During an Oct. 29 hearing, the man accused of approving Austin Todd Stryker’s 2019 murder of Hannah Bender and helping the Dawsonville man evade authorities recently pleaded guilty to three of his own criminal charges, according to court documents released on Nov. 15, 2021.
Jerry Nesbit Harper, 79, of Forsyth County, pleaded guilty to one violation of Georgia’s Street Gang Terrorism and Prevention Act for racketeering activity involving homicide as well as hindering apprehension or punishment of a criminal and an accompanying street gang violation for that charge.
Defendants Isaac Thomas Huff and Dylan Patrick Reid previously testified in April and at Stryker’s November trial that Harper was the leader of a small gang called “THIS.” Gang members are alleged to have committed at least one armed robbery in Dahlonega during summer 2019. Huff and Reid, along with Harper’s indictment, accused Harper of approving Stryker’s murder of Bender on Sept. 15, 2019 and taking Stryker to West Virginia in the days after the incident.
The state agreed to not prosecute Harper for charges related to theft of a vehicle and a street gang violation connected to that theft. These are also known as nol-pros charges.
Harper, a co-defendant with the 24-year-old Stryker, will be sentenced during a hearing at the Dawson County Courthouse on Tuesday, Dec. 14 at 3 p.m.
Stryker, who was convicted on Nov. 10 of committing Bender’s murder, will learn his fate during his own sentencing hearing at the courthouse on Wednesday, Dec. 15 starting at 1:30 p.m.
Following Stryker’s trial, a jury found him guilty of malice murder; three counts of felony murder; three counts aggravated assault; two counts aggravated battery; possession of both a gun and a knife during the commission of a crime; 11 street gang violations; concealing the death of another and tampering with evidence.
During Stryker’s trial, the state’s prosecutors successfully argued that his motive for murdering Bender was to prevent her from going to law enforcement about the Dahlonega robbery, in which he is alleged to have taken part.
Stryker and Bailey Williams are both defendants in the robbery case, which is still pending out of Lumpkin County. Williams was charged with tampering with evidence in Bender’s murder.
Northeastern Judicial Circuit Judge Kathlene Gosselin said the maximum penalty she could impose on Harper would be 45 years, considering the two nol-pros charges. Previously, the court’s maximum penalty was “more like 65 years,” Gosselin said.
“There is no negotiated plea agreement, nor is there a plea offer or one that will be made,” said Senior Assistant District Attorney Conley Greer at the Oct. 29 hearing.
Northeastern Judicial Circuit District Attorney Lee Darragh has previously said that Stryker’s case is not a death penalty case.
DCN will continue to follow this case’s court proceedings and provide updates.