Columbus homicide update: Man charged with murder

Joe Paull jpaull@ledger-enquirer.com
One of the apparent witnesses was searched before being put into a police car.
Joe Paull jpaull@ledger-enquirer.com One of the apparent witnesses was searched before being put into a police car.

A Columbus man faces a murder charge a day after police found a man fatally shot in an SUV parked on Broadway near the Oglethorpe Bridge.

Columbus police arrested Joel Thomas, 23, at the Russell County Jail at 8:10 p.m. Wednesday. He faces charges of murder, armed robbery, robbery, kidnapping and weapons counts, Muscogee County Jail officials said.

Thomas' arrest came a day after two men spotted Blanchard Edward Thomas, 44, slumped over inside a green SUV parked in the southbound lane of Broadway around 4:20 p.m. Tuesday. He was shot once in the head.

Reached late Wednesday night, Columbus detectives declined to comment on the case.

Earlier in the day, Maj. Gene Hillhouse said: “We’re aggressively investigating it at this time. We don’t have any arrests to announce yet. We’re working the case. We’re not anywhere near being done with it.”

Any relationship between the deceased and the man facing murder charges is unknown.

Police identified on Wednesday "a couple" of people of interest in the homicide. One was interviewed by police, though the other hadn't been found as of Wednesday evening.

No weapon has been recovered. No weapons were found inside the SUV, Hillhouse said.

“There have been a couple of people who have surfaced to investigators,” he added.

Police Chief Ricky Boren was joined at the scene by several high-ranking police officials in probing the third slaying of the year. The investigation took place under a busy thoroughfare during rush-hour traffic, but it was largely out of the sight of passing motorists.

The investigators outnumbered the handful of curious onlookers, though some concerned neighbors approached the scene to have a closer look.

One man said he was surprised to learn of the shooting because he had been home all day and not heard a gun shot, though he recalled hearing a scream shortly before authorities arrived at the scene.

Thomas was pronounced dead at 5:04 p.m. His body was sent to Atlanta today for an autopsy, Muscogee County Coroner Bill Thrower said. Thrower expects preliminary autopsy results soon.

Thomas' Columbus Recorder's Court hearing is scheduled for 9 a.m. Friday.

Columbus police have asked anyone with information about Thomas’ death to call investigators at 706-653-3400.

Related stories from Columbus Ledger-Enquirer