It's been a year since celebrity fitness trainer Darius Miller was beaten into a coma while trying to stop a group of men from filming Mayor Shirley Franklin's daughters outside a Peachtree Street nightclub. Now, a month after the investigation hit an unexpected hurdle, authorities might never discover what really happened that night.
The answer to the mystery might have died Christmas Day with Apollo Holmes.
Holmes, the sole suspect identified in the investigation into the attack, was indicted in October on charges of criminal intent to commit murder, aggravated assault and aggravated battery. Even before his indictment, he'd long refused to divulge the names of the other men allegedly involved in the assault, according to his defense attorney, Bruce Harvey.
In the end, Holmes' unwillingness to snitch could be viewed as a literal example of an oft-repeated street dictum: death before dishonor.
"[Investigators] wanted him to testify or cooperate," Harvey says. "There was a lot of pressure on him to give up the other people, and he didn't want to do that. He was taking the heat by himself. He was getting all the publicity. He was the one that had to shoulder the burden."
On Christmas Day – within hours of the one-year anniversary of the attack on Miller – Holmes killed himself in his Cobb County home.
While the timing of Holmes' suicide suggests that personal guilt played a role in his death, Harvey claims otherwise. "I want to dispel that as vigorously as possible," he says.
The case against Holmes, Harvey says, was far from open-and-shut. What's more, a review of the court file reveals several discrepancies in the evidence, from the nature of the injury that put Miller into a coma to the varying levels of culpability among the film crew that crossed paths with Miller, the mayor's daughters and their friends.
On Christmas night, 2007, 41-year-old Darius Miller hosted a party at Django lounge on Peachtree Street. Though he was playing party promoter that night, Miller earned his living as a fitness trainer, with an impressive clientele list that included R&B singer Usher and NFL player Takeo Spikes.
Miller's party went late. Just before 3 a.m., he walked two of the event's VIPs to their car: Kali Franklin and Kai Franklin Graham. The Franklin sisters, Miller, and four of their friends headed north on Peachtree Street, toward a nearby parking lot.
On their way, they passed a group of men hanging out in front of Verve nightclub. As the Franklins and their friends later told police, the men were wearing track suits and T-shirts printed with the numbers "01." They also were armed with a video camera. In fact, Verve's manager had told the crew earlier that night that they weren't allowed to film in the club. So they started asking passers-by if they were willing to appear on camera.
As the Franklins and their friends would later tell police, when the crew asked them if they were willing to be on film, they declined.
Kali Franklin said the men wouldn't take no for an answer. "She said the males were very aggressive towards them," according to documents filed in the court case. Komichel Johnson, 36, told police he stepped in and tried to defuse the situation. "The women asked, 'Can you please stop filming us?'" Johnson recalled. "I then got into a debate on respecting black women with a brother."
After Johnson and his friend, 23-year-old Chris Prudhomme, headed toward the car, Miller stepped into the argument with the film crew. None of the witnesses was able to describe exactly what happened next, aside from Kali Franklin's observation that the argument "escalated" and Miller "went to the ground."
Kali Franklin said she and her sister tried to pull the group of men off Miller. The sisters told police that, after Miller hit the ground, a man wearing a white jacket trimmed in green and with his hair braided in cornrows stomped Miller in the chest.
Prudhomme noticed "a guy in an orange vest that was taking all kinds of pictures in the parking lot." Moments later, Johnson leaned down to lift Miller off the pavement. He told police, his friend's body felt "lifeless."
The men loaded Miller into the car and rushed him across the street, to Emory Crawford Long Hospital.
When homicide detectives arrived at the hopsital at 3:15 a.m., they learned that Miller had slipped into a coma and was breathing with the help of a ventilator. Emergency room staff said Miller had been "assaulted by being struck on the head by a bottle," investigators later would write in a report. "He then apparently sustained further injury when his head struck the ground as he fell."
Four of the witnesses – the Franklins and two female friends – went to the homicide office for questioning. Johnson and Prudhomme would be interviewed later. All gave consistent versions of the attack.
As the women were being interviewed, homicide Lt. Keith Meadows began to search for clues as to the identities of the film crew. He found a website for a party promotion group called "01 Entertainment" – the numbers printed on the film crew's shirts and jackets. One of the hip-hop groups that 01 Entertainment represented was called Trilogy. Its frontman went by the stage name "Young Maserati." In photos posted on the site, he wore a white track jacket trimmed in green, and his hair was braided in cornrows.
When Meadows showed the picture to Kai Franklin Graham, she identified him as the guy she saw stomping Miller. Allegedly, the other witnesses couldn't positively identify the man. His lawyer later claimed it was unlawful for police to show Kai Franklin Graham a single photo – rather than a lineup – of a suspect wearing the same clothes the attacker was wearing.
The following day, a warrant was issued for Young Maserati. His real name was Apollo Holmes.
Harvey says there's no doubt as to his client's whereabouts that night. "Clearly, he was there," Harvey says.
But he contends that some of the other men in the film crew inflicted the injury that landed Miller in a coma – one from which he hasn't awakened.
Harvey claims that Miller already was on the ground when Holmes supposedly kicked him. And while Holmes' October 2008 indictment alleged that "stomping on the chest [caused Holmes'] heart to stop, resulting in brain damage," the emergency room staff had reported that Miller sustained a head injury when he hit the ground.
Holmes suicide now has stalled the case. Atlanta police did not respond to request for comment on the investigation, but Harvey says there aren't many leads.
"They don't know who else was involved," he says. And it's going to stay that way, he claims, "unless somebody else comes forward and says, 'OK, it was me.' I can't see that happening."
The end result is a tragedy for everyone.
"One man is in a persistent vegetative state," Harvey says. "And you have a young kid who was shouldering responsibility for something I didn't think he was responsible for shouldering by himself. It is a sad commentary on urban life."