One of the people accused in the cover up of Hannah Bender’s 2019 killing has entered a guilty plea after being charged in connection with an armed robbery.
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During a Feb. 8 hearing in Lumpkin County, 24-year-old Bailey Diane Williams pleaded guilty to a criminal attempt charge for being the getaway driver while co-defendant Austin Stryker allegedly robbed a Dahlonega-area Dollar General on July 7, 2019.
Under the First Offender Act, Williams was sentenced to five years of probation, with time deemed served for her previous jail confinement in Lumpkin County. She will also have to provide restitution to the robbery victim, perform 100 hours of community service and testify against either of her co-defendants, Stryker or Isaac Huff, if either of them go to trial.
Lumpkin County is part of the Enotah Judicial Circuit, which also includes Town, Union and White counties.
“You’ve put yourself in a situation that has life-changing consequences,” Superior Court Judge James Cornwell said to Williams. “You come across as someone with remorse and hopes for a future. My sense is that this [crime] was in its own way isolated based on poor choices of friends.”
The judge accepted a guilty plea under first offender status from Williams in lieu of an Alford plea, which would’ve let her uphold her innocence while admitting that the case could result in a guilty verdict if taken to trial.
First offender status means that after Williams completes her sentence, the criminal attempt charge will no longer be on her record, and she will not be considered a felon for this case.
“Part of the court's obligation is to give people hope,” Cornwell said. “If you don’t have hope, you don’t have much of anything.”
As part of the sentencing conditions, Williams could have her probation revoked if she violates it or commits a new criminal offense, and she could then be resentenced to serve time in prison.
For their roles, Stryker was charged with aggravated assault and armed robbery, while Williams and Huff were charged with being parties to the alleged 2019 crime at the South Chestatee Street Dollar General, according to a June 2022 indictment.
In December 2022, Huff entered a plea of not guilty. Then in January, Stryker also pleaded not guilty on his charges.
An updated July 2021 indictment accused Stryker of killing Bender in the early morning of Sept. 15, 2019 by shooting and stabbing her. Williams was accused of tampering with evidence in Lumpkin County as part of the cover up, according to a separate indictment for her case.
Before Stryker’s November 2021 trial, prosecutors successfully got evidence introduced alleging that his motive to kill Hannah Bender was tied to his belief that she might go to police about the Lumpkin County robbery.
Huff and another co-defendant in the Dawson County case, Dylan Reid, testified about their and others’ involvement in a small gang called “THIS” during a joint plea and sentencing hearing in April 2021.
During his testimony at Stryker’s trial, Huff said that the gang members allegedly committed armed robbery at Dollar Generals in Dawsonville and Dahlonega during summer 2019.
Currently, charges have only been filed in Lumpkin County for the alleged armed robbery there.
During the Feb. 8 hearing, Williams’ defense attorney, Zack Tumlin, explained that there were no leads on the Dahlonega robbery until a few months later, after Hannah Bender’s September 2019 murder. During that investigation, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation contacted Williams, who admitted Stryker’s and the others’ alleged involvement in a loose-knit group or gang.
“One of the group’s criminal activities was this armed robbery,” Tumlin said. “Her involvement in the [robbery] case didn’t come to light until the investigation of the murder.”
Cornwell inquired to Tumlin about the motive for the robbery “other than gang activity or a quest for money.”
“My understanding is apparently Mr. Stryker wanted to be broadcast or on the news for committing another robbery,” Tumlin said. “Essentially, he was wanting to become famous… [but] it was a relatively minimal amount that was taken.”
Williams took the stand as one of the main witnesses during Stryker’s trial. There, she similarly testified that she was the alleged getaway driver for the Dahlonega robbery, something both she and Reid mentioned, and that Stryker was the alleged robber.
On Feb. 8, the defense attorney characterized his client as never having been in “THIS” or any gang and said she “lived in fear” of the defendants. The day of the robbery, Tumlin said Williams was essentially trapped with Huff and Stryker in the car and couldn’t leave.
During her testimony at Stryker’s trial, Williams elaborated that she had a pre-existing fear of him before Bender’s killing.
“He (Stryker) said things or went about things to where you felt you couldn't tell him ‘no’ or go against him,” Williams said.
While she testified, Williams recalled Stryker’s fear leading up to September 2019 that there was a “blonde-haired snitch” in their friend group, which she took to mean Bender.
“I want to get justice for her. She (Bender) was my best friend,” Williams said at the trial.
Tumlin mentioned that his client “did provide significant assistance” before and during Stryker’s trial and was aware her testimony could be used against her for her Lumpkin County case.
“For a lack of better words, these are some bad dudes,” Tumlin said of Williams’ co-defendants in the armed robbery case. “Quite frankly, she solved these two crimes, and she’s the reason they’re in [prison].”
Tumlin described how Williams moved to the area for college and met the co-defendants, becoming addicted to methamphetamine and going on a “downward spiral” that included a drug possession charge in White County.
“She recognizes what she’s charged with and why she’s charged with it,” Tumlin said. “Those guys got her addicted, and thank God, she’s broken free of that addiction.”
Williams spoke to the court, saying she’s complied with her sentencing conditions for the drug charge and hasn’t touched another illegal substance during her probation.
“I do what normal people are supposed to do,” Williams said. “I got mixed up in all of this, and I don’t want to do it again.”
During the April 2021 hearing, Huff received a sentence of 12 years in prison and 18 years on probation for his role in covering up Bender’s death.
Reid got 20 years with 15 years on probation for the additional culpability of tampering with evidence.
At the end of his November 2021 trial, a Dawson County jury found Stryker guilty and convicted him on all 24 charges tied to Bender’s murder.
Then in December, Stryker was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. His lawyers filed a motion for a new trial in January 2022. A hearing for that motion has been continued.
At the end of October 2021, just before Stryker’s trial, co-defendant Jerry Harper pleaded guilty in Dawson County to multiple gang-related charges for helping him evade police and approving of Bender’s murder.
That December, Harper received a sentence of 20 years in prison, with 10 years of probation to follow the prison time consecutively.
In April 2022, Harper was indicted in Forsyth County on one count each of concealing the death of another and tampering with evidence of Bender’s murder.
He pleaded guilty and was sentenced to another 20 years in Forsyth County for his role in concealing Bender’s death there.
During a hearing on July 29, 2022, Stryker’s wife, Elizabeth Donaldson, entered a negotiated plea of guilty for her alleged role in the cover-up of Bender’s killing.
She was sentenced to 12 months of local custody and two years of house arrest for her charge of concealing a body and 10 years of probation for the tampering charge, to run concurrent with the first count.
Williams has entered a plea of not guilty for her tampering with evidence charge, and a trial date has been continued in that case.
Another date has not been set yet for Stryker’s motion for a new trial in Dawson County.
DCN will continue following these court cases.