By MYRA THRIFT, Staff Writer
A Ware County jury returned guilty verdicts on all counts against Naman Wilcox, 24, Wednesday about 6:30 p.m.
Judge Michael DeVane this morning sentenced Wilcox to spend the rest of his life in prison.
He handed down life without parole on felony murder and malice murder convictions and added 20 years each on two counts of aggravated assault (to be served concurrently). An additional 20 years was added for burglary and five years for theft.
Wilcox was charged with murder, aggravated assault, rape, armed robbery and burglary in connection with the stabbing death of Suzanne Stillwell at her home at 625 McDonald Street in March 2015.
A second person charged, Ryan Raulerson, 42, earlier entered guilty pleas to all charges and was sentenced to three life in prison-plus terms by DeVane. Raulerson was also a witness for the prosecution and told the jury that both he and Wilcox were responsible for the 57-year-old woman’s death.
Wilcox took his chances with a jury trial. Through his counsel, he fingered Raulerson, who had lived with the victim for a while in the residence where the slaying occurred, as the murderer.
In closing statements Wednesday afternoon, Jim McGee, representing Wilcox, pointed out that Wilcox was in the Foster Care system until he “aged out.” Wilcox, he said, “has a lot of difficulty processing things, he has a problem with finding himself in situations where he doesn’t know what to do. That is the situation here. He found himself in something he could not think how to get out of.”
McGee said Wilcox was afraid of Raulerson and couldn’t figure a way to get out from under that threat.
“There is no question Raulerson was the killer,” said McGee. “He stabbed her twice. Naman Wilcox was just there. He saw this woman stabbed and he was scared.”
Prior to sentencing, the victim’s sister, Mindy Kneepkens asked the judge this morning to give Wilcox the stiffest penalty allowed by the law, saying that she believed he had no remorse and her sister was degraded in her last hours.
“She was not given any mercy,” Kneepkens said. “Nobody should have to go through that. He does not have one iota of remorse. She fought hard and I beg you to impose the hardest sentence that is allowed for murder and rape. I will never be right again.”
Defense attorney McGee called Wilcox’s mother, Sylvia, to the stand to testify to his client’s character prior to the sentencing. She told the judge that her son was a “loving person who would give you his last dollar or the shirt off his back.”
Wilcox then took the stand, himself, and apologized to the victim’s family for what happened to her and to the law enforcement community for lying to them.
“My mom is suffering right now. I am sorry. I did not mean for it to happen,” Wilcox said.
Seated at the defense table wearing a jail-issued orange striped jumpsuit, a stark contrast to his Sunday best which he had worn on Wednesday, Wilcox was silent as the judge handed down the sentence.
At closing Wednesday, McGee pointed out that Stillwell had kicked Raulerson out of her house and wouldn’t even take his calls prior to the night when the two men broke into her McDonald Street house.
“He dragged Naman in in a way to push this off on somebody else,” said McGee. “Ryan is to blame. He figured it all out. There is nothing good about this whole situation. But Naman was coerced. He was not a party to the killing of Suzanne Stillwell. I ask you to return a verdict of not guilty.”
Assistant District Attorney Melanie Brogden told the jury in her closing argument Wednesday that Raulerson and Wilcox made several bad decisions the night Stillwell was killed.
“Two people are responsible for her death. It is your job to hold them (both) accountable,” Brogden told the jury.
“A lot of people go through the Foster Care System and come out and make good decisions,” said Brogden. “Wilcox made some really bad decisions. Wilcox is still lying today. He is not taking responsibility for his actions. Don’t leave your common sense at the door.”
She noted that as long as a person sticks with the truth, there is no reason to lie. But when a person begins to lie, it is harder for him to remember the truth.
“And Wilcox is lying,” she said. “(Stillwell) took care of Ryan. She gave him her PIN number for her debit card. And Ryan accepted the responsibility. But he made a horrible decision that led to her death. And so did Wilcox.”
Both Raulerson and Wilcox, Brogden argued, decided that night they needed some money and were going to go rob somebody.
“Wilcox tells you he is ‘half retarded’ and he couldn’t keep his story straight. It is hard to remember when you aren’t telling the truth. He says he was scared of Ryan. Both of them went to Stillwell’s house. Wilcox keeps saying that Raulerson made him do it,” the ADA said.
Brogden noted that the two made two trips to the Stillwell house that night, the first to get money, which they failed to find. Some time after they left Stillwell’s house the first time, they returned.
Then she offered this scenario:
“Ryan kicked the door in. A gun goes off and Stillwell is concerned about her dog. She asked (them) why they shot her dog. They tussled over the gun and she fought for her life. Then they go into the bedroom. Ryan holds her down while Wilcox sexually assaults her. But yet Mr. Wilcox keeps saying ‘he made me do it.’ She put up a fight, yelled for help, kicked him, probably in the face. And Wilcox began punching her in the stomach. She was mad. She probably hurt him when she kicked him in the face and then he hit her in the face with the butt of the gun, knocked her out cold.
“Ryan then goes to the kitchen and gets a butcher knife. Wilcox is holding a gun on her and it takes two of them to hold her down. Ryan sat in the witness chair and told you that both of them caused her death.”
After leaving Stillwell for dead, investigators discovered, the two stole her car and drove around Waycross. They got stuck on LeJeune Road and left the car there and ended up walking.
But, Brogden said, before they left Stillwell’s house, they used bleach to clean up the area of the slaying, thinking they would kill DNA, but that they left plenty of evidence.
After finding the car, police went to the Stillwell home looking for the owner. Police found Stillwell dead in her bedroom and began the course of putting the pieces of the puzzle together.