More details in the 2011 Good Samaritan killing of the Rev. Blanchard Thomas were revealed Tuesday as one of the five defendants in the case pleaded guilty.
Jody Perry Jr., 24, pleaded guilty to aggravated assault in exchange for his pledge to testify for the prosecution. Superior Court Judge William Rumer sentenced Perry to 20 years, with seven to serve in prison and the rest on probation.
Another defendant, Joel Thomas Jr., also has agreed to testify in the case, said his attorney Michael Garner. Two other suspects, Michael Ingram and Keedra Brummitt, already were expected to testify for the prosecution.
That leaves only one defendant set for trial today: Donnie Forte, who investigators believe to be the suspect who fired the gun that killed Blanchard Thomas on March 8, 2011.
The trial was to begin Tuesday, but it was delayed until this morning when Perry chose to plea.
As he pleaded guilty, Senior Assistant District Attorney Don Kelly summarized the states case, saying the minister was killed as angry relatives sought someone to blame for the alleged rape of a girl he had given a ride to Columbus from Seale, Ala.
The girl had called her family early that morning to report she was being held against her will by a man who at the time was dating the ministers sister. As the news spread, outraged friends and family began to gather and search for her.
Around 2:30 p.m. that day, Blanchard Thomas, then the pastor of Pittviews Mt. Missouri Baptist Church, found the girl in Seale and offered to drive her home.
When Blanchard Thomas dropped her off at her grandparents house on Sixth Street north of Columbus Booker T. Washington Apartments, the girl reported she had been raped. Though she told relatives the minister was not involved, angry friends and family surrounded Blanchard Thomas car, Kelly said.
Joel Thomas, Ingram and Forte got into the ministers vehicle and ordered him to drive toward Phenix City, where they hoped to find the alleged rapist, Kelly said. Perry and Brummitt followed in her car, he said.
This account varies from earlier versions in which attorneys said Joel Thomas, not Jody Perry, was in the car with Brummitt.
Kelly said that instead of driving to Phenix City, the suspects in Blanchard Thomas sport utility vehicle wound up at the dead end of Broadway in Columbus, under the Oglethorpe Bridge. Joel Thomas and Ingram got out of the ministers car and got into another automobile, leaving only Forte in Blanchard Thomas vehicle, Kelly said.
The others were leaving when Forte fired the fatal shot, the prosecutor said.
Though Perry initially denied any involvement in Blanchard Thomas homicide, investigators questioning witnesses suspected otherwise. A grand jury indicted Perry on a murder charge when prosecutors presented the case.
Still he remained free for months as police tried to track him down, arresting anyone they found had hindered his apprehension by renting him cars or offering other aid. He finally was captured in Phenix City on Oct. 23, 2012.