COLUMBUS, Ga. (WRBL) — A Columbus murder and gang trial was framed Tuesday during the opening statements — one by the prosecutor and three by criminal defense attorneys.
It became clear after listening to opening statements that this case is as much about alleged gang activity in Columbus as it is about a 2021 double murder.
Roderick Glanton, along with brothers Terrance and Homer Upshaw are facing multiple murder and gang charges. They are accused in the June 2021 Wilson Apartments shooting that left 18-year-old Saiveon Pugh and 17-year-old Jessie Ransom dead. A 19-year-old and a juvenile were also shot but survived their injuries. They are expected to testify.
The prosecutors told the jury that the two victims and two others in the car when they were all members of the Zohannon criminal street gang.
They say that the three alleged shooters were members of the rival Marlo Criminal street gang, though defense attorneys denied that.
Lead prosecutor Cara Convery, head of the Georgia Attorney General’s special gang prosecution unit, was blunt when addressing the jury about the two victims and their gang activity.
“And I promise you are not going to love anything about the way they lived,” she said. “But you are going to hate the way that they died.”
Defense attorney William Kendrick told the jury evidence would show the victims were planning a drive-by shooting where the defendants were located. Convery told the jury that the house was a “trap house” or drug house and the center of criminal activity.
“When Mr. Homer Upshaw, Mr. Terrance Upshaw and Mr. Roderick Glanton were arrested on this case, I tell you what, they weren’t charged with no gang charges,” Kendrick said. “I expect the evidence to show that at some point the state decided to add those in order to counteract the fact that everybody in that car was Zohannon gang, dressed out.”
Kendrick said there was one long gun in the car and one of those shot was wearing a mask.
“It’s just like the NBA.,” he said. “When you ain’t playing you are wearing a suit. When you are playing you got your uniform on because you are ready to play. And that’s what them boys were doing. They were all dressed out. They were ready to play. They were ready shoot.”
That is not how Covery described it.
“And this case is about an execution,” she said. “Because on June 14th, 2021, four people were gunned down in a small silver sedan at the Wilson Apartment complex. And two people were executed as a result of that shooting. You heard that it was a shootout. That is not going to be the evidence in this case. This case is about an execution.”
WATCH THE OPENING STATEMENTS HERE
Glanton’s attorney Allen Jones denied the three co-defendants were gang members.
“This case is not about an execution …” Jones said. “This case is about self-defense.”
Jones is facing his own legal issues. The attorney was arrested earlier this year and charged with 10 crimes involving contraband at the Muscogee County Jail. Authorities say Jones brought drugs and cell phones into the jail and gave them to an inmate facing murder charges. District Attorney Stacey Jackson says Jones has not been indicted and that case is still under investigation for gang connections.
Roderick Glanton, along with brothers Terrance and Homer Upshaw are facing murder and gang charges in Superior Court.
The jury selection process wrapped up within the last hour with 12 jurors and alternates being seated.
The Upshaw brothers and Glanton are accused in the June 2021 Wilson Apartments shooting that left 18-year-old Saiveon Pugh and 17-year-old Jessie Ransom dead.
Potential juror conflicts came out during hours of attorney questioning. One of the prospective jurors told the court she had had an intimate relationship with one of the victims. She told the judge she wanted no part of this case. That juror was dismissed from the pool.
The case is being prosecuted by Cara Convery, the head of the newly created Attorney General’s gang prosecution unit.
Prosecutors allege that the three co-defendants were members of the Marlo gang, which is loosely based in the Wilson Apartments.
Terrance Upshaw is represented by Shevon Thomas II. He repeatedly said in his opening statement that his client and the others were acting in self-defense.
It took the better part of two days to seat a jury in the case. The attorneys, after hours of questioning, picked 12 jurors and three alternates. Before opening statements one of the alternates was released because of a scheduling conflict next week. That conflict was not disclosed during the questioning.
One interesting fact about the jury is there is a husband and wife on the panel. They are a retired couple.
The lunch break was also extended after a fire alarm went off in the Government Center, causing the building to be temporarily evacuated about 1:30 p.m. It was unclear what the issue was.
One witness was called Tuesday and the state is expected to continue its case first thing Wednesday morning in front of Superior Court Judge Gil McBride.