Murder trial ends abruptly Wednesday as defendant enters guilty plea
The trial for a Warrenville man charged in the 2017 murder of local cab driver had complications Wednesday after a situation arose involving a jury member, but the trial suddenly came to an end when the defendant decided to plead guilty.
Everything went in order Wednesday morning, as the trial for Marcus Allen Turner, 22, began with an opening statement from both the state and the defense. The state then brought three witnesses to the stand, which included the woman who witnessed the assault of 70-year-old Robert Hightower on March 29, 2017.
Then, after a short lunch break, court resumed and it was discovered a member of the jury had been seen by a court official speaking to members of the defendant’s family in the parking lot.
Eleventh Judicial Circuit Judge William Keesley, who presided over the case, had ordered the jury not to speak with each other or anyone else about the trial while it was underway.
Individuals on the jury were picked from a jury pool Tuesday, and Keesley asked everyone to disclose whether they knew anyone involved in the case or anyone connected to those individuals. The result would mean disqualification from the jury.
Keesley brought the accused juror before the court Wednesday afternoon, where she admitted to speaking with the defendant’s family. When asked why she spoke to them, she told the judge it was because she knew them and knew of the defendant.
The court was then put into recess as the court worked to replace that jury member with an alternate juror.
During the short recess, however, Turner decided to come forward and plead guilty before the court, which brought the trial to an abrupt end.
Turner pleaded guilty Wednesday afternoon to voluntary manslaughter and strong armed robbery, court records show.
Keesley sentenced Turner to 20 years in prison.
Turner’s co-defendant’s David Jerome Jacobs, 25, and Rakim Barton, 20, both of whom are from Beech Island, have not gone before the court.
Jacobs and Barton are both charged with murder and strong-armed robbery, but Jacobs is also facing separate charges of armed robbery with a deadly weapon and possession of a weapon during a violent crime, records show.
In 2017, Robert Hightower and his companion picked up three black males in his cab around 1:30 a.m. from the Clearwater Village apartments and was asked to drive to a destination off Huber Clay Road, according to a police report.
Once the cab arrived at the destination, which was the intersection of Hannah Drive and Alex Drive in Warrenville, the three suspects exited the vehicle and refused to pay Hightower; the three suspects then proceeded to assault Hightower and rob him, the report states.
The report stated Hightower was struck with “some kind of wooden board,” and the suspects stole several items before fleeing the scene on foot, according to the report.
EMS was called to the scene and Hightower was taken to an Augusta hospital, where surgery was performed due to swelling of the brain, police reported.
According to the arrest warrants, all three suspects “beat the victim about his face and head with fists.”
On May 19, 2017, Aiken County Coroner Tim Carlton announced Hightower had died due to a “subdural hematoma” to the left side of his head.
Carlton ruled his death a homicide.