Originally created 12/16/03

Suspect's friend testifies at trial



After drinking gin and snorting cocaine for a few hours, John C. Devine didn't know if he should believe a friend's claim that he had killed an old man, Mr. Devine testified Monday.

He was fairly certain that Clifford E. Cooper, 33, and John E. McCoy, 39, had robbed a man in the early morning hours of March 28 because Mr. Cooper showed him a wallet with someone else's identification and $37 in cash, Mr. Devine testified.

"He had tears in his eyes, saying John was still over there choking, choking the old man," Mr. Devine said of Mr. Cooper.

Mr. Cooper's Richmond County Superior Court trial began Monday. He and Mr. McCoy, who will be tried separately, have pleaded innocent to charges of malice and felony murder, burglary, robbery and arson in the first degree.

Charlie Johnson Sr.'s family suspected foul play from the time his body was found by firefighters in his burning Emory Street home. For one thing, someone had cashed a check from the 71-year-old man's account after he died, Assistant District Attorney Jason Troiano told the jury Monday in his opening statement.

Mr. Devine gave officers their first real lead. He testified that he and his girlfriend were at a friend's Dogwood Terrace apartment on March 28 when Mr. Cooper and Mr. McCoy talked of robbing an old man who might have $3,000 cash at his home. They asked him if he wanted to go along, but Mr. Devine's girlfriend threw a fit, he said. The two men left without him and returned separately about an hour later, first Mr. Cooper, then Mr. McCoy.

"(Mr. McCoy) came back, he was like all excited about what he had done," Mr. Devine testified.

Mr. McCoy said he had killed the victim and started a fire in the house.

"I didn't believe him at first, and he was like, 'Come on, I'll show you."' He rode with Mr. McCoy to Emory Street, where he saw the fire trucks, he testified.

He didn't call officers then because Mr. McCoy threatened him, Mr. Devine testified. But later, when he was locked up for violating his parole, Mr. Devine wrote what he knew because, he testified, his girlfriend had been getting threatening phone calls.

Mr. Devine said the prosecutor told him Friday that a pending drug-possession case against him would be dismissed if he testified truthfully against Mr. Cooper and Mr. McCoy.

Reach Sandy Hodson at (706) 823-3226 or sandy.hodson@augustachronicle.com.