DALTON, Ga. — A Whitfield County jury needed just 37 minutes to return a guilty verdict in the double murder trial of a Dalton man on Thursday.
The jury found Michael Brandon Townsend guilty of two counts of malice murder, two counts of felony murder, two counts of aggravated assault and two counts of aggravated battery in the killings of mother and daughter Judy Potts and Krystal Spainhour. Sentencing before Superior Court Judge Scott Minter is Friday, Oct. 18, at 1 p.m. The four-day trial began Monday.
Spainhour's stepbrother Steven Ridley was the final prosecution witness in the case, but the family declined to comment after the verdict was given. Zack Townsend, Brandon Townsend's brother, said his thoughts are with the victims' families and his family shares in their loss.
"It is not just the trauma of what is playing out in court. We knew Judy and Krystal," Zack Townsend said. "I hugged Krystal's son and he has been one of the most forgiving and merciful people I have ever met. He has displayed a level of grace that is unknown to me. I can't imagine that level of grace and forgiveness. We want justice and healing for them. We care about them."
Townsend killed Potts and Spainhour in the home they shared with him on Tanglewood Drive off of Cleveland Highway on Jan. 9. A state medical examiner testified both women died from strangulation and blunt force trauma to the head and abdomen. Townsend reported the killings about six hours after Whitfield County Sheriff's Office detectives believe they occurred, calling the sheriff's office and admitting "choking" both women. In his call to the sheriff's office and in subsequent interviews with detectives, Townsend said he "just snapped" and "lost his mind." His defense attorneys maintained he was "insane" during the murders.
"I am very thankful that the family is done with this phase of it and maybe they can find some peace knowing that justice has been done," District Attorney Bert Poston said. "I've never been through something like this and certainly can't walk in their shoes, but with the number of families who I have been involved with in cases like this, I liken it to getting to the top of a mountain and it feels like you are walking downhill once you get that conviction and justice is served. They have been through a lot, and I am glad we have been able to get them to where they are in a relatively quick manner."
Prosecutors had offered Townsend a plea deal to avoid a trial with a sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole, which was rejected. Because there were multiple victims and because of the "aggravated" nature of the deaths through the aggravated battery charges, the case was eligible for Poston to seek the death penalty. He said the victims' families "didn't want to go through that."
Poston initially thought there wouldn't be a trial. In interviews with detectives and with Poston which were played for the court shortly after the killings, Townsend took full responsibility and repeatedly said he didn't want a lawyer and wanted to accept his punishment.
"Initially, he wanted to take responsibility and at some point that changed," Poston said. "I don't know how he is better off now than he was if he had taken the plea deal. That is his right."
Blake Skipper, who was the lead counsel as a court-appointed attorney from the Public Defenders Office, represented Townsend.
"I just want to thank the jurors for their time and attention," Skipper said. "It was unfortunate we couldn't get the case resolved before trial. Mr. Townsend still has his appellate rights, and I think he will explore those avenues as well."
The defense's lone witness was Dr. Sam Perri, a psychologist for the state's Department of Behavioral Health, who evaluated Townsend for competency and insanity. Perri said Townsend had a high level of cognition and was well spoken and educated. Perri said Townsend's conversations with him were very frank.
"In this particular case, he was brutally, in my opinion, honest with me," Perri said. "If I was struck by anything, it was how forthcoming he was."
Perri said throughout the process Townsend was competent and he found no delusion in Townsend.
"I asked him whether he knew right from wrong," Perri said. "That is one of the best indicators of what a person is experiencing. He said, 'I would know the difference between right or wrong, but at the time I wasn't thinking about right or wrong.' He definitely had the mental capacity to determine between right and wrong. He just said he was in a rage."
In his review of Townsend's medical records, Perri said Townsend was prescribed several anti-depressants, but he said there was nothing in Townsend's medical records which would "suggest he was psychotic."
Andrew Powell with the Public Defenders Office assisted Skipper. Assistant District Attorney Christina Antalis and Whitfield County Sheriff's Office Detective Brandon Dalton assisted Poston with the prosecution.