A defiant Savannah man charged with directing the September gang-related slaying of Dominique Powell in Tatemville refused on Friday to enter a written plea to charges against him, prompting the judge to direct a not guilty plea.
“At this point, we’re not entering a plea on the record,” Atlanta-based defense attorney Jerilyn Bell of the Georgia Capital Defender’s office told Chatham County Superior Court Judge John E. Morse Jr. as she and her client Arthur Newton stood before the court.
Bell’s response followed several attempts by Morse to address her and what he anticipated would be a not guilty plea as she spoke with her client.
When Newton challenged Morse with, “Is that a judicial decision?” Morse responded, “I will address you through your counsel unless otherwise given permission.”
“Ms. Bell, will you enter a plea of not guilty for your client, please?” Morse asked.
“My client is not willing to sign a plea on the indictment,” she responded.
“The record reflects his plea has been formally entered” as not guilty, Morse said.
Newton’s conduct mirrored earlier appearances before Morse in the case, all but one of which has been accompanied by similar disruptions.
Newton, 22, is the lead defendant in the state’s efforts to seek the death penalty for four alleged members of the Bloods, a criminal street gang, who are accused of murder and related offenses in the Sept. 12 shooting death of Powell, 24, just five days after defending himself during an armed robbery.
Each also is charged with multiple violations of the Street Gang Terrorism and Prevention Act as well as other felony counts.
Co-defendants Timothy Coleman Jr. 22, who prosecutors contend was the gunman in Powell’s slaying, and Artez Strain, 23, who allegedly drove Coleman to the slaying scene, each entered not guilty pleas without incident later in the day.
A fourth co-defendant, Tyriek Walker, 22, earlier entered a not guilty plea to charges against him.
Because Chatham County District Attorney Meg Heap is seeking the death penalty, Morse will have to try each defendant in separate prosecutions and all pre-trial motions as well. Attorneys from the Georgia Capital Defender’s office are representing each defendant separately under the state’s Unified Appeal Process.
Morse will now move to begin hearing pre-trial motions for each beginning next month and into October.
All four remain in the Chatham County jail without bond.
Prosecutors contend that Newton was the mastermind behind the slaying, directing Coleman and the others to kill Powell.
Police responded to a shooting Sept. 12 in the 900 block of Garey Avenue in Tatemville, where they found Powell suffering with a fatal gunshot wound outside a residence. Powell was the victim of an armed robbery on Sept. 8 in the neighborhood. During the robbery, Powell exchanged gunfire with would-be robbers Antwan Drayton and Newton, police said.
Investigators concluded that Powell shot Drayton and Newton in self-defense during the robbery. After being arrested, Newton ordered the death of Powell, Savannah-Chatham police Chief Joseph Lumpkin said.
Strain, Coleman and Walker carried out those orders and participated in Powell’s death, Lumpkin said. According to the indictments, Coleman caused Powell’s death by shooting him on Sept. 12. The indictments charge that Newton “did intentionally encourage and procure Coleman to commit the crime of malice murder by shooting Powell.”
Newton also was indicted on a felony murder count by procuring Coleman to kill Powell by shooting him during an aggravated assault and while influencing a witness, both of which are felonies.