A Georgia man was sentenced to life without parole this afternoon after a jury found him guilty of killing a retired New York police officer in a 2016 robbery that apparently went awry.
Johnathan Lamar Hillary, 32, who was also found guilty of armed robbery, kidnapping and use of a weapon during a violent crime, appeared to nod off and even sleep during the trial’s closing arguments.
For the three additional guilty verdicts he was sentenced by Circuit Judge William McKinnon to two, 30-year terms and one, five-year term. They will all run concurrently.
Prosecutor Nancy Livesay solicited the help of a long-distance truck driver to show a pattern of robbery that, she said, Hillary was using with his girlfriend, Bernithia Young, who is charged with accessory after the fact of murder in connection with this crime, according to the Horry County Public Index. She was not on trial this week.
Bocar Bah testified that he met Young on a long-distance trip and they exchanged telephone numbers. Later when he was traveling in Summerville, he called her and she came to him.
In the meantime, she had apparently texted Hillary a number of times telling him where she and Bah were and setting Bah up for a robbery.
“Sometime you just let your guard down; that’s what happened to me,” Bah said, as he explained how Hillary appeared wearing a hoodie with short dreads showing.
He said Hillary had a gun, told him to lie on the ground, which he did because he figured he was being robbed.
The duo took his wallet, cash and several important cards, according to Livesay. Bah reported the incident and picked Young and Hillary out of a photo lineup, but charges were not brought against them.
Hillary appeared in the Horry County courtroom wearing a white dress shirt with a tie. His hair is short, but with a small tuft in the upper back of his head.
In the Horry County case, Hillary apparently tried to rob Buckley, who was carrying a gun.
There was testimony that the two struggled over the gun and that Buckley was shot in the back and in the back of his head.
Forensic pathologist Edward L. ”Lee” Proctor testified that it was the bullet in the head that passed through and out of his nose that killed Buckley. There was also testimony that there was surveillance footage of Hillary driving Buckley’s F-150 truck. There was blood found on the passenger side of the front seat, according to Livesay.
The senior prosecutor believed it was significant that Buckley was shot in the back and his blood was on the passenger side.
“It tells us Tim Buckley was trying to get away. He was trying to get away,” she told the jury.
Hillary took Buckley’s body out to a spot in Carolina Forest across from Hospitality Lane, near the Tanger Outlet, where it stayed for two months before it was found.
Buckley’s wife, who was suffering from a terminal illness, has since died.
Defense attorney Scott Joye told the jury that there was no evidence against Hillary. He said there was no DNA evidence, no undisputable phone records and no fingerprints on what police think was the murder weapon.
He said Hillary talked to police without an attorney present, and he believes he would not have given his statement if he had had an attorney there.
“If he was guilty he would have demanded an attorney,” he said.
He said police told him they were going to put a needle in his arm.
“He gave a free and voluntary confession. Are you kidding?” he asked.
Two United States marshals testified that they went to a house on Martin Luther King Drive in Atlanta with warrants for Young and Hillary’s arrests. They found them there and took them into custody without any resistance.
They testified that they found Buckley’s gun and a second gun in a bag inside of a hole in the underside of a bathroom vanity. There was cleaning solution nearby and police believed that the guns had been cleaned of any evidence.
Joye explained Hillary’s statement to police by saying that police told him twice that they were going to seek the death penalty against him, He also said some items were swabbed, but no one gave reports on what was found.
Livesay quoted Hillary’s statement to police as saying that Buckley, who was 51-years-old and living in the Myrtle Beach area when he died, was coming at him and he fired, and opined that it was 110 percent impossible for Buckley to have been shot in the back if he had been coming after Hillary.
There were between 15 and 20 family and friends of Buckley’s in the courtroom for most of the trial.
Linda Benner, who worked with Buckley at the Andersen Hilton Hotel for about two years, described him a good co-worker who was very kind to guests.
“He always talked about his wife, how good she was,” Benner said.
Mrs. Buckley was ill and in a wheelchair when Benner worked with Buckley.
Also, she said, “He loved his three daughters.”
Benner said the staff at the Andersen Inn couldn’t believe it when they heard that Buckley had been killed.
“We couldn’t believe it happened to him,” she said.