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Trial set to begin in slaying of Hannah Bender
Hannah Bender
Hannah Bender

Two defendants will stand trial beginning Nov. 1 in the shooting-and-stabbing death of 21-year-old Lumpkin County resident Hannah Bender. 

The two co-defendants are Austin Todd Stryker, 24, of Dawson County and Jerry Harper, 79, of Forsyth County. 

Stryker has been charged with one count of malice murder, three counts of felony murder, three counts of aggravated assault, two counts of aggravated battery, one count each for possessing a firearm and knife during commission of a felony, 11 violations of Georgia’s Street Gang Terrorism and Prevention Act, concealing the death of another and tampering with evidence. 

Harper has been charged with three street gang violation counts, hindering the apprehension or punishment of a criminal and theft by receiving stolen property.

Law enforcement recovered Bender’s body from a shallow grave in northern Forsyth County the morning of Sept. 25, 2019, said Lumpkin County Sheriff Stacy Jarrard. 

Bender’s mother reported her missing on Sept. 19, and not long after, bloody clothing was found in Dawson County. On Sept. 24, a black Mazda pickup truck was discovered on Parks Road at a property adjacent to where Bender’s body was found.

The day Bender’s remains were discovered, Stryker’s wife, Elizabeth Donaldson, was arrested. Harper was booked two days later, followed by Isaac Thomas Huff and Dylan Patrick Reid on Sept. 30.

On Oct. 1, another suspect, Bailey Diane Williams, 21, was arrested in Lumpkin County and charged with tampering with evidence. 

After a nationwide alert was issued for Stryker’s arrest, he turned himself in to authorities on Oct. 2, 2019, in Pittsburgh, Pa.

Huff and Reid pleaded guilty for their roles in Bender’s death as part of an agreement with the state at an Apr. 7 hearing. 

Both pleaded guilty to aggravated assault, a street gang violation and concealing a death, with Reid also pleading guilty to tampering with evidence. 

Reid will spend 15 years in prison. Huff was sentenced to 12 years. 

Per the plea deals, they both testified as to how Bender was lured from her home the night of Sept. 14, 2019 and killed before she was buried in northern Forsyth County. 

Huff and Reid alleged that Stryker planned and carried out the slaying and Harper approved of the actions. 

Huff alleged Stryker lured Bender from her home on the pretense that they were going on vacation to Florida. Bender left in the back of a Mazda pickup truck with Huff and Stryker. 

As the truck approached the area of Sweetwater Juno and Duck Thurmond roads in Dawson County, Stryker allegedly shot Bender in the head without warning. “After she’s shot in the head, we know that she was alive briefly,” Senior Assistant District Attorney Conley Greer said at the hearing.

A critically injured Bender was then taken to Huff’s residence, where Stryker allegedly stabbed her to death while she was still lying on the truck’s back seat. Huff and Reid denied stabbing Bender and said they were instead preparing to wrap and dispose of her body when the stabbing occurred.

Stryker and Harper were reindicted in July on more street gang violations after Northeastern Circuit Judge Kathlene Gosselin had struck down each of their initial gang counts earlier. 

In the April plea hearing, Huff and Reid said they and others are members of a small gang called “THIS” that committed low-level drug crimes and multiple armed robberies. 

They also alleged that Stryker and Harper were top-level members of the gang. 

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