By Joe Johnson
A Western Judicial Circuit judge recently denied a motion to quash a murder indictment against a former Madison County Sheriff’s deputy who is accused of killing a University of Georgia graduate student while in a jealous rage.
The motion had argued that the indictment against Winford Terrell “Trey” Adams III was not valid because when he fatally shot 26-year-old Benjamin Lloyd Cloer, he did so because he was concerned for the safety of his wife when he saw her with the victim at the grad student's home on Old Jefferson River Road.
Because he was a sworn police officer at the time of the alleged murder, Adams argued that he was considered to be on duty 24 hours a day, and was in performance of his duty when he believed he was protecting his wife, according to the motion. As such, the motion argued, Adams was entitled to testify before the grand jury prior to the panel voting on whether to indict.
The grand jury voted to indict the 33-year-old Comer resident for malice murder, felony murder, first-degree home invasion, family violence aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, and two counts of possession of a firearm during the commission of a crime.
Prior to ruling on the motion to quash the indictmentCloer , Clarke County Superior Court Judge Lisa Lott held a hearing on May 7, in which she heard testimony from Athens-Clarke officers and Madison deputies who responded to the Nov. 10, 2019 fatal shooting.
According to the judge’s order denying the motion to quash, filed on May 11, Adams’ supervisor testified that the deputy had not asked for his agency’s approval to work in Athens-Clarke County after finishing his shift the day of the shooting.
All four law enforcement officers at the hearing testified that when they arrived at Cloer’s house, Adams was walking back and forth from the porch to inside the home while holding a pistol and shotgun, Lott noted in her order.
Video from an officer’s body-worn camera “showed an intense and frantic scene where, for over fifteen minutes, officers on the scene were running for cover behind trees and cars, constantly screaming to (Adams) to drop his guns...during this time the victim was lying on the ground nearby,” Lott wrote in fer order.
According to the judge that after Adams dropped his weapons and he was arrested, the deputy told an Athens-Clarke detective that after previous infidelity “issues” he installed a tracking app on his wife’s phone.
On the day of the shooting, the wife told Adams that she was meeting with some friends after work, but he tracked her to Cloer’s house where she had previously visited sometime around Halloween, Lott wrote in her order.
When Adams arrived at the house in his personal vehicle he was not on duty or in uniform, the judge noted.
The detective testified that Adams told him when he looked through a window “he saw his wife and the victim lying on a couch together, with the victim’s arm around his wife,” according to Lott’s order, and after entering the residence through an unlocked door Adams confronted the pair and his wife told him that “we’re just friends” and “it’s not what it looks like.”
Adams told the detective he had his gun out during a struggle with his wife and that he shot Cloer two or three times in the back as the student tried to leave the house, the judge’s order noted.
Cloer died at the hospital. He was working toward a master’s in artificial intelligence at UGA, and the university presented the degree posthumously to Cloer’s father a year after his son’s death.
In her order denying the motion to quash, Lott noted that after hearing officer testimony and watching body cam footage of the incident, “This Court finds there was no evidence presented that Defendant was acting in his official capacity as a sheriff’s deputy and no evidence presented which would suggest that Defendant was acting in the performance of his duties as a law enforcement officer during the incident in question.”