Police: Mathis spoke to Rutherford on phone before homicide

tstevens@ledger-enquirer.comJuly 10, 2013 

Columbus Police said during a Recorder's Court hearing Wednesday that Cody Jamal Mathis spoke to David Rutherford on the phone before Rutherford's body was found behind Greater Ward Chapel AME on June 26.

Cody Jamal Mathis, 17, faced charges of murder, first degree burglary and possession of a firearm during the commission of a crime during a 9 a.m. hearing, which was presided over by Judge Michael Joyner.

Rutherford, a 57-year-old former radio personality in Columbus, was found dead in the back parking lot of Greater Ward Chapel AME on Talbotton Road at about 5:25 p.m. on June 26.

During Wednesday morning's hearing, Det. John Bailey told the court that when police discovered the body, they found laceration marks to Rutherford's forehead, blunt force trauma marks and a gunshot wound to his thigh. Bailey said the cause of death seemed to be a combination between the blunt force trauma and the gunshot wound.

When police began identifying witnesses, they talked to one source who said Rutherford was assaulted at about 12:30 a.m. by a black man who was between 5-foot-7 and 5-foot-9. According to an earlier Ledger-Enquirer report, Mathis is 5-foot-7 and weighs 130 pounds.

The witness saw the event after hearing a gunshot and loud arguing near the intersection of 16th Avenue and 28th Street. The attacker, who the witness could not identify, allegedly was seen punching and kicking Rutherford on the ground before leaving the scene. Rutherford then stumbled away, according to the witness.

A witness also told police that Mathis was seen around the area of 19th Street carrying a long-barreled .22 revolver shortly after the assault. Mathis' home is on 19th Street, Bailey said.

No shell casings were found at the scene where Rutherford's body was found or at the intersection where the assault allegedly took place.

When police began searching Rutherford's home, they also looked through his cell phone records. Bailey said detectives discovered that Mathis and Rutherford had spoken over the phone at about 12:25 a.m. for four minutes.

After the hearing, Prosecutor LaRae Moore said detectives were unable to determine who initiated the call. She also said that it might not be unusual for Rutherford to take a call that late, considering his occupation as a taxi cab driver. However, she was unable to say whether the call was personal or for business.

Bailey said police took a warrant out on Mathis' home shortly after learning of the phone call between Mathis and Rutherford. The search warrant was executed on June 29, during which police found a pair of pants with blood around the waistband. They also found several rounds of ammunition, but no .22 rounds.

In addition to the bloody pants, detectives found several pieces of jewelry that belonged to a nearby neighbor of Rutherford's. The jewelry was reportedly stolen from the neighbor, who is an attorney, during a burglary which took place at about 4:15 a.m. on June 26. Among the pieces of jewelry stolen was a class ring.

Bailey noted that Mathis had previously been arrested when he was 13-years-old for a burglary, and had been known to carry a firearm.

When defense attorney Stacey Jackson questioned Bailey, he emphasized that detectives have found no forensic evidence implicating Mathis in Rutherford's murder and that no witnesses were able to specifically identify Mathis as Rutherford's attacker. He also noted that there was no .22 caliber rounds found in Mathis' house, which is shared by other occupants.

"There's no forensic or witness evidence that ties my client back to this," Jackson said.

After the hearing, Jackson said his client is innocent and that the evidence connecting Mathis to the burglary may be tenuous as well. Because Mathis was charged with the burglary three days after the event took place, Jackson said Mathis or a roommate could have bought the jewelry off the street.

"Those three days could be the difference between burglary and theft by receiving stolen property," he said.

He also said that Bailey was irresponsible in mentioning Mathis' prior charge of burglary.

"He was 13 when that event took place," Jackson said. "In most cases, unless those events are directly related to a current case, those files are sealed."

When asked about the bloody pants, Jackson said it was important to keep in mind that "things aren't always as they seem."

"I'm confident that once that evidence comes back there will be no trace evidence connecting my client to Rutherford's murder," Jackson said.

While Jackson would only address the phone records as "under investigation," he said it was important to keep in mind that the witness was unable to connect Mathis to the assault on Rutherford. He also said that since the witness did not see Rutherford go to the church parking lot, another person could have either taken Rutherford there or harmed him once he arrived.

"It's very key that no eye witnesses identified Mr. Mathis," Jackson said.

Joyner set no bond on Mathis' three charges. His case will be forwarded to Muscogee County Superior Court.

In a Ledger-Enquirer mugshot gallery dated Nov. 8, 2012, Muscogee County Jail records showed that Mathis was charged with possession of cocaine. The details of that arrest were not available.

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