson were dropped, except burglary. He went before Chief Judge Deborah Benefield, Tuesday morning, to be sentenced to 20 years, 10 to be served in prison, followed by 10 on probation.
Benefield told Hudson he was a "very lucky young man at the end of this to get 10 years in prison. You need to take advantage of it," she said. "When you get out, do something differently. If you don't, for one thing, I will revoke your probation and you'll go back to prison. Help someone else to keep from doing what you've been doing, breaking into houses. I think you've been treated very fairly."
Benefield told Hudson that it was only by the agreement of the Wroten family that she accepted his plea deal. "This is through their generosity they've shown to you," she said. "You can change your life. Until the day you die, you can change. The choice is yours. I hope you make the right one."
Sentencing the shooter
Minor was sentenced to life in prison. Wroten's mother gave a tearful victim impact statement. "Every day is a struggle," she said, holding photos of her only son. "Some days are harder than other days. Did you ever stop to think he was someone's son, brother, father, cousin, grandson, and that he would be missed by all those people who cared about him? He was my only son, my love, he can never be replaced."
Anthony Wroten had five daughters, ages 14, 6, 5, 4, and 3.
"He never got to see the youngest," she said. "His plan was to go to Mississippi. He died 21 days later."
Minor sat quietly and listened, but never reacted. His grandmother, Bessie Minor, spoke on behalf of his family. "We do apologize to the family and the court," she said. "He's going to be away from us for the rest of his life, I imagine. He seems to be a troubled young man, but he wasn't reared to do the things that transpired in his life. I think it's good to know he was a fine young man, even though he got into trouble. We're very sorry someone's life was taken. I know an apology will not bring a life back."
Although Minor did not show remorse in court, his attorney, Leon Hicks, told Benefield he shed tears over what he did. "There's no question, if he could take it back, he would, but he can't, it's gone," said Hicks. He went on to blame the gun. "But for that weapon, we could talk about different sorts of things."
Minor told Benefield he had nothing to say, but asked if he could hug and kiss his grandmother after sentencing. She told him to take up the request with the jail staff, but it was not happening in the courtroom.
Before rendering the sentence, Benefield spoke to Minor. She disavowed the theory that the gun was to blame for Wroten's death.
"My question is when will it stop? When will it ever stop?" asked Benefield. "In 20 years on the bench, I've sat and sentenced too many people just like you. Killing people for drugs, money, virtually nothing, and a life is gone. A gun is not to blame, it is the person who wields it."
Benefield told Minor that Clayton County is filled with more murder cases than she can try. "This community is a place where none of us can rest," she said. "How do we stop it? We won't be able to figure it out, but you're the lucky one. You took the victim's opportunity to ask forgiveness from anyone in his life. You have that opportunity. You need to seek and ask forgiveness and redemption."
Giving and taking credit
After the sentencing, Powers and Meyer took a few minutes to ponder how a case that was all but lost ended in the conviction of two men.
"I'm proud of our office," said Meyer. "We wouldn't have gotten to pleas and justice for the family without a lot of people coming together. The case went down many different roads. It was a great collective effort."