Two North Georgia men at the center of a brutal murder case will appear virtually before the Dawson County Superior Court for a scheduled calendar call hearing on Friday, April 16, court officials say.
Austin Todd Stryker, 24, of Dawson County and Jerry Nesbit Harper, 79, of Forsyth County, have both been charged in connection with the shooting and stabbing death of 21-year-old Lumpkin County woman Hannah Bender, whose body was discovered buried in north Forsyth in 2019.
Four other men and women were also charged in the wake of an investigation into Bender’s death, which spanned crime scenes in Lumpkin, Dawson and Forsyth counties, leading to multiple indictments for murder, aggravated assault and violation of Georgia’s Street Gang Terrorism and Prevention Act.
Stryker and Harper, along with Isaac Thomas Huff, 19, and Dylan Patrick Reid, 21, both of Dawson County, initially entered not guilty pleas to all charges laid against them.
But in a hearing held last week, Huff and Reid pleaded guilty to reduced charges as part of an agreement with the state, receiving 12- and 15-year prison sentences respectively for giving sworn testimony about how Bender’s murder was carried out.
Huff and Reid testified that on Sept. 14, 2019, Bender was lured out of her home in Lumpkin County by Stryker, who then allegedly shot the woman in the head and stabbed her 32 times before burying her body in a shallow grave in north Forsyth County.
Both men confessed that they had heard Stryker say many times that he intended to kill Bender, and believed that Stryker would carry out the murder, but could give no exact motive for why.
Stryker, Harper, Huff and Reid, along with several other individuals not included in this case were members of a small criminal gang known only as “THIS,” which reportedly participated in low-level drug crimes and armed robberies, according to testimony.
Huff and Reid alleged in their testimony to the court that although Bender’s murder was carried out by Stryker, Harper knew about the killing and may have helped orchestrate it.
Stryker faces multiple felony murder charges, a charge of malice murder, aggravated assault and battery, concealing the death of another and violation of the state’s Street Gang Terrorism and Prevention Act.
Harper has been indicted on felony counts of hindering the apprehension or punishment of a criminal, theft by receiving stolen property and violation of the state’s Street Gang Terrorism and Prevention Act.
Both men will appear virtually via Zoom at 9 a.m. for Friday’s calendar call hearing, which allows the court to schedule cases that are ready for trial.
The Dawson County News will be following this case and will provide updates.