Murder verdict reached in biker gang trial

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Three men accused of invading a rival club’s meet-and-great at a Columbus sports bar and initiating a brawl that led to a fatal shooting inside the business were found not guilty Wednesday afternoon.

James Daniels Jr., DeMark Ponder and Daginald Wheeler were found not guilty of charges of murder, robbery, aggravated assault, using a gun to commit a crime and three counts of violating Georgia’s Street Gang Terrorism and Prevention Act. Wheeler was also found not guilty of an additional count of violating the gang prevention act. Ponder was guilty of lying to police.

Dominic Mitchell was fatally shot at the 4th Quarter Sports Bar & Grill, 6959 Macon Road, where the Strikers Motorcycle Club was hosting a meet-and-greet. In less than a minute a brawl broke out inside the bar as the Outcasts wrested a signature vest away from then-Strikers club president Hilliard London. During the fight, Ponder twice shot Mitchell in the chest.

Jurors began their deliberations about 10:30 a.m. Tuesday, and left for the day around 4 p.m They returned Wednesday at 9 a.m.

Earlier Wednesday before the verdict was reached, Judge Bobby Peters learned jurors were complaining the foreperson in the trial of three alleged biker gangsters charged in a fatal 2015 shootout had contact with a spouse’s friend who once was a pledge to the Outcast Motorcycle Club.

The three defendants on trial are associated with that group, which was accused of firing more than 70 shots in the parking lot outside a Macon Road bar.

During the shootout, defendant Ponder was wounded in the leg. He and codefendant Daniel, both Outcast pledges, raced from the bar to the emergency room at St. Francis Hospital, where Daniel remained while Ponder was being treated.

In court Wednesday, the jury foreperson told Peters that having learned a friend of her husband’s formerly was an Outcast pledge, she contacted the friend to ask whether an Outcast pledge under club rules would be allowed to leave a fellow biker who was wounded. The friend answered “no,” she said, and she passed that on to the other jurors.

“Just that question is all I asked,” she said. “I didn’t even have a conversation. I texted him.”

The other jurors were outraged. Peters called in another juror who had complained about the foreperson. She said the other jurors wanted her off the panel: “There are 10 people who have a problem with her calling a person.”

With the attorneys tacit agreement, Peters dismissed the foreperson, replacing her with an alternate juror. The newly constituted jury then was called in and again instructed to have no contact with anyone outside the jury room.

Jurors then returned to the room to elect a new foreperson and restart their deliberations with the alternate. Alternate jurors hear all the evidence at trial, but they do not join deliberations unless called to replace someone who can’t continue.

Columbus just held a trial of three Crips gang members charged with assassinating a man outside Peachtree Mall in 2016. Judge Frank Jordan Jr. replaced the foreperson on that jury after other jurors complained she was refusing to deliberate, and insulting and intimidating jurors who disagreed with her.

That jury eventually found the defendants guilty on all counts.

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Tim Chitwood
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