ATLANTA — The evidence against Craig Heidt is circumstantial but remains overwhelming, Ogeechee Judicial Circuit Assistant District Attorney Michael Muldrew told state Supreme Court justices Monday afternoon.
Six of seven justices heard oral arguments from Muldrew and defense attorney Dow Bonds. Bonds has appealed the December 2010 conviction that sentenced Craig Heidt to two life sentences plus 85 years for the August 2008 shotgun slayings of his father Philip Heidt and brother Carey Heidt. Linda Heidt, Craig’s mother and Philip’s widow, was gravely wounded in the attack, carried out in the early morning hours of Aug. 25, 2008.
“The defendant already received a fair trial in this case,” Muldrew said. “The overwhelming guilt was clear. The evidence in this case would survive a motion for a directed verdict. The evidence clearly shows that the only realistic hypothesis is the guilt of the defendant. We ask the court to affirm the trial court’s verdict.”
Bonds raised several issues, including the disqualification of co-counsel Manubir Arora prior to trial, the denial of a change of venue motion and the exclusion of a shotgun that matched the type that may have been used in the murders.
“I believe it is important to view this case in the sufficiency of the evidence,” Bonds said.
Bonds argued that a Remington 870 shotgun owned by Carey Heidt was brought by Robin Heidt Cave, Carey Heidt’s widow, to a family friend to repair. That family friend, hearing during the trial a Remington 870 may have been used to kill the Heidts, brought the weapon to authorities.
Muldrew said the state does not know exactly what kind of gun was used in the murders, but a Remington 870 is capable of firing Winchester 3-inch shells, the kind used by the killer. Also, Craig Heidt said a Remington 870 he owned that was kept in a storage room in a shed behind his parents’ home was missing.
Bonds questioned the investigation, conducted by the Effingham County Sheriff’s Office and the Georgia Bureau of Investigation. He argued the killer entered the home after breaking a pane of glass in the back door, reaching inside to unlock the door. A key that family members knew was kept outside was found in the house.
“Several people knew of the outside key,” Bonds said. “They never checked to see if Craig Heidt had his own key.”
Prosecutors said the crime scene was staged to look like a break-in, but the only item discovered missing from the home was a rifle belonging to Craig Heidt, Muldrew said. Linda Heidt had taken the rifle and placed it out of the way of her grandchildren.
“This was not a home invasion. This was not a robbery,” Muldrew said. “The person who shot those three people meant to kill them.”
Bonds also said the state never compared markings found on the door to any shotgun, did not inspect tooling marks found on the phone lines that had been cut and did not take photographs of tire tracks a deputy saw on the property in the hours after the murders.
Investigators also failed to explore other theories of the crime, including Philip Heidt’s business dealings that left him heavily in debt and the identification of a methamphetamine dealer who lived not far from the Heidt home.
“Investigators found no DNA, no blood, no fingerprints, no tire tracks, no witnesses or ballistic material to connect Craig Heidt to this crime,” Bonds said.
The only evidence the state had, Bonds said, was circumstantial. Muldrew attempted to refute the allegation.
“If there was ever a case where circumstantial evidence was overwhelming evidence, this is the case” Muldrew said. “The bruises on his shoulder are just as good as DNA.”
Muldrew said the defense’s own firearms expert agreed the state’s theory was consistent with the evidence. He also told justices investigators probed the crime for nine months before making an arrest.
“They thoroughly investigated this case for nine months,” he said. “They went down every rabbit trail and chased every red herring, most of them at the suggestion of Chris Heidt. Every theory was exhausted in this case.”
Most of Bonds’ argument – and the ensuing questions from the justices – centered on the shotgun turned over to authorities during the trial. Bonds claimed it was potential evidence that was suppressed and it should have been allowed, under the case Brady v. Maryland.
“The shotgun is very relevant,” he said. “The state deemed it was not relevant. It is the same type, make and model they allege was used in the crime.”
Bonds also told justices he had no recollection of a discussion about the shotgun in open court. He added no tests were done on the shotgun to see if it could have been the murder weapon.
Justice David Nahmias asked Bonds why he couldn’t have performed the tests after the trial.
“The burden is not on the state to show it is exculpatory,” he said.
Muldrew said the shotgun David Dumas presented to Sheriff Jimmy McDuffie during the trial had no relevance. He also said he could point “to the place in the courtroom where the conversation” about the gun took place. “The sheriff testified to it,” he added.
Muldrew said the defense knew about the guns, and the shotgun in question, well before the trial. They were taken to Alan Heidt, Chris, Carey and Craig’s uncle, for safekeeping because the family worried Robin Heidt might use them to injure herself. They eventually were handed over to the sheriff’s office, and those weapons were returned to the Heidt family.
Though no documentation or chain of evidence on the guns existed, Bonds argued, Muldrew countered that the defense knew of the existence of those weapons and the shotgun in question well before the trial. They had been returned to attorney Craig Bonnell, who also represented Robin Heidt and Craig Heidt.
“The defense knew about it before we did,” Muldrew said.
Craig Heidt’s own statements to investigators also play a part in the evidence, according to Muldrew.
“The evidence is clear that the defendant lied about everything he was asked about, and even things he wasn’t asked about,” Muldrew said.
Justices could render their decision anytime in the next several weeks.