Monday afternoon, the defense called its first witness during the trial of Austin Todd Stryker, who’s been charged with Hannah Bender’s 2019 killing: the defendant himself.
“I remember the gunshot, and my ears were ringing, and she [immediately] slumped over,” Stryker said. “I realize I didn’t cock it to make sure a bullet wasn't in the chamber.”
After describing the shooting as accidental, Stryker went on to say that he stabbed Bender with the thought that draining body fluids could make her less heavy.
Northeastern Circuit Superior Court Judge Kathlene Gosselin is trying the case of Bender’s 2019 killing. Stryker, 24, of Dawsonville, has been charged with 24 offenses including murder, aggravated assault and aggravated battery, while Jerry Harper, 79, of Forsyth County, is facing multiple lesser charges.
Defense attorney Brock Johnson laid the foundation for Stryker’s case by asking his client about his financial situation and substance use at the time of Bender’s death. Stryker testified about an alleged armed robbery at the Dahlonega Dollar General and his intent to steal a kilogram of methamphetamine from an area drug dealer. He added that he had Bender in the car on Sept. 15 to act as “bait” for that dealer, since he didn’t want to contact the person himself.
Stryker testified that shortly before the shooting, he was showing Bender the Ruger LCP .380 handgun as proof that he had the “tools” to take from the dealer.
He said he handed Bender the firearm while she was holding her cell phone in one hand. He elaborated that she ended up switching items in her hands to then hold the gun in her left.
According to him, Bender was holding the gun opposite of the typical way, with her index finger up and thumb in the trigger guard, when Stryker told Huff to slow down driving the truck.
Then, the gun went off, and after they arrived back at Huff’s house, Stryker went on to say he stabbed Bender thinking that draining blood from her body would make her lighter so he could pull her body out of the car by himself.
Stryker admitted to moving Bender’s body to Huff’s fire pit, hiding evidence, as well as moving her body to a toolbox and later moving it to be near Harper’s camper. He also admitted to helping disassemble the truck, dumping the parts off of Grizzle Road, putting the toolbox inside of the Ford Explorer and driving to the property off of Parks Road, where he buried Bender’s remains.
Stryker denied forging the bill of sale document which was later found in the black Mazda truck by law enforcement.
Monday afternoon, Judge Gosselin also denied defense attorney Kyle Denslow’s motion for a count each of murder, aggravated assault and aggravated battery to be struck from Stryker’s indictment.
Despite the state medical examiner’s uncertainty about Bender’s status when stabbed, the prosecution successfully argued that the charges should stick since cause of death was listed as “shooting and stabbing.”
Stryker was also asked about whether or not he was proud of committing horrible acts to cover up Bender’s death or involving his friends and his wife in those acts.
“I’m not proud...I’m not proud of anything about this,” Stryker said.