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Richard Knaust convicted of murder, aggravated assault, arson, and tampering with evidence
Richard Knaust
Richard Knaust

Special to the Herald

[Editor's note: This article has been updated to reflect the correct first name of the victim, Wesley Thomas. DA Daphne Totten sent a corrected release to the Herald and sincerely apologizes for the mistake.]

Effingham County -- Richard Knaust, 36, of Guyton was convicted of malice murder, felony murder, aggravated assault, arson, and tampering with evidence for the murder of Wesley Vinson Thomas on Nov. 5, 2022.

Knaust proceeded to trial on May 13, in the Superior Court of Effingham County with the Honorable Judge Michael Muldrew presiding.  After a three-day trial, the jury returned a verdict of guilty on all counts after deliberating for an hour and half and convicted Knaust for killing Wesley Thomas and setting his mobile home on fire to conceal the crime.

Knaust was formerly living with Wesley Thomas, but the night before the murder went to his cousin’s, Dusty Hamilton’s, house where Knaust met his sister, Alicia Hart, and Hamilton.  It was alleged that Hamilton and Knaust, who are blood cousins, were engaged in a romantic relationship.  The three then traveled to Wesley Thomas’ home where Knaust and Hamilton stabbed and beat Thomas to death.  They then set Thomas’ mobile home on fire to conceal the murder.

"We are grateful to the jury in this case who found Richard Knaust Guilty and held him responsible for this heinous crime. We also extend our sincere condolences to the family of Wesley Thomas.” said District Attorney Daphne J. Totten.  "Our office is committed to protecting all victims of violence in our communities and keeping our citizens safe." 

The case was investigated by the Effingham County Sheriff’s Office and the Office of the District Attorney for the Ogeechee Judicial Circuit. Investigator John Bradley with the Effingham County Sheriff’s Office was the lead investigator in this case. The case was tried by Assistant District Attorney Matthew A. Breedon. Sentencing for Richard Knaust is set for May 29, 2024.

Friend of the family speaks out

Delane Davis called the Herald to clarify some items in the above article. According to Davis, there was not a “romantic relationship” between Knaust and Hamilton. Davis added, “If they were ‘blood cousins,’ it would be because Dusty’s mother’s monther’s mother and Richard’s mother’s mother, mother might have been sisters.

“But it could possibly be by marriage,” Davis continued. “Because there were divorces and such in certain areas. But they were not romantically involved.”

“Dusty (Hamilton) and Alicia (Hart) were alleged to be in a romantic relationship, but not Richard (Knaust),” Davis said.