Sheriff’s Office seeking to indict suspects in 2001 murder
This story was updated at 12:45 p.m. on Tuesday to reflect the grand jury’s indictments of three men in connection with the attempted robbery that led to Wendy Bryan’s death.
The Decatur County Sheriff’s Office believes it has solved a “cold case” murder that happened in July 2001 at a liquor store in Bainbridge.
Wendy Kay Bryan of Bainbridge, who was 29 years old, was shot to death during a robbery at The Winery liquor store on Louise Street on the night of July 20, 2001. She had only been working at the store for a few days when the attempted armed robbery occurred. Although deputies were able to recover the handgun used in the crime on the next day, the case went unsolved for almost 11 years.
The three men presented to the grand jury Monday were Danterrius Faison, 28, Brandon Dewayne Smith, 27, and Terryl Akins, 28. A fourth suspect, Willie Earl McGriff Jr., 29, also known as “Pete,” is currently serving a 20-year prison sentence for voluntary manslaughter, said Capt. Chip Nix, the chief investigator at the Sheriff’s Office.
On Tuesday, the grand jury indicted Smith, who is accused of shooting Bryan, on the charges of murder and criminal attempt to commit robbery. The grand jury chose not to indict Faison and Akins on the charge of murder, but they were indicted on the charge of criminal attempt to commit robbery.
According to the Sheriff’s Office, two black males entered The Winery, also known as Roy’s Package Store, at approximately 11:47 p.m. on Friday July 20, 2001. Both men were wearing dark-colored ski masks on their heads and gloves on their hands. Both men had handguns and demanded the store’s clerks to give them the money from the cash register. When Bryan moved toward the register, one of the masked men fired one shot from his gun; the bullet struck Bryan in her abdomen, causing injuries that proved to be fatal. Both offenders then fled on foot without taking anything from the store.
It’s now believed that Smith was the man who shot Bryan; Faison is believed to have accompanied Smith inside the store, according to Nix. McGriff is accused of driving the car that the robbers arrived in, while Akins is believed to have been a passenger in the car, Nix said.
Bainbridge Public Safety officers responded to an alarm going off at the Winery — soon after, other employees of the store called 911 saying there had been a robbery, Nix recalled. Due to the callers’ excitement, it wasn’t initially known that anyone had been injured, until BPS officers arrived on the scene. Officers searched the area around the store for any witnesses or clues, but were largely frustrated in their search, apart from the discovery of the gun used in the crime on the following day.
Nix recalled that former Public Safety officer Walter Landrum Sr. drove an ambulance to Memorial Hospital in Bainbridge while EMS personnel tried to save Bryan’s life. However, she was later pronounced dead at the hospital.
Among other family and friends, Bryan left behind her husband, Michael; a son, Aaron; a daughter, Ansley; three sisters, Rosa Lee Newsome of Bainbridge, Debra Williams of Colquitt, Ga., and Teresa Jones of North Carolina; and two brothers Charles Newsome and Eddie Newsome, both of Bainbridge.
Bryan’s mother, Jeanette Newsome, survived her daughter but passed away in 2009, according to family.
Bryan’s children, Aaron and Ansley, were ages 10 and six when their mother passed away; they’re now 21 and 17, respectively.
“I think it’s good that they will have some closure now and know exactly what happened that night,” their aunt, Rosa Lee Newsome, said Tuesday outside the Decatur County Courthouse.
“[Wendy’s passing] has affected our family a lot,” Newsome said. “It devastated our mom; all of us were in shock.”
Newsome said her sister, who was the youngest of six children, was well-known in the community because of her positive nature.
“She was very giving and outgoing; she loved her children,” Newsome said.
Bryan loved going out on the Spring Creek, so much so that her family scattered some of her ashes near her favorite spot.
“Wendy and Michael and their friends loved going out to the creek—they would fish, camp and hunt all weekend,” Newsome said.
Bryan was a graduate of Bainbridge High School and took classes at Bainbridge College, her sister said.
Sheriff Griffin said his deputies had never stopped working on the case and added that many “man hours” had been expended by several investigators who worked on the case through the years.
“Capt. Nix put the case together using good, old-fashioned hard work and a lot of shoe leather,” Sheriff Griffin said.
McGriff was convicted in the April 2009 shooting death of James C. Christian near Fowlstown. McGriff has been in prison since May 2009.
By 2009, all of the leads in the case had been exhausted, but Christian’s death broke open the investigation into Bryan’s shooting, Sheriff Griffin said.
McGriff and another man, Marquez De’Vounta Taylor, were charged in Christian’s death and ultimately convicted of voluntary manslaughter, a crime for which both men are serving prison time.
“New evidence came to light indicating that McGriff had knowledge of the robbery that led to Bryan’s death,” Nix said.
Nix began looking for Terryl Akins and caught up with him near Jacksonville after an anonymous tipster told Nix where he could be found. The Sheriff’s chief investigator, accompanied by a homicide investigation unit from Duval County, Fla., located Akins and interviewed him at a police station there.
Akins is living near Jacksonville, Fla., and is not currently in jail or prison, Nix said.
Next Nix went to Quincy, Fla., to interview Smith, who was being held at the Quincy Annex, a state prison in Quincy, Fla. According to an online database maintained by the Florida Department of Corrections, Smith has been in prison since April 2003 on a carjacking conviction in Tallahassee, Fla., that happened in June 2002.
Finally, on April 6 of this year, Nix arrested Faison on a probation violation warrant and interviewed him about the Bryan case. Faison remains in the Decatur County Jail.
Please continue to visit our website, we will update this story throughout Monday and Tuesday. The final article will also be published in the Wednesday, May 16, issue of The Post-Searchlight.