Chattooga County jury deliberating fate of woman accused of killing boyfriend

Deborah Wilkins

SUMMERVILLE, Ga. -- Was Deborah Elaine Wilkins a heartless killer who executed her wounded boyfriend as he tried to crawl away?

Or was she a frightened victim of domestic violence, aiming a gun with her untrained hands toward a big, murderous man as he charged at her?

photo Deborah Wilkins
photo Deborah Wilkins's trial was postponed after she broke her ankle amid record snows. But the trial continues and jurors deliberated for hours on March 2 without reaching a verdict.

Attorneys painted two pictures of Wilkins in Chattooga County Superior Court on Monday. Now a jury will sort through the arguments and decide which version of Wilkins is authentic.

They will reconvene at 9 a.m. today behind closed doors and decide whether Wilkins deserves to spend the rest of her life in prison. The jury failed to reach a verdict Monday after four hours of deliberation.

Around 3 a.m. on June 14, 2014, Wilkins shot William Robert Packer five times: twice in the ribs, once in the abdomen, once in the back and once in the knee. She didn't call 911 for about 13 hours. When deputies arrived, she was drunk. She lied to them, blaming Packer's death on "them blacks" living down the road.

She faces charges of malice murder, felony murder and aggravated assault.

Days later, pressed by investigators, she said she killed Packer before he could kill her. She said Packer launched a plot to murder his landlord, his attorney and one of his attorney's employees. Then, Wilkins told investigators, Packer decided he also needed to kill her. She knew too much.

She said Packer searched through his truck for his Colt .45. But it was in his bedroom. While he was gone, Wilkins grabbed it. He walked back inside and yelled at her, and she shot him.

On Monday, Public Defender David Dunn told the jury that Wilkins' fear was not rooted in paranoia. Packer had a violent history.

Police records show he was accused of shooting at the feet of his ex-wife, putting a gun to Wilkins' head and killing his neighbor, James "Pee Wee" Kirby. A jury acquitted Packer of murder in that case on Packer's claims of self-defense.

Dunn conceded that Wilkins made two mistakes in June. After killing her boyfriend, she tossed the Colt .45 into a pond behind her mother's house. Then, when deputies arrived, she lied to them, saying she had nothing to do with Packer's death.

"Telling a lie to the police is a bad thing," Dunn said. "But that's not what she's on trial for. Taking evidence and concealing it is a bad thing. But that's not what she's on trial for."

Dunn said Wilkins' lies have nothing to do with her self-defense claim.

Lookout Mountain Judicial Circuit District Attorney Herbert "Buzz" Franklin disagreed. He said those lies mean Wilkins is not trustworthy. And if she's not trustworthy, you can't believe her claim that Packer was going to attack her.

"She lied because she's guilty," Franklin said.

The attorneys argued about the sequence of Wilkins' gunshots. Dunn said Packer charged and Wilkins fired. Packer kept charging, and Wilkins kept firing, hitting the front of his body three times, then his back as he spun around from the bullets' impacts.

Franklin said Packer saw the gun and cowered in the corner of his house at 2646 John Jones Road. He said Wilkins shot Packer three times in the front of his body as he fell to the ground. He was still alive. As he tried to crawl away in a desperate scramble for survival, she shot him through the back.

But there is a fifth shot that is important: The one that entered the side of Packer's left knee. That bullet climbed through his leg, cracking a bone and burying itself in Packer's lower back. The trajectory of the bullet is odd, leading to different theories.

Dunn said Wilkins stood at a part of the house with lower elevation and hit him as he was falling, his body almost parallel to the floor, allowing the bullet to carry straight through. Either that, or the bullet ricocheted off the floor before hitting the knee.

Franklin left the jury with a different image. After Packer fell to the floor, he said, Wilkins stood above her boyfriend and pulled the trigger again.

Contact staff writer Tyler Jett at [email protected] or 423-757-6476.

From the future, March 4, 2015: