Trial: Fleeing murder suspect caught driving too slowly

With $1,900 in his pocket, Phenix City murder suspect Curtis Durall Newsome was halfway to Atlanta in his dead girlfriend’s Ford Explorer when he made a crucial mistake around 6 a.m. Friday, June 28, 2013: He drove too slowly in the passing lane on Interstate 85.

Newsome was just north of Interstate 185, and just south of Hogansville, when Troup County Deputy James “Luke” Thompson got behind the red Ford and noticed it was going only 55 to 60 mph, forcing other traffic to pass it on the right.

Despite plenty of time to shift to the right-hand lane, the Ford stayed in the left, at the same pace, until Thompson pulled it over, the Troup County officer testified Tuesday during Newsome’s murder trial in Russell County.

Thompson said Newsome pulled off onto the median, where the officer discovered the driver had no license, which records showed was suspended, so he arrested Newsome for driving on a suspended license and for impeding the flow of traffic.

And that’s how the Troup officer captured a homicide suspect hours before police in Phenix City even knew they’d had a homicide.

Back in Phenix City, in an apartment at Edmond Estates, Newsome’s 26-year-old girlfriend Caneya “Candy” Webb lay strangled to death face-down in her bathtub, her wrists and ankles bound with computer USB cords.

But only Newsome knew that, prosecutors say. As Newsome sat in the Troup County jail, declining to call a bonding company to free him – the jail wouldn’t accept a cash bond from someone who lived outside the county – friends and relatives searched for Webb.

Their first clue something was amiss came from Isaiah Gordon, a longtime friend. At 2:28 a.m. that Friday, Gordon got a call from Newsome, who said he was coming from Phenix City to Gordon’s home in Columbus’ Hunter Haven Apartments, Gordon testified.

He arrived at the 5600 Hunter Road apartments around 3 a.m. and asked whether Gordon knew where he could buy a pistol, Gordon said. Gordon couldn’t help him, and as Newsome left about 3:30 a.m., Gordon asked him, “Where’s Candy?”

“She’s at the house,” he said Newsome replied.

About 6:15 a.m., Gordon got another call from Newsome, who said he was being pulled over in LaGrange and would need someone to get him out of jail, Gordon said. Knowing Webb worked two jobs and Newsome had her truck, Gordon called Webb’s brother to warn him Webb would need a ride to work.

Around noon, the family got another warning sign: One of Webb’s two jobs was in Harris County, where her mother Latunja Dunham lived. Typically the two met for lunch, and Webb had called her mother the evening before to say she’d be there. She didn’t show. Dunham called coworkers, who told her Webb hadn’t shown up for work.

Unable to contact her daughter, the mother drove to Phenix City, banged on the apartment door, and got no response. She left.

Because the apartment air-conditioner wasn’t working, a friend had taken Webb’s son and two daughters, ages 6, 5 and 4, to stay with a paternal aunt in Atlanta. Dunham said she called there and learned no one had heard from Webb.

The aunt told Webb’s father, who went to the Edmond Estates apartment about 3 p.m., meeting two maintenance workers who’d come to fix the air conditioner. When no one came to the door, they unlocked it, and Webb’s father found the body in the bathroom.

At the Troup sheriff’s office, phones began to ring: Webb’s family feared Newsome would bond out. “The family kept calling and saying, ‘You’re letting a murderer out! You’re letting a murderer out!” recalled Troup investigator Shelly Downs. She testified Phenix City police called to ensure Newsome would not be released, and later two officers came to collect the suspect’s clothing and the Ford Explorer.

Newsome had been wearing a black T-shirt, green shorts and blue boxer shorts. At the Alabama Department of Forensic Sciences in Montgomery, Kristin Maturi found a blood spot on the boxers near the waist and tested it for DNA. Developing a DNA profile from that evidence, she forwarded it with a sample of Webb’s blood to a second lab that matched the blood to Webb’s DNA, Maturi testified.

Webb’s body remained refrigerated in the Russell County morgue until Monday, July 1, when the coroner had it sent to Montgomery for an autopsy.

State forensic pathologist Stephen Boudreau performed the autopsy. He testified Webb’s injuries indicated she was strangled from behind with such force the pressure of her constricted blood flow caused a “flame hemorrhage” in one eye, the bleeding so profuse that her eye bulged out. He also noted a traumatic blow to the rear, right side of Webb’s head, leaving a deep bruise, and his examination determined Webb was pregnant, her womb containing a fetus 5 millimeters long.

Newsome’s prosecutor is Assistant District Attorney Max Smith.

His defense attorney is Eric Funderburk, who throughout Tuesday’s testimony objected that Smith was calling witnesses so out of order that a clear chain of evidence custody could not be established, so the blood samples matching Webb’s DNA to the spot on Newsome’s boxer shorts could have resulted from contamination.

The trial resumes Wednesday at 9 a.m.