There was a hushed sound of relief as Dawson County Clerk of Courts Justin Power read the verdict.
"Not guilty on all charges," he said just after 5:15 p.m. Monday, as one family quietly hugged and celebrated, while another held to each other, visibly shocked to hear the jury's decision.
Herman James "Bo" Seppenfield VII, 51, walked out of the Dawson County jail less than 45 minutes later a free man, after spending 425 days in custody for the 2014 shooting death of 37-year-old Brandon Weaver, also of Dawsonville.
"We are relieved and overjoyed," said his Attorney Richard Stepp. "We believe the verdict of the jury speaks to truth."
It took the jury more than 12 hours of deliberations, spread out over two days, to reach the decision and exonerate Seppenfield on the charges of felony murder, malice murder, aggravated assault and possession of a firearm during a felony act.
Following the verdict, Seppenfield's daughter, Heather, hugged her near year-old daughter, and said, "You're going to get to meet your grandpa today. He's going to love hugging you."
State's reaction to the verdict
Northeastern Judicial Circuit District Attorney Lee Darragh issued a statement on the case Tuesday morning.
"First, the hearts of all in our office who worked so hard to seek justice in this case go out to the family of Brandon Weaver," he said. "While this case had issues from the start, the facts, the physical evidence and the law supported this prosecution of Seppenfield for the charge of murder. It was altogether appropriate for the citizens of Dawson County to finally decide the matter in a jury trial."
Seppenfield charged with murder
The charges stemmed from events that took place at his home on Whitney Place in southeastern Dawson County the night of Nov. 22, 2014.
Weaver died at the scene after being shot twice, following a verbal altercation that escalated and ended in gunfire.
From day one of the trial, which started Feb. 22, there was never an argument made denying that Seppenfield fired the deadly shots.
"I pointed the gun at him and said, ‘Stop, the police are on the way,'" Seppenfield said when he took the stand on Thursday. "At that point, I felt like it was him or me. And my family was on the other side of that door."
Defense: ‘Shooting was justified and lawful'
The defense maintained the shooting was justified and lawful, that Seppenfield was defending his family and his home.
According to Seppenfield, he was awakened from sleep to find a man at his door shortly after 10 p.m., demanding to know what had gone on at a child's birthday party held there earlier in the day.
Testifying for the state, Weaver's now 13-year-old son, said he felt uncomfortable about adults at the party drinking and smoking cigars, which led to him and two friends leaving the party without notifying any adults.
He called home to tell his mom as the trio walked toward his house off Dawson Forest Road.
Weaver's wife then drove her husband and brother, Marty Buice, to pick up the three boys.
Witness testimony shows they also made a stop back at the party, letting Seppenfield and his girlfriend Elisa Chameli, who hosted the party for her twin daughters, know the three boys had left on their own.
It was hours later that Buice and Weaver returned to the home, where a verbal altercation led to a fight and gunfire.
The deadly shots
At first sight, Seppenfield said he did not recognize the man at the door, later identified as Buice, who he described in court as "belligerent and drunk."
"Once voices got raised, I stepped all the way outside on the porch. I didn't want the girls to wake up," he said.
Within moments, Seppenfield said he was picking himself up off the ground, having been hit in the mouth by Buice.
According to Seppenfield, once he regained his senses from the hit, he found Buice fighting with Tory Jude Miguez, who also lived at the Whitney Place home and accompanied Seppenfield to the door.
With the pistol he had placed in his waistband when he heard the loud knocking at his door, Seppenfield said he was able to subdue Buice for a short time, telling him the police were on the way.
The events continued to escalate and Buice was hit in the head with the pistol.
By this time Weaver was out of Buice's truck and reportedly charged at Seppenfield.
"I started backing up ... I was hollering ‘stop' the whole time," he said, adding the deadly shots came next.
Closing arguments ended Thursday
The state and defense rested their cases late Thursday afternoon, following three full days of testimony in which jurors heard memories of what happened the night of Nov. 22.
Buice's story of how the events of the night unraveled painted a contrasting picture that including a description of tattoos Miguez had on his torso (that are not there) and an account of Seppenfield shooting Weaver when he was already on the ground.
Buice also claimed memory loss of the night in question until months later, in which he said he wrote down his memories and gave them to investigators, who later testified to the contrary in regards to the written statement.
Buice and Weaver's wife did corroborate that the two men had been drinking before going to the Whitney Place home.
Deputies also found three empty bottles of vodka, as well as a shotgun, in the back of Buice's truck.
Witnesses included deputies and emergency personnel that were first on the scene of the shooting, crime scene and homicide experts, and Seppenfield's adult daughter, who was at home at the time and called 9-1-1 to the house they shared, testified during the trial.
Miguez, 25, who was charged with aggravated assault and possession of a firearm during a felony crime for his alleged involvement in the fight was at the courthouse throughout most of the trial, but did not testify.
During a calendar call in January, it was confirmed that Miguez's case would not be heard until Seppenfield's trial was complete.
The date of his upcoming trial was not immediately available.
Neighbor arrested in courtroom, accused of perjury
On Monday, a woman was taken into custody by sheriff's investigators at the Dawson County courthouse for allegedly lying under oath in connection with Seppenfield's case. She was later released on a signature bond.
Superior Court Judge Jason Deal said he was disturbed by the abrupt arrest of Wendi Lee Howard, who said she overheard a conversation between an elderly man and a juror as she entered the courthouse just before 9 a.m. Monday.
"That's not how our system works. We don't arrest somebody just because they have a different version than we have, without evidence," Deal said. "My concern is that what happened today has chilled the ability for anyone to feel like they can come forward to share any information."
According to Howard, the man, later identified as Lewis Darnell of Cumming, told the juror, "Do me a favor, find him guilty."
Both Darnell and the juror, whose name was not released, denied the conversation ever happened.
"If I had to guess, there was probably a misunderstanding of what was said," Deal said.
Deal had some choice words for the two Dawson County deputies that made the arrest inside his courtroom.
"I don't know exactly why the decision was made, but if the only basis for arresting Ms. Howard was what happened in this courtroom, that's not enough," he said. "I don't like the way this was handled. I don't care which side of the case you're on."
Both Sgt. Jennifer Wright and Inv. Travis Greene were called in to testify during Howard's bond hearing, just about two hours after she was taken into custody.
They said the decision was based on Howard's testimony and the belief that she had perjured herself under oath.
Dawson County Public Defender Rob McNeill represented Howard during the bond hearing and asked that she be immediately released on her own recognizance, which was granted.
Conley Greer, assistant district attorney, who tried the state's case against Seppenfield, agreed with McNeill.
"She needs to be released," he said.
As of press time, a warrant for Howard's arrest had not been obtained and she had not been booked in the Dawson County jail.
According to Wright, investigators were working to obtain video surveillance of the entrance to the courthouse where the alleged conversation occurred.
Seppenfield's family declined to comment on the verdict.