Two plead guilty to felony murder charges in 2018 Baxley murder

20 June 2021

BRUNSWICK, Ga. (June 20, 2021) – The Brunswick Judicial Circuit District Attorney’s Office today announced the guilty pleas of two men for the felony murder and attempted armed robbery of a 23-year-old Baxley man.

Rhett Austin Wheeler, 23, of Baxley, and Rocky Alton Wheeler, 20, of Blackshear, pleaded guilty in Appling County Superior Court today and were both sentenced to life in prison by Judge Stephen Kelly. Neither of the two brothers will be eligible for parole for at least 30 years.

The two defendants pleaded guilty before their trial in the Dec. 30, 2018, death of Dennis William Bryant behind a hotel in the first block of Heritage Street in Baxley.

“It is always fortunate when a just result can be achieved without the need for victim’s families to relive their loss at trial. When defendants accept responsibility for their actions, judicial resources can be freed up to handle other pending cases,” said Chief Assistant District Attorney Ian Heap, who prosecuted the case on behalf of the State.  “In these two cases, convictions for murder and life sentences were just. We will continue our pursuit of justice for the family and friends of Mr. Bryant.”

There are a total of six co-defendants in this case, five of which are charged with felony murder. The remaining defendants charged include Luis Jose Torres, 21, of New Jersey, Gabrielle Elizabeth Labaco, 21, of New Jersey, and Catherine Layne Zipperer, 19, of Blackshear. 

 A sixth co-defendant, Daisy Miranda Lott, 21, of Alpharetta, was indicted for tampering with evidence and hindering the apprehension of a fugitive. One of the co-defendants, Jose Torres, was tried in 2019, convicted, and sentenced to life in prison with possibility of parole. Appling County Superior Court granted him a new trial in 2020, ruling that his defense lawyer was ineffective.  Torres and the other three remaining co-defendants await trial.

Members of the media with further questions may contact the Brunswick Judicial Circuit District Attorney’s Office at 912-554-7200.

Open Records Act Request: Pursuant to O.C.G.A. 50-18-71(b)(2), the Open Records Officer for the Brunswick Judicial Circuit District Attorney’s Office is Cathy Browning. Written requests should be submitted to her via email at or by mail to the Brunswick Judicial Circuit District Attorney’s Office, Attention: Cathy Browning, 210 E. 4th St., Woodbine, GA 31569.
Media Policy: The Brunswick Judicial Circuit District Attorney aims to scrupulously follow the Georgia Rules of Professional Conduct. The office is not ethically allowed to answer many questions posed by reporters, whatever the journalistic merit. The office cannot, for example, discuss an accused party’s criminal history or speculate about the impact of a particular piece of evidence. These rules are in place to ensure a defendant’s rights to a fair trial and the presumption of innocence until proven guilty.