Jury reaches verdict on Columbus man who fatally shot his friend over alleged affair

Ruben “Rich” Hensley will spend the rest of his life in prison after a jury found him guilty Friday of the 2021 fatal shooting of his and his wife’s mutual friend, Marjester “Marty” Thornton.

The jury deliberated about three hours Friday afternoon before announcing it had a verdict around 5:15 p.m. on all of the charges.

The 32-year-old was found guilty of:

  • Malice or deliberate murder for intentionally killing Thornton.

  • Felony murder for causing Thornton’s death while committing the felony of aggravated assault.

  • Aggravated assault for shooting Thornton.

  • First-degree arson for burning his car after learning police were looking for it.

  • Using a gun to commit a crime.

He was sentenced to life without parole.

Ruben “Rich” Hensley re-enters the courtroom after a break in his Columbus murder trial in the fatal 2021 shooting of his friend Marjester “Marty” Thornton.
Ruben “Rich” Hensley re-enters the courtroom after a break in his Columbus murder trial in the fatal 2021 shooting of his friend Marjester “Marty” Thornton.

Hensley’s defense attorney didn’t deny he shot Thornton, but argued he did so in the heat of passion, believing his friend was having an affair with his estranged wife, Jasmine Hall.

Hensley had been working out of town for a solar energy company, often flying out of Atlanta to other states. While he was gone, his wife and best friend grew increasingly close.

When Hensley discovered how close they’d become, on Sept. 25, 2021, he drove from Atlanta to Columbus and started looking for them, calling Hall repeatedly and fuming when she did not answer, attorney Jennifer Curry said during Hensley’s trial this week in Muscogee Superior Court.

He also called Thornton, who was on the phone with Hensley as he walked out of his parents’ Urban Avenue home around 9:30 p.m.

A neighbor’s security camera recorded the noise that came next: three booming gunshots, apparently from a rifle; a car speeding away; and the screams as Thornton’s family found him dying in the front yard.

Two witnesses said the car they saw racing away was a red Mustang.

When Hall got there, in about 30 minutes, she called Hensley and told him his red Mustang had been caught on camera.

Around 1 a.m., Hensley’s car was found on fire on Moye Road. Inside it police found a shell casing for a .223-caliber rifle round.

A medical examiner testified the bullet that killed Thornton could have been of that caliber. It fractured a rib and four of the 12 bones in his spine. It must have been a “high-velocity round,” the pathologist said.

Close friends

Hall married Hensley in August 2019 and did not divorce him until March 6 this year. She testified that she and Thornton, 37, were close friends and had never been lovers.

The prosecutor, Meghan Bowden, said no evidence proved the two ever had an affair.

On Friday morning, she argued to Judge Bobby Peters that jurors should not be given the option of convicting Hensley on voluntary manslaughter, for killing Thornton in a sudden, irresistible passion.

“It’s all speculation,” Bowden said.

With a photo of shooting victim Marjester Thornton on the screen behind her, prosecutor Meghan Bowden gives a closing argument in Ruben Hensley’s Columbus murder trial.
With a photo of shooting victim Marjester Thornton on the screen behind her, prosecutor Meghan Bowden gives a closing argument in Ruben Hensley’s Columbus murder trial.

Peters rejected that, saying he needed to give the jury that option to avoid the case coming back on appeal.

Curry, in her closing arguments, said something Hensley learned in September 2021 triggered him, causing him to rush home from Atlanta and to call Thornton 10 times and Hall 16 times. He got no answer until that night, when finally he got Thornton on the phone at 9 p.m. They spoke for 26 minutes, before the gunfire.

“It happened so fast,” Curry told jurors, arguing Hensley lost his composure upon seeing Thornton, and afterward panicked when he heard police were looking for his car.

Besides the alleged affair, Hensley further was provoked by Thornton’s giving Hall advice on dating other men Hensley knew, Curry said.

Defense attorney Jennifer Curry gestures toward client Ruben Hensley during closing arguments in his Columbus murder trial.
Defense attorney Jennifer Curry gestures toward client Ruben Hensley during closing arguments in his Columbus murder trial.

“This isn’t malice murder,” she told the jury. “This is voluntary manslaughter.”

Bowden countered that Hensley stalked Thornton that night, parking his car down the street and waiting. “He hunted Marty down all day long.... He did it in the cover of night, and he fired at him three times.”