Darius Antiwon King is now a free man.
There is no cloud of suspicion hanging over him, or for that matter, any criminal charges associated with an arson fire at the Relax Inn hotel in Milledgeville.
The fire last summer resulted in major damages and the hotel’s closure. It also left several guests and long-term residents with no place to live.
The 32-year-old King, who lives in Milledgeville, was arrested and accused of setting fire to the hotel where he previously was employed.
But a jury of his peers acquitted him on charges of arson in the first degree and criminal damage to property in the first degree following a three-day trial this week in Baldwin County Superior Court.
King was represented by defense attorneys Ben Fierman and his father, Marty Fierman of the Fierman Law Firm in Madison.
A jury of eight women and four men deliberated about 30 minutes before rendering a verdict of not guilty on both charges against King.
Ocmulgee Judicial Circuit Assistant District Attorney Tony A. May, who prosecuted the case, said he was a little disappointed with the verdict, but respected the jurors’ decision.
“I tend to think juries do the right thing as they see it,” May said in an interview with The Union-Recorder on Thursday afternoon. “I’ve been doing this so long and I’ve learned that I can’t do everybody’s job. I do mine. And I do it to the best of my ability and I let the jury do their job, and the judge and defense attorney do their jobs.”
May explained that arson cases are always circumstantial evidence-type cases.
“They are tough,” May said. “First of all, you start with the presumption that a fire that starts was either accidental or natural causes, so you have to overcome those presumptions, as well as the presumption that the person is innocent, to begin with.”
Nevertheless, the burden is on the state to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the person accused committed them, he said.
May said had jurors returned guilty verdicts against the defendant that it would have resulted In the charges being merged.
King was looking at serving a maximum of 20 years in prison had jurors convicted him of the crimes, May said.
“We were actually close to a plea in this case, but the defendant had filed a motion for a speedy trial and that put him to next to the top of the list for defendants going to trial,” May said.
The three-day trial, which consisted of one day of jury selection, and nearly two full days of testimony, was presided over by Ocmulgee Judicial Circuit Senior Judge William A. Prior Jr.
May said he called 13 prosecution witnesses in the case.
Five of the witnesses who testified were tendered as experts in their specialty fields.
“I brought in the evidence that I had in the case and I was satisfied that I gave the jury the information they needed,” May said. “I think the jury actually felt it was arson, but it came down to who did it.”
He explained that there were cameras on the first and second floors of the hotel.
“You could pretty much tell who was moving around the hotel, including upstairs,” May said.
May said authorities knew that the defendant was on the third floor.
“Mr. King never denied such,” May said. “He said he was asleep.”
King lived and worked there until he was subsequently fired, according to testimony.
“The testimony was that he had been directed to leave, but he had not yet moved out,” May said.
He added that King’s firing turned out to be a big deal.
“That’s where some of the inconsistencies came in,” May said. “It was kind of a big deal when he was fired, and really, that was one of the things that the defense attorneys pointed out during the trial, and they were right.”
The assistant district attorney commended Milledgeville Fire Rescue Services Investigator Capt. Edward Barnwell, as well as Georgia Fire Marshal Investigator Alan Logue for their investigative work and testimony in the case.
“They did a great job investigating this case,” May said.