The man accused of murdering Hannah Bender in September 2019 told Bailey Williams he had to shoot Bender, according to testimony she gave in court Nov. 5.
“He said, I had to do it, didn't I? A rat was a rat,’” Williams said of her conversation with Austin Todd Stryker, 24, of Dawsonville, in the hours after Bender’s death. “He told me that he shot her and he said (that) when she didn't die right away, he stabbed her.”
Williams, a witness to some of the incidents and a self-described friend of Bender’s, said Stryker spoke of a “blonde-haired snitch” among their friend group, which she took to mean Bender. Stryker had allegedly been involved in a Dahlonega robbery prior to Bender’s death.
Bender, 21, of Lumpkin County was killed between Sept. 14-15 while riding in a Mazda pickup truck with Stryker and Isaac Huff, according to previous court testimony. As the truck neared the Sweetwater Juno Road area of Dawson County, Bender was allegedly shot in the head without warning by Stryker, according to testimony given in a plea hearing in April.
Stryker, 24, of Dawsonville is on trial in Dawson County before Northeastern Judicial Circuit Superior Court Judge Kathlene Gosselin on charges of malice murder; felony murder; aggravated assault; aggravated battery; possessing a firearm and knife during commission of a felony; violations of Georgia’s Street Gang Terrorism and Prevention Act; concealing the death of another; and tampering with evidence.
Bailey Williams’ testimony
Williams, who was charged with tampering with evidence relevant to Bender’s case on Oct. 1, 2019, took the stand Friday.
Stryker picked up Williams early that morning, Bailey said. She said she saw the blood before noticing the smell.
“It was more blood than I’ve ever seen in my entire life,” she said.
Then, a caravan led by Stryker in the black Mazda truck and Williams driving a white Ford Explorer went to a campground off Nimblewill Gap Road in Lumpkin County, she said.
Williams said Stryker told her to keep watch for law enforcement. Williams assumed something criminal was happening since he’d allegedly asked her to do the same during a Dahlonega robbery a couple of months prior.
Williams switched places with Dylan Reid, who had been a passenger in the truck, and he ended up driving the Explorer to the Dahlonega site, she said. When they got there, Williams stood next to Stryker as he put some of Bender’s items, like a purse and coloring pens, into a duffel bag and quickly went to hide it in the woods.
The Georgia Bureau of Investigation first interviewed Williams about Bender’s death on Sept. 21. Williams denied to investigators then about either knowing her friend had been killed and was concerned she might be in the “same boat” as Huff and Reid due to tampering with evidence.
Williams has pending charges in a July 2019 armed robbery case in Dahlonega in which Stryker is also a defendant.
The prosecution has said the Dahlonega robbery case is central to proving motive for the killing of Bender, who Stryker suspected of talking to police.
In that instance, Williams was allegedly the getaway driver, according to Williams and Reid, and Stryker was the alleged robber.
Williams, Huff and Reid have alleged the robbery and other criminal acts were connected to Stryker and others’ activities as part of a small gang called “THIS.”
When asked by Senior Assistant District Attorney Conley Greer, Williams was aware her testimony Friday could be used against her for her Lumpkin County case.
“I want to get justice for her. She was my best friend,” Williams said of Bender.
Williams admitted she occasionally used methamphetamine with Stryker but denied taking a blood oath for the gang like Reid alleged she had. She said she was already scared of Stryker before the Bender’s death.
“He (Stryker) said things or went about things to where you felt you couldn't tell him ‘no’ or go against him,” Williams said.
The gun that killed Bender
The gun involved in Bender’s death was a Ruger LCP .380 that another witness testified through a sign language interpreter was used without his permission and returned without ammunition.
William Edison, a former ballistics specialist-turned-GBI special agent and crime scene specialist, testified that bumping around in a pickup truck would not be enough to cause the gun to fire.
The ballistics expert elaborated that this Ruger model is designed so people can tell when a chamber is in the firearm by seeing the silver, nickel or brass-colored cartridges. A person pointing the gun toward themselves would not be able to look through that cutout to see if the weapon was loaded.
“In my experience, people (with less firearms training) have been very unwilling to touch the gun, let alone point it toward their head,” Edison added.