District Attorney Keith Higgins announced November 9 that Louis Jose Torres, 22, of Blackshear, was convicted of two counts of felony murder, conspiracy to commit aggravated assault, aggravated assault and tampering with evidence, following a bench trial held on September 23, 2021.

Torres is one of six co-defendants charged in the December 30, 2018, death of Dennis William Bryant behind a hotel in the first block of Heritage Street in Baxley. Torres was initially tried in 2019, convicted, and sentenced to life in prison with the possibility of parole; however, the Appling County Superior Court granted him a new trial following a ruling that his defense attorney was ineffective. On November 8 Superior Court Judge Stephen D. Kelley handed down his verdict and sentenced Torres to life in prison with eligibility for parole after 30 years. Chief Assistant District Attorney Ian R. Heap, who tried the case for the State, observed, “The right to be represented by competent counsel is not a technicality. There could be no confidence in Torres’ prior conviction. Now the facts and the law have been put to the ultimate test, and the citizens of Appling County can have confidence in the murder conviction and life sentence for Louis Torres.”

Evidence presented at the bench trial showed that Torres admitted to being the lookout during the robbery of Bryant behind a hotel in Baxley. During the ensuing struggle, Bryant brandished a firearm in self-defense, which Torres grabbed and tried to take away from Bryant, who was fatally stabbed to death at the scene. Torres suffered multiple gunshot wounds and subsequently fled the scene with the remaining co-defendants.

Two co-defendants, brothers Rhett Austin Wheeler, 23, of Baxley, and Rocky Alton Wheeler, 20, of Blackshear, previously pled guilty in Appling County Superior Court to felony murder for fatally stabbing Bryant to death, and they were both sentenced to life in prison. Neither of the two brothers will be eligible for parole for at least 30 years.

The remaining three co-defendants await trial. Two of the co-defendants, Gabrielle Elizabeth Labaco, 21, of New Jersey and Catherine Layne Zipperer, 19, of Blackshear, are also charged with felony murder. The third remaining co-defendant, Daisy Miranda Lott, 21, of Alpharetta, was indicted for tampering with evidence and hindering the apprehension of a fugitive.