Prosecutor: Eagle Scout slay suspect admits being up to ‘something bad’

jkovac@macon.comMarch 25, 2014 

FORSYTH -- It was a harebrained deal, a ruse gone south from the get-go, an alleged scheme by a pair of Eagle Scouts to lure another young man to a secluded, ramshackle house, then handcuff him to a tree or porch post and rob him of $3,400.

But it ended with shotgun blasts, with the conned young man dead near the porch steps with 32 cents in his pocket, and his assailants perhaps none the richer, a prosecutor said Tuesday.

As opening statements began in Monroe County Superior Court in the murder trial of 23-year-old Kyle Dougherty, prosecutor Mark Daniel told jurors that Dougherty was complicit in an “evil” friend’s ploy to fool their victim into thinking they were about to sell him a pound of marijuana.

Trevorius Thomas, 21, was shot and killed Jan. 27, 2012, at a run-down, old house on Zebulon Road, not far from Bolingbroke. Dougherty led investigators to his body there four days later.

Authorities contend that as the scam unfolded on a Friday afternoon two years ago, Dougherty was lying in wait inside the falling-apart dwelling, armed with a shotgun.

Meanwhile, prosecutors say, his accomplice, Stephen Lober, drove over to west Macon and retrieved Thomas, whom he knew from their days at Rutland High School.

Lober, 22, Dougherty’s friend and fellow Eagle Scout from Lizella, pleaded guilty last November to his role in the slaying and was sentenced to life in prison. He will not be eligible for parole until at least 2042.

“He’s an evil man,” Daniel said of Lober as the trial began.

The prosecutor said that despite pretrial speculation to the contrary, he will not call Lober to testify.

“There’s an old saying, ‘Don’t p--- on my leg and tell me it’s raining.’ ... I will not be calling somebody who lies to the stand,” Daniel said. “He’s a murderer.”

Daniel later read aloud snippets of Dougherty’s 80-minute statement to investigators.

Dougherty spoke to investigators four days after Thomas was slain, when Dougherty was arrested on charges that include malice murder, felony murder and conspiracy to commit armed robbery.

In his statement, Dougherty allegedly told how he agreed to go along with Lober’s scheme:

“So I guess at that point in my mind I just kind of canceled out that thought that, ‘Yeah, we’re going to do something bad, rob some random drug dealer I’ve never met before. Why should I feel bad?’ ... I was just thinking, ... ‘I will have gas money for the next couple of weeks.’”

‘Something so stupid as this’

It was never determined whether Thomas brought $3,400 to the bogus deal, or if any cash was taken from him, but prosecutors say Lober and Dougherty did not have a pound of marijuana to sell him.

According to Dougherty, Thomas rode to the rickety house with Lober, Daniel said, and Thomas was killed with a pump-action, 12-gauge shotgun that belonged to Dougherty.

The apparently unarmed Thomas was shot numerous times, sustaining wounds to his head, neck, chest, back and leg.

Daniel said that though Dougherty claims Lober had mentioned handcuffing Thomas in the stickup, Dougherty said he never saw Lober with any handcuffs.

Dougherty, according to Daniel, went on to tell investigators that he had told Lober not to shoot Thomas “unless he actually draws on you. I do not want you to shoot somebody for something so stupid as this, as money. It’s not worth throwing your life away.”

Authorities do not know whether it was Lober or Dougherty who shot Thomas.

“It could have been one (of them),” Daniel said. “It could have been both.”

Dougherty’s lawyer, Franklin J. Hogue, described his beefy, wavy-haired client as a somewhat naive follower.

Hogue said it was Lober who led Dougherty “into these dark places” and fired the deadly shots.

He painted Lober as a manipulating drug addict who “hatched, in his cocaine-addled brain, a plan ... to set up a fake drug deal and get some easy money off of another young man he knew.”

Addressing the jury, Hogue said the Lober-hatched hustle was to rob Thomas at the vacant house. But before that, Hogue said, Lober needed some muscle.

“He called up his boyhood buddy, Kyle Dougherty. ... They were in Scouts together. They both achieved the rank of Eagle Scout. ... Kyle considered Lober’s parents like a second set of parents,” Hogue said.

The two friends had lost touch since high school.

Dougherty, who like Lober lived with his parents, had worked for a time as an electrician’s helper.

But when the killing happened, Dougherty was commuting to an Atlanta art school, studying video-game animation.

Hogue said Lober asked Dougherty “to ride along with me while I do a drug deal with this guy -- he’s dangerous.”

The lawyer added, “Now I’m going to concede to you what Kyle should have done, that he wishes more than anything else he had done was say, ‘Lober, that is crazy talk, dude. No, I am not gonna meet you tomorrow to ride along with you and provide some sort of security to you while you do a drug deal.’ ... But he didn’t.”

‘Cowering in the back room’

Hogue deemed Lober “an evil, conniving liar.”

“We know he’s evil,” Hogue said. “He’s the one who shot Trevorius Thomas.”

Later he told jurors “this is not your garden-variety trial.” The defense, Hogue said, concedes many aspects of the case. But, he said, “Mr. Dougherty did not commit malice murder. We’ve pled not guilty to it. That’s why we’re here.”

Dougherty also faces two counts of felony murder, a conviction for which requires proof of an underlying felony.

“Kyle Dougherty, as he told officers ... had no idea. In fact he said to Lober, ‘No, no shooting now.’ ... But Kyle has nowhere in his brain the thought that this kid he grew up with, this fellow Eagle Scout, would really, literally pull out a gun and shoot a man down over some money. ... (Dougherty thought) he’s just gonna use it as a show of force and he’s gonna get money,” Hogue said.

“That’s a crime, I concede it to you. ... He is not, though, knowingly participating in any murder of any kind. Lober did that. Lober’s pled guilty to that.”

Hogue said Dougherty “was cowering in the back room” of the decrepit house when the fatal 12-gauge blasts came.

“He is so frightened, so freaked out about what he has gotten himself into. He has no intention of coming out of there. He is not laying in wait. ... He only hears what happens next.”

Lober, according to investigators, had driven into Macon in Dougherty’s red Jeep to retrieve Thomas from a trailer park across U.S. 80 from Middle Georgia State College.

When the two returned, Hogue said, Dougherty heard Lober walk onto the porch, reach inside the door, grab a shotgun and proceed to blast away “in cold blood,” killing Thomas.

“Dougherty can’t see any of this. ... (Dougherty) comes out ... and says, ‘Why in the hell did you shoot him?’ ’’ Hogue said.

Hogue said Lober then told Dougherty to get in the Jeep, which Dougherty did, and they rode away.

Thomas’ parents took the stand Tuesday and described the frantic search for their son in the days immediately after his death. They reported him missing and, before long, tracked down Lober and Dougherty by phone.

In a series of phone conversations with both young men, Thomas’ parents said they got the runaround.

Thomas’ mother, Stephanie Smith, said her son, who sometimes worked at his grandma’s janitorial service, pressed Dougherty on her son’s whereabouts.

She said Dougherty told her, “Stephen (Lober) would have to tell me what happened, and that he was sorry.”

Thomas’ father, Sam Thomas, said when he called Lober, Lober “tried to put it on Kyle.”

Neither young man, he said, would tell him if his son was alive.

Sam Thomas and Smith scoured Zebulon Road after learning their son may have gone there. Sam Thomas feared Trevorius may have been tied up in the woods.

“It wasn’t meant for us to find him,” he said.

Testimony is set to resume Wednesday morning.

Contact writer Joe Kovac Jr. at 744-4397.

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