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Jury reaches verdict on Columbus teen, codefendant tried in former Pacelli classmate’s death

From left, Ricket Damon Carter III, Troy Jamal Cokley
From left, Ricket Damon Carter III, Troy Jamal Cokley Special to Ledger-Enquirer

After about an hour and 15 minutes’ deliberation Friday, a Floyd County, Ga., jury found two teenagers not guilty of all charges in the homicide of a former high school classmate from Columbus.

Ricket Damon Carter III, 19, of Columbus, and Troy Jamal Cokley, 19, of Riverdale, Ga., graduates of Columbus’ St. Anne-Pacelli Catholic School, were found not guilty of murder and other charges in the Oct. 28, 2017, shooting of 19-year-old Berry College student Joseph McDaniel , Columbus attorney Stacey Jackson said.

Both suspects had been charged with multiple felonies and held without bond since their arrests the day McDaniel was killed. Each walked free after Friday’s verdict.

Jackson, who represented Carter, said security video of the parking lot outside the Old Summerville Road apartment where McDaniel was shot about 2:20 a.m. showed Carter left before the shooting.

The evidence also cast doubt on whether a key witness, McDaniel’s former roommate Andrew Horton, saw the fatal shot fired as McDaniel and Cokley got into an argument over a marijuana deal, Jackson said.

They were in Horton’s apartment, where McDaniel was living temporarily and dealing marijuana, the attorney said. Carter and Cokley had been in Atlanta that day, and drove from there to Rome to buy the drug.

A female neighbor was visiting Horton that night, but she left after the two men she didn’t know came in wearing hooded sweatshirts, Jackson said. When Carter also went outside, that left Horton, McDaniel and Cokley in the apartment.

Horton testified he had a pistol he hid under the living room sofa as McDaniel and Cokely negotiated in the adjacent kitchen. He heard an argument and saw a bag of marijuana being tossed, so he got his gun and went into the kitchen, where Cokley had a gun aimed at McDaniel, Jackson said.

The two armed men briefly were in a standoff before Horton moved toward the door as McDaniel and Cokley wrestled over the other gun, and Horton ran out when he heard the shot, the attorney said.

Horton went to the home of the neighbor who’d visited earlier, and did not return for 20 minutes, after which he started moving evidence from his apartment to hers, including marijuana and drug paraphernalia, Jackson said. No one called 911 for 45 minutes to an hour after the shooting, and investigators never found the gun that fatally wounded McDaniel in the chest.

Jackson said the outdoor surveillance video showed that after Carter left the apartment, the lights on McDaniel’s car flashed twice, the way a vehicle’s lights blink on and off when the owner pushes an electronic key-fob button to lock or unlock the doors. He argued McDaniel must have had the fob in his pocket, and the scuffle with Cokley triggered it.

Cokley could be seen hurrying outside afterward, Jackson said. Cokley and Carter drove back to Columbus that night.

The trial started Oct. 1, and after days of testimony, attorneys spent Friday on closing arguments before the jury deliberated into the evening, reaching a verdict about 7:15 p.m.