Crime

Suitcase full of marijuana taken from Jeep of Columbus rapper before fatal shooting, detective says

Tyree Jaquan Smith took a suitcase containing 15 to 16 pounds of marijuana out of Branden Denson’s Jeep the night the Columbus rapper was fatally shot in the parking lot of the Pizza Hut on Buena Vista Road, a detective testified Thursday in Recorder’s Court.

Smith, 21, is the fifth suspect to be charged in Denson’s April 6, 2018, homicide.

Denson, also known as Billion Dollar BD, was shot three times in the back as he sat in his black Jeep Wrangler about 10:30 p.m.

Detective Robert Nicholas testified that surveillance video from a neighboring store recorded Denson pulling into the Pizza Hut parking lot and waiting there 10 to 12 minutes until another vehicle stopped beside him.

Three of the four people in the second car, a rented Kia, got out and walked to Denson’s Jeep, where two confronted Denson as Smith took the suitcase from the Jeep and brought it back to the Kia, said Nicholas. He added that muzzle flashes recorded on video showed the fatal shots being fired.

Under questioning from defense attorney William Kendrick, Nicholas said none of the suspects’ faces are clear on the video, which recorded the incident from about 50 yards away, but an eyewitness who was on the scene identified Smith, as well as other suspects.

“I believe the eyewitness was familiar with Mr. Smith and the other three individuals as well,” the detective said.

He said cellphone records also placed Smith at the scene, though Kendrick countered a cell tower covers such a broad area that Smith’s phone could have been in a nearby neighborhood where Smith’s grandfather lives, and not at the Pizza Hut.

Kendrick argued Nicholas had failed to establish sufficient probable cause to send Smith’s case on to Muscogee Superior Court, having no evidence Smith fired the fatal shots and only a single witness to place him at the scene.

Prosecutor Matt Brown said it’s up to a jury to weigh the credibility of the witness, and the evidence was adequate to charge Smith as an accomplice for allegedly participating in the robbery that led to Denson’s death.

“If you’re a party to the crime, you can be charged with murder as well,” Brown said.

Judge Jennifer Cooley agreed, ordering Smith to be held without bond and sending the case on to Superior Court.

Other suspects charged in Denson’s death are Tommie Jamal Mullins, Dover Bartlett Coppins, Eric Randall Spencer and Johnathon Lemorris Swift.

Police have alleged that Mullins, also a rapper, planned the robbery, and that Coppins fired the fatal shots.

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