Testimony: Teens planned Sampleton robbery on bus; more may be involved

Larnell Sillah, from left, Achiel Morgan and Romaine Stewart

Larnell Sillah, from left, Achiel Morgan and Romaine Stewart

LAWRENCEVILLE — The robbery of 14-year-old Paul Sampleton Jr. was discussed on a school bus, a Gwinnett County detective testified Friday, but the crime that ultimately led to his murder may have involved more people than the three schoolmates charged.

A deeper insight into the Dec. 19 robbery and homicide believed inspired by Sampleton’s collection of expensive shoes was provided in a courtroom at the Gwinnett County jail Friday as the trio of teenaged suspects faced a magistrate judge. That said, the testimony provided by Gwinnett County Det. Andrew Whaley may have raised as many questions as answers.

Sampleton’s father found him inside his mother’s home on Haynescrest Drive at about 2:35 p.m. that day, hands bound and shot three times in the head. About eight pair of sneakers, three TVs, a gaming system, some clothes, a camera, high-end headphones and a tablet were stolen.

“Somebody had rummaged through the entire residence,” Whaley said.

No shell casings were found, and the bullets themselves “appear to have disintegrated” on impact, Whaley said. At the moment, there is nothing physically tying 15-year-old Larnell Sillah, 15-year-old Achiel Morgan or 18-year-old Romaine Stewart to the scene, though there is plenty of forensic analysis still pending at the Georgia Bureau of Investigation’s crime lab.

One pair of sneakers found in the garage of Sillah’s home — where his uncle and a friend have a makeshift living space — is believed to be tied to Sampleton.

What primarily has the suspects in jail, Whaley said, is their own admissions, a few pieces of anecdotal evidence and a silver BMW. A new person of interest may also be in play.

According to Whaley, all three teens have confessed in separate interviews that, two days prior to Sampleton’s death, they spent a morning bus ride discussing robbing Sampleton. The trio — who all lived in the Hawthorn Farms subdivision, less than half a mile from the townhome where Sampleton lived with his mother — even got Sampleton to come to Stewart’s house under the guise of a haircut.

Morgan allegedly walked his former football teammate home afterward, reporting Sampleton’s exact address back to Sillah, the alleged leader of a gang called the “Young Wavy Goons” and the only suspect to be charged with murder. Morgan and Stewart have been charged with only armed robbery.

The scouting of Sampleton’s home may have begun long before his death.

Several neighbors reported seeing the same silver BMW cruising Haynescrest Drive in the days and weeks prior to the homicide. A cleaning woman working at the home next to the Sampletons allegedly saw it leaving at about 1 p.m. the day of the crime, roughly the same time that a mail carrier reported hearing gunshots.

That BMW is registered to Andrew Murray, Sillah’s uncle, Whaley said.

About 50 minutes after the murder, the vehicle was allegedly involved in a road rage incident in Norcross, Whaley said — a single shot was fired by the driver of the BMW, identified by the victim only as a black male. It was about 3 p.m. that day when a friend of Andrew Murray said he and Sillah showed up at his Norcross apartment with some goods to sell, namely a medium-sized “Billionaire Boys Club” sweatshirt.

Paul Sampleton’s mother purchased the same sweatshirt for her son just days earlier, Whaley said. The friend “hadn’t heard from Murray in a few months” prior to his arrival.

Murray, said Whaley, is a “person of interest” in the Sampleton case. He has not been charged.

Sillah reportedly told police that he “met some girl named Samantha” and had sex with her on the afternoon of Sampleton’s murder, but couldn’t provide a phone number or last name for her. Police allegedly have texts from Sillah’s phone from the next day, Dec. 20, in which he reportedly told an acquaintance that he had an Xbox and a .45-caliber handgun for sale.

A Gwinnett County magistrate judge found probable cause Friday to bind the charges against Sillah, Morgan and Stewart over to superior court. Thomas West, Sillah’s attorney, argued passionately to the contrary.

“There’s no witnesses, there’s no physical evidence that was linked to my client, they don’t have the murder weapon,” he said after the hearing. “They don’t have trace evidence, evidence that he was at the scene, evidence that the scene was carried with him away from the scene in a vehicle or on clothing or on his person. I just don’t see the evidence.”

Despite the protests of their defense attorneys, that judge found enough probable cause existed to bind over the charges against Sillah — the only defendant charged with murder — Morgan and Stewart.