During Austin Stryker’s trial Wednesday, an even more troubling narrative began to emerge around Hannah Bender’s 2019 killing as Dylan Reid testified that the victim may not have been planning on going to police regarding alleged armed robberies done earlier that year as part of a gang called “THIS.”
The trial is ongoing before Northeastern Circuit Superior Court Judge Kathlene Gosselin at a courtroom within the Dawson County Government Center.
Past and present defendants
Stryker and Jerry Harper, also known as Kyle, are co-defendants. Harper’s time in the trial has not come yet.
Stryker has been charged with malice murder; felony murder; aggravated assault; aggravated battery; possessing a firearm and knife during commission of a felony; violations of Georgia’s Street Gang Terrorism and Prevention Act; concealing the death of another; and tampering with evidence.
Harper has been charged with three street gang violation counts; hindering the apprehension or punishment of a criminal and theft by receiving stolen property.
Most of the testimonies thus far have focused on Stryker and his alleged connections to Bender’s killing.
Reid, along with Isaac Huff, pleaded guilty in April 2021 for their roles in Bender’s killing. Reid was sentenced to 15 years in prison and 20 years of probation for being a party to aggravated assault, aggravated battery, tampering with evidence, concealing the death of another and a violation of Georgia’s Street Gang Terrorism and Prevention Act.
Huff will spend 12 years in prison and 18 years on probation after being convicted of a street gang violation and being a party to aggravated assault, aggravated battery and concealing the death of another.
During a tense inquiry from Johnson, Reid said that his testimony Wednesday was the same as what he said during his plea hearing and to a GBI investigator “for the most part.”
That statement mattered, as Reid lying while testifying could compromise his plea deal.
When ADA Sachdeva followed up with him, Reid confirmed that Huff rather than Stryker said what happened in the truck the night of Bender’s death, contradicting his plea hearing testimony that Stryker did say something.
Reid confirmed his telling investigators about where Bender was buried and taking them to the Forsyth Co. location.
When asking questions, Stryker’s defense attorney, Brock Johnson, also brought up a failed robbery attempt in Stockbridge where Reid went to pick up Stryker and Huff after their vehicle ran out of gas. During that time, Reid heard Stryker mention concerns about Bailey Williams, not Bender, being a “snitch.”
Around the time of Hannah Bender’s killing, Reid remembered Stryker mentioning both a blonde-haired snitch and Bender in the same context.
“I remember him (Stryker) saying that once he killed Hannah, he would be sure who the snitch was,” Reid said.
Reid’s testimony lined up with Huff’s regarding the gang. He also claimed that Williams, who’s also been charged in the case, had taken a blood oath but not gotten a signature handprint tattoo.
Like Huff, Reid said Stryker occasionally carried around a black Ruger .380 with a red trigger belonging to another person. Reid said he saw Stryker with the handgun two weeks prior to Bender’s killing.
Night of Bender’s death
The night of Sept. 14, 2019, Reid said he drank a little but that he saw Huff sober while Stryker drank alcohol and consumed methamphetamine.
Before Stryker left Huff’s house around midnight, Reid testified that Stryker said, “You never know. I might need it,” before he took the Ruger handgun.
Reid ended up going from Huff’s basement to an upstairs bedroom, and he was awoken between 5 and 6 a.m. on Sept. 15 by Huff, who ran up the stairs and, after having trouble speaking words, frantically told his friend to get downstairs and mentioned something about a body.
Reid added he didn’t know the body would be Bender’s but assumed it might be. The witness repeated what Huff told him about Bender getting shot mid-sentence and Stryker jumping into the passenger seat and telling Huff to go.
When Reid went outside, he said a shirtless Stryker was wiping a knife on the ground. The knife was Reid’s and had been sitting in Youngblood’s black Mazda pickup truck, in which they all regularly rode.
Reid described Stryker’s demeanor as more composed than Huff’s. When asked why he didn’t call 911, Reid brought up his aversion to asking law enforcement for help growing up.
“I know that if I’d called 911 sooner, we probably wouldn't be in this situation. I just thought about the trouble I’d be getting into,” Dylan Reid said.
Upon approaching the truck, Reid described seeing Bender slumped over in the back seat with the head wound but not necessarily seeing the blood in the car.
“I smelled it more than anything, but I saw it on her...it’s sickening,” Reid said. “You won’t forget it.”
Reid said he helped Stryker move Bender’s body out of the truck, wrap her in a blanket and take her to the fire pit. They took off the clothes they were wearing and told Huff to burn the items.
The witness said during the prosecution’s questioning they thought Bender might have been alive when they wrapped her body in the blanket before moving her. However, he clarified during the cross-examination by Johnson that he “didn’t believe her to be alive” because of her head wound.
The morning of Sept. 16, Reid talked with Stryker at Huff’s and assisted with putting Bender’s body into the toolbox that came from the bed of the Mazda pickup truck. Enroute to a mutual friend’s residence off of Blacks Mill Road, Stryker’s wife, Elizabeth, Donaldson, drove as Reid sat in the passenger seat and Stryker sat in the back with his young son. The windows of that Ford Explorer had to be kept down to circulate air and alleviate the odor coming from the toolbox.
Reid put the toolbox from the car and put it between an old camper and shop shed structure there. He then helped Stryker remove the driver’s seat, carpet and wall panels from the truck and place the objects in the Ford Explorer. The truck was left at Youngblood’s property.
Williams was later contacted before Huff, Reid and Stryker picked her up and disposed of the truck parts off of Grizzle Road in Dawson County.
About a week later, Reid was at a friend’s in Dawsonville when Stryker drove up and asked for his help with the body. They then went to where Stryker had moved the body off of Parks Road in north Forsyth County.
Reid agreed to put dirt on top of Bender’s shallow grave but refused Stryker’s request to dismember her body. Reid also refused to take Stryker to a friend’s house in West Virginia, with Jerry Harper instead being the one to allegedly take Stryker there.
Reid reiterated to attorneys from both sides that he felt scared in regards to all of the possibilities regarding the killing situation. He asserted that he helped Stryker because of their mutual long-term friendship and not because of “THIS.”
Sachdeva followed up by reminding Reid of his April testimony, where Reid did express fear at what Stryker could do.
“‘Anything could happen. He could have shot me,’” Reid added in response.
“At your plea hearing, you testified that he (Stryker) was the type of person who could kill. Were you lying about that?” said Sachdeva.
“No,” said Reid.
What’s next in the trial
Following an afternoon full of discussion about blood and DNA analysis, the state’s medical examiner will take the stand tomorrow morning. Others will also take the stand to discuss evidence.
Judge Gosselin also discussed possible jury instructions regarding the graphic pictures from Bender’s discovery and autopsy. That concern has also been mentioned during jury selection and a pre-trial motion.
Sachdeva suggested that the prosecution can offer further context by asking the medical examiner a few questions to broach the subject.