Russell sheriff: Family feud played role in Hurtsboro double homicide

tchitwood@ledger-enquirer.comFebruary 25, 2013 

While announcing two more arrests in last week’s Hurtsboro double homicide, Russell County Sheriff Heath Taylor said the shooting deaths were connected to a feud between two families, neither of which the victims belonged to.

It started about a year ago when Rashawn Ricks, 17, now one of four suspects charged in the Feb. 18 slayings of Reginald Berry and girlfriend Michelle Denise Buchanan, got into a dispute with Frank Snipes Jr., Taylor said. Snipes shot Ricks in the leg, said Taylor and his chief investigator, Lt. Harold Smith.

That shooting happened in Russell County, where authorities searched for Snipes for months before requesting help from the U.S. Marshals, who caught Snipes last Thursday in Tuskegee, Taylor said.

Apparently in retaliation for that shooting, Ricks caught Snipes’ uncle James Snipes about 7:30 p.m. Feb. 18 on Brooks Road, off Macon County Highway 10, where Ricks blocked the road to stop Snipes and shot him, said Taylor and Smith.

James Snipes is 70 years old, Taylor said. Frank Snipes Jr. is in his early 20s, the sheriff said.

Berry, 35, of Pittsview, Ala., also had a dispute with Ricks that triggered an altercation about three weeks ago, Taylor said. Berry knew Ricks had shot the elder Snipes, Having seen Ricks in the area, Taylor said. Apparently Berry tipped authorities to Ricks’ likely involvement.

Around 10 p.m. Feb. 18, Berry was in the Hurtsboro area to pick up Buchanan, 27, of Opelika, who had relatives there. The two were in Berry’s Buick LeSabre headed into Hurtsboro on Shady Grove Road when Berry had car trouble between Battle Road and Alabama Highway 26, so he pulled over to work on it, investigators said.

That’s where Ricks, traveling with cousins Frederick Bowen and Dexter Saxton in Derrick Cliatt’s Honda Accord, happened upon Berry and Buchanan, the sheriff said. He said Berry had no weapon and was sitting in the car with Buchanan when two shooters using two separate firearms gunned them down, Taylor said. Deputies arrived on the scene about midnight.

Though Ricks reportedly had issues with the Snipes family and with Berry, no evidence indicates Buchanan was anything but a bystander who just happened to be there, Taylor said.

The sheriff called it a “travesty” that two people were killed over such trivial disputes, and that four young men, two of whom apparently never shot Berry or Buchanan, each now face two counts of capital murder.

“It is an absolute travesty,” Taylor said, later adding, “Two people, two different guns, shot our victims. That can lead you to believe that two people may not have shot, but they may go to prison for the rest of their lives for being there.”

Taylor speculated that Ricks may have killed Berry thinking James Snipes had not survived the earlier shooting, and Berry could finger him as a murderer.

Cliatt, 20, and Saxton, 19, both of Hurtsboro, were charged Monday morning after a relative brought them to the sheriff’s office, Taylor said. They are expected to face Judge David Johnson today in Russell County District Court.

They are the last two suspects investigators sought, and no additional arrests are expected, Taylor said.

Ricks, of Bulloch County, was arrested soon after the slayings. Besides his two capital murder counts for the Russell County homicides, he is expected to face Macon County charges of attempted murder and firing into an occupied vehicle in connection with James Snipes’ shooting, authorities said.

The second suspect arrested, Frederick Bowen, 23, of Columbus, was charged Friday after he voluntarily came to the sheriff’s office to talk to investigators, Taylor said.

The sheriff said Frank Snipes Jr. remains in the Russell County jail on charges of assaulting Ricks.

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