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Jury returns mixed verdict in Ulysses Wiggins’ retrial, rejects murder charge

Ulysses Wiggins talks with his attorney in Superior Court on Aug. 24 during his trial for murder in the December 2008 shooting death of Catherine Walker, then 24.
Ulysses Wiggins talks with his attorney in Superior Court on Aug. 24 during his trial for murder in the December 2008 shooting death of Catherine Walker, then 24.

After about 12 hours’ deliberation, a Columbus jury delivered a mixed verdict Tuesday in the retrial of Ulysses Wiggins, who was charged with murder in the Dec. 16, 2008, fatal shooting of Catherine Walker at a Talbotton Road apartment complex.

Unlike the judge in Wiggins’ bench trial in 2010, the jury found him not guilty of malice or intentional murder and reached no verdict on the charge of felony murder for allegedly killing Walker while committing the felony of aggravated assault.

The jury found him guilty of aggravated assault for pointing a pistol at girlfriend Valorice Caples and of using a firearm to commit a crime. He faces a maximum of 20 years in prison for aggravated assault with an additional five years for the weapons offense.

Later Tuesday, jurors also found Wiggins, 59, guilty of being a felon with a firearm, a charge they were not informed of during his trial, lest it cause prejudice. Court records showed Wiggins pleaded guilty but mentally ill Jan. 8, 1990, to eight counts of armed robbery and one of aggravated assault for offenses committed over the summer of 1989. His record also has a burglary conviction on Oct. 7, 1975, attorneys said.

His conviction on being a felon with a firearm could add five more years to the maximum sentence of 25 years he’s now facing, but he also could serve that at the same time as his five-year sentence to using a gun to commit a crime. Judge Frank Jordan Jr. set Wiggins’ sentencing for 1:30 p.m. Sept. 7.

Assistant District Attorney Katie Hartford has the option of bringing Wiggins back to trial on the felony murder count, as Jordan declared a mistrial on that charge. Hartford said she had not decided whether to try Wiggins a third time.

The judge who heard the case without a jury in 2010 found Wiggins guilty of murder, and he was sentenced to life in prison. But the Georgia Supreme Court this past Jan. 19 overturned his conviction, ruling Wiggins had asked to represent himself, and the judge neglected to hold a hearing on his request.

Though the justices said they found the evidence sufficient to support Wiggins’ conviction and sentence, they sent the case back to Muscogee County for a retrial.

Last week Wiggins went on trial again, with testimony ending Thursday. Two witnesses testified they saw Wiggins shoot Walker outside the apartment complex he and his girlfriend Caples were visiting.

Witnesses said Wiggins became enraged when Caples tried to get into another man’s car, and he rushed over and yanked her away. This prompted Caples’ friend Carolyn Senior to get between Wiggins and Caples to break up the fight.

Caples’ teenaged nephew saw this, and spurred a group of teens to go after Wiggins, chasing him four or five blocks to his home at 2316 16th Ave., said Hartford. There Wiggins got a gun and chased the teens back toward the apartment, firing four or five shots on the way, the prosecutor said.

When he got to the apartments, he pointed the pistol at Caples and told her, “I told you I was going to kill you,” Hartford said. When Senior again intervened, he pointed the gun at her, too, the assistant district attorney said.

The two women got away, and Wiggins started prowling around the apartments until he saw Walker standing outside and shot her, though she had not been involved in the earlier confrontations, Hartford said.

After attorneys gave their closing arguments Friday, the jury of six men and six women deliberated about 2½ hours. They returned Monday at 9 a.m. and continued their deliberations until 5 p.m., with only a break for lunch.

On Tuesday jurors resumed their deliberations at 9 a.m., took a break for lunch, and stopped at 2:30 p.m. when Jordan called them into the courtroom and accepted their partial verdict.

Defense attorney Nancy Miller had asked Jordan to declare a mistrial on all the charges, but the judge rejected that.