Family of murder victim speaks out after verdict, sentence

Two of Wilson's sisters with their husbands (Source: WTOC)
Two of Wilson's sisters with their husbands (Source: WTOC)
Joseph Heyward (Source: WTOC)
Joseph Heyward (Source: WTOC)
Wilson and his daughter (Source: WTOC)
Wilson and his daughter (Source: WTOC)

SAVANNAH, GA (WTOC) - The family of a man murdered in City Market says they would trade the guilty verdict and life imprisonment for the suspect to see their loved one again.

This week, a jury convicted Joseph Heyward of killing Frank Wilson in 2015. Friday, a judge sentenced him to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

The Wilson family's words are truly heartbreaking. Frank Wilson was an innocent victim who was picked out in a crowd and shot five times in the back. His family says the trial took them on an emotional roller coaster that could have been avoided.

Beneath two crosses and above the keys of the family piano sits a picture showing most of the Wilson family. Now, his sisters, their husbands, and his parents are grieving the hole Frank Wilson's murder leaves in the family.

"There's not a day, sometimes not even an hour goes by, that I do not think of my brother," said Celeste O'Neal.

When we asked Celeste to tell us a little about him, she started by telling us what he wasn't.

"He was not a thug. He was not a hoodlum."

Instead, she described him as a genuine, kind, and loving person. The sixth of his siblings to go to college, he had just started his senior year.

"I hold him in my heart, and there's nothing in this world that I wouldn't do to have my brother back," said O'Neal.

She imagined the family growing old together, sharing memories and starting their own families, Instead, she's left with only the memories of who her brother was.

Prosecutors say Joseph Heyward was bent on revenge after an attempted armed robbery in 2013. In that incident, Wilson, a victim then too, shot and killed Heyward's brother in self-defense. The district attorney says he planned the murder right away.

"Joseph knows what he's done, and he knew that night what he was going to do to my brother. There was no need to take us through this pain, this hurt," said O'Neal.

She says Wilson would have given up anything he owned had Heyward just asked instead of robbing him at gunpoint. Perhaps the most heartbreaking part - the two-year-old daughter Wilson leaves behind.

"She will never get to know who her daddy is for herself. She will only know through pictures, videos, and stories," said O'Neal.

When the holidays roll around, O'Neal says a candle will light the seat where Frank would be - another reminder of a life lost too soon.

On that fatal armed robbery in 2013, the family and prosecutors say Wilson gave the younger Heyward a ride out of generosity. He killed Heyward in self-defense, and never faced charges.

Chatham County's district attorney reacted to the verdict and sentence and said it sends a stiff message to criminals in our city. She said her number one goal is justice for the families of victims.

"There was just no reason for it. Their son's gone, and they had to sit, and the whole family had to sit through day after day after day of trial. So when he was found guilty, he's now held accountable for his actions. He murdered this boy," said District Attorney, Meg Heap.

Heyward's co-defendant, Ciera Leeks, pleaded guilty and testified against him. Police say she spotted Wilson and texted Heyward, telling him where to go. A judge sentenced her to three years probation and a seven-year suspended prison sentence.

Copyright 2017 WTOC. All rights reserved.