A Bulloch County jury returned a verdict on Friday in the case against Dustin Leigh Cowart. Cowart stood trial this week for the October 2020 shooting death of Ray “Buddy” Beasley Jr.
Read previous coverage on the case dating back to 2021 in the following articles:
Read previous coverage on this case:
- Attorney Says Cowart Shot Beasley in Self Defense
- Judge Seals His Decision on Immunity in Cowart Murder Case
- Another Bulloch Murder Case in Limbo Due to Mishandling of Evidence by District Attorney’s Office
- Cowart Murder Trial Off to Rocky Start Over Evidence, Juror Kinship Issues
- Cowart Murder Trial: Prosecutors Say Text Messages Show Premeditation
- Jurors Won’t Hear Toxicology Results of Beasley, Cowart Takes Stand to Argue Self Defense in Murder Trial
The jury, composed of five women and seven men, when accounting for the alternate, deliberated for roughly three and a half hours. They returned to the deliberation room just after 3:30 p.m. Thursday afternoon before breaking for the day roughly two hours later.
At 4:40 p.m., the jury knocked to announce a question. They wanted the definitions of ‘Malice Murder’ and ‘Felony Murder’ so the judge brought them back to the courtroom and provided the charges once again.
At 5:15 p.m., the jury was again brought into the courtroom due to the lateness of the hour. Muldrew asked if they were close to reaching a decision or if they wished to return the following day. The jury foreman announced that they were close to a decision and would likely have one between 5:30 p.m. and 6:00 p.m. However, at 5:37 p.m., jurors knocked to announce that they wanted to go home and return Friday.
Deliberations resumed Friday morning just after 9:00 a.m. and at 10:35, they announced they had reached a verdict.
Count 1: Malice Murder – GUILTY
Count 2: Possession of a Firearm During Commission of a Felony – GUILTY
Count 3: Felony Murder – GUILTY
Count 4: Possession of a Firearm During Commission of a Felony – GUILTY
Count 5: Aggravated Assault – GUILTY
Count 6: Possession of a Firearm During Commission of a Felony – GUILTY
Judge Michael Muldrew said the court had very little leeway in sentencing because of statutory requirements and asked if there was any opposition to sentencing immediately. Neither the state nor the defense objected, but the court took a brief recess to allow for organization and preparation of anyone who wished to address the court.
The statutory sentencing requirements for Malice Murder and Felony Murder are ‘Imprisonment for Life’ or ‘Imprisonment for Life Without Parole,’ but Cowart cannot be sentenced for both since only one murder occurred. Thus, the two counts merge together for one sentence. A Life in Prison sentence, when parole is a possibility, is a minimum of thirty years in prison before a person is eligible for parole.
Victim Impact Statements
Under Marsy’s Law and the Crime Victims Bill of Rights, victims and families of the victims have the right to address the court.
The court heard from Lori Kearney, Beasleys ex-wife and the mother of their minor daughter, Gracie. She spoke on the impact the entire process had on their daughter, who was 14-years-old at the time of the shooting. She called the entire thing ‘senseless’ and ‘ridiculous,’ before she read a letter from her daughter to Cowart, in which she explained that her daddy taught her that everyone is worthy of forgiveness and that she had forgiven Cowart for his bad acts.
Also testifying in the hearing Sheila Beasley, Beasley’s mother. She also called the shooting senseless and lamented that the only place she can see her son is at a grave.
“I hope you never get to see Sadie again. That’s just how I feel,” she closed.
Statements in Support of Cowart
Cowart’s father, Jamie Cowart, also testified. He asked for forgiveness of all of the families involved. He apologized to Mrs. Beasley and complimented Gracie Beasley in her conduct throughout the process. “That’s an amazing little girl,” he said tearfully. “I wish there was something I could do. God be with us all.”
Rene Cowart, his mother, echoed Jamie’s statements and said she was also truly sorry before pleading for mercy for Cowart and his daughter. Cody Cowart, Cowart’s brother, testified briefly about the importance of his brother throughout his life and also asked for mercy.
Defense attorney Matt Hube asked for Life in Prison with the possibility of parole and a probated sentence for any time for Possession of a Firearm During a Felony.
Dustin Cowart spoke briefly to the Court and said it was a bad situation that escalated quickly.
“Words can’t explain how sorry I am for the loss of your family….Please have mercy on the sentencing so maybe one day I can see my little girl again. And I just ask for forgiveness.
Judge’s Comments on Case & Sentence
Muldrew told Cowart he had not heard any remorse about Cowart’s behavior.
“The situation was all your fault,” Muldrew said. “You made it seem like it was something you just stumbled on. Four years of harassing your ex-wife in those text messages and none of this would have happened if you didn’t do that. If you hadn’t told him to meet you at Mixon Road and Rocky Ford Road. If you hadn’t taken a gun to a fist fight. There’s only one person to blame. And who is that?
“It’s me,” Cowart said.
“It was all totally avoidable. It was all the responsibility of the defendant. Mr. Cowart, your behavior has destroyed several families, including your own,” Muldrew said. “What strikes the court is your begging the court for one day the opportunity to see your daughter when you have deprived Mr. Beasley of that.”
Ultimately, Judge Muldrew sentenced Cowart to Life in Prison plus five years to serve for the Possession of a Firearm During the Commission of a Felony. He will remain in the Bulloch County Jail until he is transported to a Georgia Department of Corrections facility.