Marcus Lillard murder trial looking likely for next week

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Above picture at left courtesy of LinkedIn. Above picture at right courtesy of the Baldwin County Sheriff's Office.


If Milledgeville had a "Trial of the Century," perhaps this would be it.

Marcus Lillard, accused by the District Attorney's Office of murdering his college professor girlfriend during a late-night pool party in May 2019, has asked for a trial, and it's likely that he'll get it next week. The week of April 4–8 is a "trial week" at the courthouse downtown, and Lillard's case is near the very top of the trial calendar.

Barring a last-minute plea deal or any unforeseen circumstances, jury selection would begin that Monday, which is April 4. Lillard came close to accepting a plea deal several months ago, but he called a last-minute audible and fired his lawyer, instead. Lillard has been behind bars since May 2019, first at the county jail here in Milledgeville and most recently at the county jail down in Wilkinson County.

At the risk of sounding too gossipy or TMZ-ish, the case has plenty of intrigue, and it involves drugs (including hallucinogenic plants from the Amazon rainforest), a hot tub, multiple sexual partners, bongo drums and some sort of really strange seance with a branch from a hydrangea bush. For those who are not familiar with the case, there's a 15-part murder-mystery podcast called "Blood Town" that can be found here.

Some of the logistical details of the trial must first be worked out. First is whether or not the trial will be live-streamed online at eighthdistrict.org, which has largely become the new norm during the pandemic. Secondly is whether or not the judge will allow evidence and statements from the roughly half-dozen sexual partners of Lillard who were interviewed by detectives following the incident. According to the Baldwin County Coroner's Office, Marianne Shockley died as a result of "manual strangulation." Numerous sexual partners interviewed following Lillard's arrest indicated to detectives that Lillard would "choke" them during sexual encounters. Whether or not that evidence will be admissible is to be determined, however.

Shockley was a University of Georgia professor and Lillard's girlfriend. The pair first met years ago while Shockley attended Georgia College. She grew up in Morgan County and Lillard in Johnson County.

Lillard is going on trial for one count each of felony murder, aggravated assault involuntary manslaughter and reckless conduct. He is facing several hurdles. First, he already was on “first offender probation” when he was arrested in May 2019. He previously had been sentenced to 20 years on probation following a drug bust in his office at a local car dealership, where he was working at the time. First offender probation means that a judge, in theory, can “re-set” the entire 20-year sentence and order Lillard to prison, even if he’s found not guilty on the murder charge but guilty on a lesser charge.

The case is one of the strangest in recent memory, not just around here, but anywhere in Georgia. 

What do we know?

When attempting to sort through the prosecution’s case against Lillard, it’s important to sort through the different interviews. All totaled, Lillard was interviewed by investigators on four different occasions. The first two interviews, each conducted within 24 hours of the May 12 incident, were at least somewhat consistent. In the third and fourth interviews, however, Lillard’s assertions and account of the evening began to change somewhat dramatically.

In terms of the first two interviews, Lillard relayed to investigators that he and Shockley had been dating for more than a year. That Saturday morning, according to Lillard, Shockley had texted and asked if he wanted to hang out and asked if he knew anyone with a swimming pool. Shockley drove to town, and the two smoked some marijuana before having dinner and barhopping in downtown Milledgeville, according to Michael Maybin, the GBI special agent who took the stand during the commitment hearing.

Lillard and Shockley then arrived at the rural home of Clark Heindel around 7 p.m., where they smoked some more marijuana, according to interviews. Lillard and Heindel then began playing the bongo drums and the accordion. Eventually, Lillard and Shockley disrobed and jumped in the pool, according to Lillard's statements, while Heindel hung out closer to the porch of his house. Lillard denied having any sexual contact with Shockley that night, and he insists that “they just kissed.” During each of Lillard’s first two interviews, he asserted that he eventually decided to walk around the woods and gather firewood for roughly 15 minutes.

After returning, Lillard said that he found Shockley unconscious in the hot tub. At that point, Lillard asserts, he picked up Shockley and dropped her in the deep end of the pool in an effort to resuscitate her. In the process, Shockley sustained a head wound, asserted Lillard, adding that he then swam with Shockley to the shallow end and carried her up out of the pool.

Then, according to Lillard, he and Heindel began their attempts to resusistate Shockley, although largely in a nonsensical fashion. Heindel went in the house and returned with a tea containing a potent hallucinogen called DMT, according to Lillard. The tea was poured down Shockley’s throat. Heindel also began shaking a hydrangea branch over Shockley’s body, thinking that it would help her to regain consciousness, according to Lillard’s interviews. Traditional CPR also was administered, Lillard told investigators, although neither was trained. Heindel eventually call 911 roughly two hours after Shockley was first found unconscious.

Then, Lillard was locked up that Sunday and booked on lesser charges, as investigators continued to work the case as “a drowning.” On Monday afternoon, however, the autopsy results were returned, and the tenor of the entire investigation changed. Shockley had died as a result of manual strangulation, according to the Baldwin County Coroner’s Office. Also discovered were two fractured ribs, eye hemmorhaging, abrasions to the forehead, right cheek, lips, neck, back and legs. Also found were arm injuries and bruising below the waist “consistent with squeezing and grabbing.”

At this point, according to the GBI, Lillard began to diverge from his original story. He asserted that he was drugged by Heindel and passed out. After the third interview, Lillard requested that his attorney be present, and the dialogue with investigators shut down.

Roughly a week went by, and Lillard sent word through a jailer that he wished once again to speak to detectives. After formally putting the request in writing, investigators agreed to meet with Lillard. This time, instead of claiming that he was in the woods for roughly 15 minutes, Lillard asserted that it was actually closer to 75-90 minutes. Following the incident, Lillard did have briar marks on his legs, as well as bug bits on his legs and back, according to investigators.

Beer cans and beer bottles were scattered around the pool area, while the hallucinogenic tea later was discovered on the stove in the kitchen. No other drugs were found, although Lillard later tested positive for cocaine and marijuana. Toxicology reports for Heindel and Shockley haven’t been made publicly available.

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