District Attorney Danny Craig outlined his case Monday for two high-profile trials during a preliminary hearing for the one defendant who is the common link between them.
The link is 30-year-old David Joseph Easterling.
Mr. Easterling has been indicted in the February 1998 deaths of Fred and Yong-Suk Walker in Columbia County and last month was indicted on numerous charges in the David Holt slaying case.
Mr. Craig outlined the evidence in both cases during a final preliminary hearing in Appling before Mr. Easterling's death penalty trial begins March 12.
The evidence, Mr. Craig said, reveals how the Walker slayings were committed, why the couple was shot, details of how the Holt killing happened, and how authorities were led to the five men charged in the two cases.
A break in the Walker case came in May when Mr. Easterling's former girlfriend Toi Jackson showed up at the Richmond County Sheriff's Office saying she had information in the slayings, Richmond County sheriff's Investigator Wayne Bunton testified.
She described the way money stolen from the Walkers was wrapped - still bound from the bank - and she knew how the assailants entered the couple's Country Place subdivision home through a rear window, Columbia County sheriff's Sgt. Frank Dodson testified. The Walker couple had owned a Kissingbower Road liquor store and check-cashing business.
Many of the details Ms. Jackson provided had been known only to authorities and the perpetrators.
Ms. Jackson's evidence led to the arrest of Mr. Easterling; Dag Luquinciette Rhodes, 24; and his uncle Jimmy Lee Rhodes. Each is charged with two counts of murder, two counts of burglary and two counts of armed robbery.
Ms. Jackson allowed authorities to record her telephone conversations with Mr. Easterling. On the tape, which was played Monday, Mr. Easterling talks about his co-defendants in the case and alludes to a crime, but says that he was not at the scene.
"I was way down the street in a van," he says on the recording.
Sgt. Dodson testified the defendants knew of the Walker's business and knew they carried large sums of cash. Also, Jimmy Lee Rhodes might have done yard work for the couple.
After his arrest in June, Mr. Easterling said that on the night of the Walker slayings, he was told by the Rhodes to wait in a van at a nearby grocery store parking lot, according to a taped interview Mr. Easterling gave authorities.
After about two hours, they called him on a radio and told him to meet them at a nearby gas station. When he picked them up, he says on the recording, they were wearing different clothes, were carrying a black bag and smelled of fresh gun powder.
The Rhodes told him to drive without speeding. When Mr. Easterling asked what had happened, Dag Rhodes said: "It got dirty. We had to blast somebody," Mr. Easterling told authorities.
Dag Rhodes told Mr. Easterling not to concern himself with the details. He paid Mr. Easterling $50 and told him he would receive another $150 later, Mr. Easterling said.
About seven months after Mr. Easterling's arrest, he contacted FBI agents concerning the Holt case.
Mr. Holt, 45, was found dead June 21, 1998. He was last seen setting the alarm at Sam's Club on Bobby Jones Expressway, where he was the manager. About three hours later, his charred remains were found locked in the trunk of his car across the Fifth Street Bridge on Sand Pit Road in North Augusta.
Mr. Easterling, along with Carlston Winslow Coleman Jr., 30, and Ronald Coleman Jr., were indicted in the Holt case last month in Richmond County on charges of kidnapping, armed robbery, burglary, hijacking of a motor vehicle and possession of a firearm or knife during the commission of a crime. Murder charges in South Carolina are pending.
Mr. Easterling gave agents a handwritten statement saying that the night of the slaying, he had dropped his co-defendants off at the Sam's Club and parked at a nearby apartment complex.
However, Mr. Easterling's accounts to various authorities varied: In one, he says hetook the Colemans to the store; in another, he says he met them in South Carolina.
He says in statements that he did not know details of the crime, Sgt. Bunton testified. Eventually, one of the co-defendants returned and told Mr. Easterling to follow in another car.
Mr. Easterling finally ended up in North Augusta, where he picked up the Colemans, Sgt. Bunton said. Mr. Easterling told investigators he saw a orange glow coming from behind an embankment and saw smoke.
Mr. Easterling told authorities he didn't receive any money from the Colemans, but later he was given a quarter-bag of marijuana by one of them.
During Monday's hearing, Mr. Craig said he plans to present evidence from the Holt slaying during Mr. Easterling's trial in the Walker case. Defense attorney Peter Johnson objected, saying the crimes are unrelated.
Reach Ashlee Griggs at (706) 868-1222, Ext. 109.
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