Originally created 11/10/99

Prosecutor: Drugs motive in killings

A Trenton, S.C., man had motives -- including his wife's and her ex-husband's knowledge of his marijuana dealings -- for paying to have the pair killed, according to an Arkansas prosecutor.

Etheridge Kneece, 60, was arrested Thursday on two counts of capital murder in the Arkansas killings of his wife, Joann Kneece, and James Floyd Suggs. Mr. Kneece has not been charged with drug trafficking.

"(Mr. Kneece) was concerned about his cover being blown as ... a marijuana dealer," said Brad Butler, prosecuting attorney in Benton County, Ark. "It was a situation where he lost control over Mrs. Kneece and Mr. Suggs, and people like that are fearful."

Law enforcement officials have received reports that Mr. Kneece stored bricks of marijuana in the bedroom of his teen-age step-daughter in Trenton, Mr. Butler said.

"He was a large-scale marijuana dealer. (That) is what I've been told," Mr. Butler said.

Also among the motives were sex abuse allegations against several girls, Mr. Butler said.

Mr. Butler has begun extradition proceedings, sending the appropriate paperwork to Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee.

Mr. Huckabee is expected to receive it today and then will have to sign off on it before it is sent to South Carolina Gov. Jim Hodges. A hearing date is not expected for a couple of weeks.

"We just need to get him back here and let him be tried in a court of law," Mr. Butler said.

Meanwhile, Mr. Kneece is jailed without bond at the Edgefield County Detention Center. He was hospitalized at Edgefield County Hospital an hour after his arrest Thursday after complaining of chest pains. He was on round-the-clock guard while he was treated.

The bodies of Mrs. Kneece and Mr. Suggs were found Nov. 2 in Mark Twain National Forest in Missouri, near the Arkansas state line. Mr. Suggs was found with two severe slash wounds to the throat and about eight stab wounds. Mrs. Kneece's skull was severely fractured.

Rose Ellen Cushman, 43, and James Arnold Baughman, 42, were arrested Nov. 1 in Berryville, Ark., after a gasoline station attendant recognized one of the two cars they were driving as Mrs. Kneece's missing 1998 Ford Taurus. Mrs. Kneece and Mr. Suggs had been missing since Oct. 31, when the couple's daughter filed a missing-persons report with Benton County sheriff's officials.

Ms. Cushman, of Windsor, told authorities Mr. Baughman had killed the two Oct. 30 and dumped their bodies in the remote area in return for a payment from Mr. Kneece for $30,000 to $40,000.

On Monday, Mr. Kneece's attorney, John Harte of Aiken, said his client plans to plead not guilty and fight efforts to be extradited to Arkansas.

The attorney said he was confused by early suggestions that Mr. Kneece would have killed someone to keep his wife from testifying in a Nov. 2 Family Court hearing. The hearing was held to address whether allegations Mr. Kneece sexually abused his step-daughter were enough to put Mr. Kneece's name on a child abuse registry. The listing would have prevented him from working at a day care, school or church where children are present. A judge ruled in Mr. Kneece's favor.

"I don't follow the motive," Mr. Harte said. "I mean, it's not like my guy was about to go to jail ... . He wasn't facing a jail term. He wasn't facing a fine. He wasn't facing any punitive action other than his name would go on a list.

"To say someone was going to kill someone to prevent testimony ... doesn't match up. It doesn't make logical sense to me."

In a telephone conversation with The Augusta Chronicle, Mr. Butler addressed the attorney's comments.

"I think there are a lot of different motives," he said. "The additional sex abuse allegations were a motive. The fact he dealt marijuana and his wife knew it was a motive."

Mr. Harte had no comment about the additional theories, saying he hasn't talked with Mr. Butler and he didn't want to litigate the case in the media.

"This is not the way to go about finding out what's what," he said.

Staff Writers Mark Mathis and Chasiti Kirkland contributed to this article.

Reach Greg Rickabaugh at (803) 279-6895.


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