BY DISTRICT ATTORNEY MARIE BRODER
One of the most important experiences you will ever have as a prosecutor is to go to a crime scene. I tell my attorneys that you should never try a murder case by walking into a courtroom with pictures and bagged evidence. You need to be on the ground when the yellow tape is still up and the coroner has not yet removed the body.
That sounds morbid, but if you are going to convince 12 people that you know what happened in a victim’s final moments, you should be as close as possible to the final act that took their life.
My staff and I have gone to crime scenes at all hours of the night to see what happened and help law enforcement complete an investigation that will stand up against cross-examination in a court room years later.
That means feeling blood stick to your high heels after the crime scene team has done their work. That means seeing a cast iron skillet with blood and hair on it after someone’s head was bashed in. And that means smelling death — an experience normally reserved for first responders, coroners, servicemen and servicewomen, medical personnel, and others.
But in all of those encounters with death, nothing prepared me for an unholy act of desecration I experienced a few years ago when I drove out to a scene where two young men had been executed and their bodies set on fire in the back of a truck.
I have tried many crimes of passion where the victims were killed by someone they knew. In those cases, the killers still had some bizarre respect for the dead body of the victim. Even if they abandoned the body somewhere, there was some effort to respect the corpse.
Not so for the victims in this case. Instead, their killers had tossed them in the back of a truck after executing them and set their bodies on fire.
Everyone at that crime scene was forever changed, myself included, by the sight and smell of two young men burned to pieces with trash tossed on their bodies.
Thankfully, the Spalding County Sheriff’s Office went above and beyond to find out how these poor men were killed and what brought them there. We learned that the victims had been lured to a house in Spalding County on the promise of a drug deal. They brought the money and were executed with a shotgun and handgun. Although their intentions were not pure, they did not deserve what happened to them.
One of the killers proudly brandished on social media the cash they took from the victims with a picture alongside an image of the Saint of Death — Santa Muerte.
After hundreds of hours of investigation we found those involved and brought charges against them. I am pleased to report that after a 9-day trial, with over 600 pieces of evidence tendered, the three men that pulled the trigger will spend the rest of their natural lives in prison. One pled guilty to life in prison, and the other two were given multiple life sentences by the Honorable Scott Ballard.
I personally tried this case with one of my top attorneys, Senior Assistant District Attorney, Kate Lenhard. Her efforts and the efforts of law enforcement and our staff are why this case was a success.
There are some sights and smells one cannot forget doing this job. But we can at least sleep at night knowing that callous evildoers will never see the light of day.
[Marie Broder has served as the Griffin Judicial Circuit district attorney since 2020. She prosecutes criminal cases in Fayette, Spalding, Pike and Upson counties and resides in Griffin.]