EFFINGHAM COUNTY, Ga. (WTOC) - Tony Arnsdorff has been sentenced to life without parole plus 15 years in the 2017 murder of Courtney Wells.
He was found guilty on all 11 counts, including malice and felony murder, although police have said they don’t believe he was the one who pulled the trigger.
“The sentence was less of a surprise, not that it was a forgone conclusion, but Scott Pinholster was sentenced for his part to the same sentence, so I felt very confident when asking for the sentence on Arnsdorff; would likely receive the same thing. As far as I’m concerned, he was equally culpable in the death of Courtney Wells," said lead prosecutor, Russell Jones.
The jury considered about two days worth of testimony, looking at all the ways Arnsdorff could have been tied to Wells’ murder.
The state argued that even if Arnsdorff isn’t the one who pulled the trigger, he helped Scott Pinholster commit the crime. Arnsdorff’s attorney argued it wasn’t in his client’s nature to commit such a crime, and that Arnsdorff didn’t know what Pinholster was going to do.
Prosecutor Jones pointed out to jurors that it doesn’t make sense to him that Arnsdorff was at the scene of the crime if he wasn’t there to help Pinholster carry out the act.
“Why is he bringing a witness out on that dirt road with him if it’s not somebody there to participate and aid and help him in this, and again, if this is not a person who is participating, why aren’t there two bodies out there on Riverside Drive? Why isn’t Tony Arnsdorff out there in the woods with his face gone,” Jones questioned.
Wells died from shotgun wounds to the face and neck, according to testimony.
Jurors heard a lot of the same information from the state that they did during Pinholster’s trial. That’s because prosecutors say the crime against Wells couldn’t have been done without Pinholster and Arnsdorff.
The lead prosecutor says Arnsdorff made attempts since Wells’ murder to minimize his involvement by saying Pinholster was the shooter, but the lead prosecutor also says Arnsdorff admitted to police he helped move Wells’ body about 30 feet off the dirt road where she was shot into the woods.
WTOC heard that testimony Monday from an investigator who interviewed Arnsdorff five months after Wells’ murder.
“He said that they left, they stopped, they came back because her body was in the roadway, and that he assisted Pinhoster in dragging the body over a ditch and over next to a fence in a wood line area,” said former investigator for the District Attorney’s Office, Erick Riner.
Like Pinholster, police say Arnsdorff wasn’t initially honest with the information he was giving them, albeit it was voluntary, as Arnsdorff’s attorney pointed out.
Here’s what Arnsdorff offered as a theory when interviewed by sheriff’s deputies shortly after Wells’ murder.
“I asked him if he’d heard anything, and he stated that he’d heard a lot of things,” said Detective Richard Beckum, Effingham County Sheriff’s Office. “He stated that he’d heard the Mexican cartel was after him and Ms. Wells, and during the conversation, he also mentioned the Ghost Face Gangsters.”
In the months following, the state says Arnsdorff gave police information that wasn’t just a theory, rather, an account that put him at the scene of the crime.
“Arnsdorff received a text message from Pinholster saying, ‘Hey, I found her,’ essentially, ‘you need to hurry up. I know where she’s at.’ So, they did it together,” Riner said. “Arnsdorff did tell me that. He acknowledged the text message when Investigator Bradley brought it up during the interview, and then yes, they did it together, and he was instructed by Pinholster to lay down in the backseat.”
Arnsdorff told police he hid in the backseat of Pinholster’s truck while the three drove down Riverside Drive. At some point, Wells either got out, or was forced out. Arnsdorff told the police what happened next.
“Courtney got out of the vehicle, got out of the truck on the road. At first, he said she got out of the truck, and then he said they kicked her out of the truck. She got out of the truck. He said that he got into the front seat of the vehicle," Riner said. “He said that Pinholster reached up under the seat - the seat that the defendant was laying across, hiding in the backseat - and retrieved a shotgun. He said that then, he put the shotgun across the passenger’s window, which would’ve been across his chest, and fired a shot, and then said that Pinholster got out of the vehicle and fired five or six shots, that he could recall.”
The lead prosecutor said in opening statements that by saying Pinholster was the shooter, Arnsdorff is trying to minimize his involvement in Wells’ murder.
Arnsdorff’s attorney pointed out during cross examination that his client said he felt scared of Pinholster, and that Pinholster had the power to influence while armed with a shotgun.