Raw Video: Columbus Police Chief says Facebook and the "No-Snitch" creed of the street making homicide investigation more difficult
While announcing two arrests Wednesday in the brutal Jan. 4 triple homicide of a Columbus woman, her son and granddaughter, Police Chief Ricky Boren sought to reassure the public the crime was not a random act.
“The individuals we arrested went to that house to do that damage,” Boren said. “This case was directed at that house.”
Jervarceay Tapley, 17, chose to target his friend Caleb Robert Short at the 3057 Bentley Drive home that Short, also 17, shared with mother Gloria Short, 54, the chief said.
But Boren disclosed no motive for the beating deaths of Caleb, Gloria and Gloria’s granddaughter Gianna Lindsey, 10, who happened to be visiting at the time.
Also charged in the case is Raheam Daniel Gibson, 19, said Boren, who added more arrests are likely. He gave Tapley’s address as 4125 Calhoun Drive and Gibson’s as 2605 Jones Ave.
Though Boren described Tapley as Caleb’s cousin, members of the victims’ family said Tapley is not related to them. Tapley’s grandmother, Margaret Williams, was dating one of Gloria’s brothers, and Tapley lived with them at the Calhoun Drive residence.
That brother, Robert Averett, 68, died of a heart attack Jan. 6 after hearing the news of his sister’s death, said Muscogee Coroner Buddy Bryan. Averett had an extensive medical history of cardiac issues, Bryan said.
Tapley’s mother, Rachel Tapley, was among those attending the news conference at the Columbus Public Safety Center. She was accompanied by her son’s attorney, Shevon Sutcliffe Thomas.
She and Thomas claimed Tapley was home with Averett and Williams when the homicides occurred. She said her son found out about the crime from a news alert on his phone.
Jervarceay Tapley attended the three victims’ visitation as well as Averett’s funeral, Rachel Tapley said.
“He had a close relationship with the whole family,” she said of the Shorts. “They used to go out there and pick him up, bring him over there to the house. Him and Caleb were game freaks. They used to stay up all night playing a video game. They took him down to the Iron Bowl, Auburn championship and everything.”
But Tapley hadn’t seen Caleb in over a year, she said.
Each suspect is charged with three counts of murder, two counts of auto theft and one count each of burglary and using a knife to commit a crime, Boren said. Though investigators found no evidence that anyone forced entry into the Bentley Drive home, they believe they have the elements necessary to support the burglary charge, the chief said.
The suspects’ auto theft charges stem from two vehicles taken from the Bentley Drive home and abandoned in Columbus’ Oakland Park neighborhood off South Lumpkin Road — a silver 2014 Volkswagen Beetle and a green 2004 GMC Envoy.
The VW was found in Rigdon Park on Howe Avenue and the Envoy at Broadmoor Drive and Cindy Drive, police said.
“Numerous search warrants have been served and we are now in the possession of a lot of electronic as well as physical evidence,” the chief said, confirming that police also have what they believe to be the weapon used. “There’s a probability that more arrests will take place.”
Gibson and Tapley will have a preliminary hearing at 2 p.m. Friday in Columbus Recorder’s Court.
Boren said Gibson is being held in the Harris County Jail, and Tapley is in the Muscogee County Jail.
He asked that anyone with information on the case, including the suspects’ actions after the bodies were discovered, call detectives directly at 706-653-3400. “Don’t do it on a media source,” he said. “Don’t throw it out there for interpretation.”
Investigators said they do not want people posting more speculation on social media, which became a distraction over the past week.
J. Mark Shelnutt and William Kendrick are representing Gibson. Shelnutt said Wednesday that his client has been cooperating with the police for several days.
“Mr. Gibson is pleading not guilty,” Shelnutt said. “He’s adamantly maintaining his innocence. He had nothing to do whatsoever with these horrible, horrible crimes. And, of course, in a situation like this, we just are asking for people to withhold any kind of judgment on anything until they see what comes out in the courtroom.”
District Attorney Julia Slater has not said whether she would pursue the death penalty in Gibson’s case. Shelnutt said a U.S. Supreme Court precedent prohibits sentencing a defendant to death for a crime committed when the accused was a juvenile. At 17, Jervarceay Tapley is considered an adult in the state of Georgia but still a juvenile under the Supreme Court ruling.
Thomas, Tapley’s attorney, said after the news conference that he’s still waiting to hear exactly what his client’s accused of.
“We don’t know what we’re defending,” he said. “You heard the press conference that the chief gave. In his words, there’s still a lot of dots that they’re connecting. I don’t know what those dots are no more than you guys. Basically, what I heard is, ‘We have two people arrested. And that’s it, we’re investigating.’”
Thomas said he met Tapley for the first time Wednesday morning to make sure his client was OK. They spent about 15 minutes together, he said, but didn’t discuss details of the case.
“He understands that he’s been pressed with charges, that’s it,” Thomas said. “My next step is to wait. As Chief Boren said, there’s a preliminary hearing scheduled for Friday.”
Thomas questioned why Boren would hold the news conference on Wednesday and not release more information: “They could have done that on Friday, or at least give this kid his day in court. I’m a little concerned about that.”
He added: “Three innocent lives were taken, we do understand that. But, at the same time, I also believe that the public has an interest in making sure that the right person, or persons, take responsibility. … So this early-onset, ‘We’re not going to tell you guys what we have and why we did what we did yet,’ I’m a little concerned,” he said.
According to police, Robert Short Sr. found the bodies at 7:50 a.m. Jan. 4 upon returning home from a 12-hour shift at a local hospital.
Funerals for the three were held Monday morning at Cascade Hills Church. About 1,000 people attended the “Celebration of Life,” including Mayor Teresa Tomlinson and Councilor Jerry “Pops” Barnes.
Tapley was arrested at his Calhoun Drive home the next day.
Slater released a statement offering her sympathy to the family and their loved ones.
“DA Slater will personally handle the prosecution of this case and see the case through to its conclusion,” the statement read.
According to the Muscogee County School District, Tapley was attending Spencer High School, having just transferred into the district as a junior in December from Valley High School in Alabama. He was enrolled from Dec. 7 to Jan. 12, officials said.
Gibson last attended Spencer as a ninth-grader during the 2012-2013 school year. He spent Aug. 21 through Sept. 4, 2012 there, then transferred to Carver from Sept. 13 through Oct. 2, 2012, records showed.
It’s unclear where Gibson went to school after leaving the district.
Caleb Short was a junior at Shaw High School, and Gianna Lindsey attended Ridgecrest Elementary in Phenix City.
The Ledger-Enquirer found no criminal record for Jervarceay Tapley.
According to Muscogee Superior Court records, Gibson pleaded guilty Aug. 7, 2015, to charges of theft, obstructing police and criminal trespass. Judge Tracy Moulton Jr. sentenced him to 24 months’ probation.
According to his indictment, Gibson on July 3, 2013 — his 17th birthday — took a Talon Pro touring bicycle, two aluminum baseball bats, a black bag, a security key, a black hat and spray paint from Columbus High School at 1700 Cherokee Ave. The property valued at around $1,500 belonged to the school, authorities said.
Gibson ran from Officer Jason Swails when Swails ordered him to stop, and he gave Swails a false date of birth, the indictment says.
As part of his probation, Gibson was to undergo mental health testing and treatment, records show.
Prosecutors dismissed charges of second-degree burglary and misdemeanor theft related to the same incident.
Triple homicide press conferencePosted by Ledger-Enquirer on Wednesday, January 13, 2016