Suspect in fatal shooting appears in court
The 23-year-old man killed at 5 Corner Lotto in November was shot in the back while trying to run into the store, according to testimony Friday morning in Columbus Recorder’s Court.
Jalontaye Clay Cleveland, 18, of Columbus pleaded not guilty to murder in connection with the Nov. 6 shooting that killed Vastal Patel and wounded his 56-year-old father. He was ordered held without bond in the Muscogee County Jail.
Columbus Police Sgt. Anthony Locey said authorities were called to 1231 Linwood Blvd. around 9:53 p.m. Nov. 6. Officers found Patel and his father suffering from gunshot wounds outside of 5 Corner Lotto.
Patel, who was employed at 5 Corner Lotto, and his father, who owns the business, were transported to Midtown Medical Center. Patel was pronounced dead at the hospital at 10:15 p.m. His father was treated for a gunshot wound to the stomach and released after undergoing emergency surgery.
Officials said they obtained surveillance video that showed a SUV arriving on the scene from the 17th Street area and circling the building. Three black men wearing masks and gloves left the area where the SUV pulled onto the scene and headed to the side of the building near Linwood Boulevard.
They waited outside as the victims closed the business and locked the store. Two of the men were armed with a handgun and one was on a cellphone when they approached the father and son.
One individual shot the father in the stomach through a gallon carton of milk he was holding. Patel then tried to unlock the doors and go back into the business.
That’s when an armed suspect continued to fire several shots, striking him in the upper back as he was fleeing with the other suspects. Officials confirmed Thursday morning that only one weapon was fired, but they have yet to name the shooter.
Officials located the SUV and searched it on Nov. 21. They found a cellphone belonging to one of the suspects, according to the detective’s testimony.
Locey said Cleveland’s name surfaced during the murder investigation, but he declined to elaborate with two additional suspects still on the loose. They received his mother’s phone number and informed her about the situation.
She told him that detectives were interested in speaking with him and gave them Locey’s number. Cleveland, who was shot in Phenix City days before, was being treated at Midtown Medical Center when he called Locey and agreed to an interview.
Locey met Cleveland at the hospital and asked him where he was the day of the shooting.
“He stated that he was with his girlfriend and two other individuals and they were riding around the south end of town that night,” Locey testified. “I asked him for his cellphone number back then and he provided it to me and stated it was a Wi-Fi only phone.”
Records shows that text messages about the crime were exchanged between the number Cleveland provided and the number associated with the phone they located in the SUV, Locey testified.
Officials showed him surveillance video that showed a man arriving at the 5 Corner Lotto around 8 a.m. Nov. 6 in the dark SUV that was seen circling the building before the shooting.
The individual entered the store and asked the clerk for something before leaving in the SUV.
Cleveland told police that 18-year-old Dominique Collins of Columbus, his friend, was the man in the video, according to Locey’s testimony.
Officials issued an arrest warrant for Cleveland and took him into custody at a residence in the 200 block of Collins Drive. He was transported to the police headquarters for further questioning.
“After awhile, he did admit to his role in the robbery and being at the robbery,” Locey told the court. “He gave us a detailed statement of everything that occurred on video, but he did say he is not the shooter.”
Cleveland’s hearing came one day after 18-year-old Dominique Collins of Columbus pleaded not guilty to the same charges. Additional warrants for murder and aggravated assault were issued for 26-year-old Courtney Williams of Stewart County and 30-year-old Kimberly Huffman of Columbus.
Huffman and Williams are still on the loose, authorities confirmed Friday morning.