An Atlanta man will spend 40 years in prison after he was found guilty this week in a “soulless” anti-gay attack on a couple this spring, when he threw boiling hot water on them as they slept, PEOPLE has confirmed.
Martin Blackwell was convicted of 10 counts – two counts of aggravated assault and eight counts of aggravated battery – in the February attack on Anthony Gooden and Marquez Tolbert, Fulton County prosecutors tell PEOPLE.
He was found guilty on Wednesday, according to court records. The jury deliberated for about 90 minutes after the three-day trial, prosecutors said.
Blackwell was sentenced to the maximum prison time under the law, they said.
Prosecutors have said that on the night of the attack, Blackwell filled the largest pot in his home with water and set it to boil before tossing it on Gooden and Tolbert, who were sleeping and who had been dating about a month, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and Associated Press.
The pair had been staying with Gooden’s mother, who was dating Blackwell, according to the AP.
“You were soulless, malicious and a violent person [during the attack],” Fulton County Superior Court Judge Henry Newkirk said to Blackwell Wednesday before sentencing him, according to the AJC.
Prosecutors argued that Blackwell was motivated by a specific kind of hate: homophobia. Tolbert testified at trial that Blackwell grabbed him after the attack and said, “Get out of my house with all that gay,” according to the AP.
What’s more, Blackwell made “all kinds of crazy, anti-gay, homophobic statements on his jail call,” Fulton County Assistant District Attorney Franklin Engram tells PEOPLE.
Engram says Blackwell made a particularly nasty and derogatory statement to police upon their arrival at the scene in February.
Gooden and Tolbert’s injuries were severe, according to reports: The former was hospitalized for about a month, including two weeks in a coma, and the latter was hospitalized for 10 days. Both men had several surgeries, according to the AP – and both testified at Blackwell’s trial.
Georgia does not have a hate crime law, but the FBI has said it opened a hate crime investigation. (The status of that probe was not immediately clear and an FBI spokesman in Atlanta did not immediately respond to PEOPLE’s request for comment.)
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Blackwell’s defense attorneys did not present any evidence at trial or call any witnesses, according to the AP. But they argued that the attack was reckless rather than premeditated, according to the AP.
“It’s not about hate. It’s about old-school culture, old-school thinking,” attorney Monique Walker told jurors, according to the AP.
Blackwell’s defense argued he was motivated by a sense of disrespect for the victims’ behavior in the home – a claim the prosecution dismissed.
After the verdict, Tolbert told reporters he felt “justice was served,” according to the AP. Tolbert had earlier spoken out about the attack on local TV, breaking down as he described it.
“I’m ecstatic,” Tolbert said Wednesday, according to the AP.
Engram says the trial and conviction have been “cathartic” for Gooden and Tolbert, for whom it had loomed as a weight. “They’re very grateful,” he says.
“They can move on.”
Tolbert’s mother, Kim Foster, had strong words for Blackwell when she spoke to WSB-TV in March, saying, “He’s not human. He got hatred in his heart and God’s gonna deal with him.”
Deputy District Attorney Fani Willis tells PEOPLE that Blackwell’s defense intends to appeal his convictions. Walker did not immediately respond to PEOPLE’s request for comment.
Willis says she believes Blackwell will serve the majority of his 40-year prison sentence, pointing toward a previous conviction in a 1991 shooting as a complicating factor in any possible parole.
She also highlighted the jury’s quick work in the trial. She says it was a perfect mix of backgrounds, coming together on a decision: “All of our community said we’re not going to tolerate that.”