Houston & Peach

Georgia Supreme Court to hear arguments in Houston County murder case

Coleman “Cole” Crouch looks back as he confers with one of his attorneys, C.J. Walker of Warner Robins, during a short break in Crouch’s murder trial in Houston County Superior Court in this Telegraph file photo.
Coleman “Cole” Crouch looks back as he confers with one of his attorneys, C.J. Walker of Warner Robins, during a short break in Crouch’s murder trial in Houston County Superior Court in this Telegraph file photo. bpurser@macon.com

The Georgia Supreme Court is expected to hear oral arguments Thursday in the appeal of a conviction in a Houston County murder case.

Cole Crouch, 26, was found guilty in June 2016 of planning and orchestrating the slayings of his drug supplier and another man from California three years earlier. He was sentenced to life in prison with the possibility of parole plus 20 years for concealing the deaths.

The oral arguments are expected to be heard at Albany State University. The state High Court travels each year outside of Atlanta to hear cases to make the judicial process more accessible to the public.

According to testimony at the weeklong trial, Crouch enlisted his close friend Thomas Kelley to shoot Ruben Miranda, 32, who supplied Crouch with marijuana and methamphetamine for resale at his rented west Houston County home on Aug. 18, 2013.

Crouch sold drugs for Miranda, and on the way home from picking up a half-kilo of cocaine in Atlanta for Miranda to sell, Crouch tossed the drugs valued at $15,000 when he ran into a road block. Kelley told police that Crouch directed him to kill Miranda and Miranda’s friend, Shaland McConnell, 30.

Both men were shot to death in the living room of the Chadwick Road home. Kelley and his fiancee in 2013, Kristen Beuthin, testified that they bought a tarp at Crouch’s direction for “easy cleanup” of a killing.

Crouch, Kelley and another friend, Justice Evans, loaded the bodies into Kelley’s yellow pickup, and Kelley drove the bodies to a heavily wooded area in Vinson Valley owned by his family. Evans and Crouch met him there, and the three men dragged the bodies into the woods and covered them with the tarp. Beuthin and Amy Patricia Walker, who was dating Evans in 2013, testified that they helped clean up the crime scene.

Crouch admitted to concealing the deaths and tampering with the evidence. But he claimed that Kelley acted independently of him in shooting the men. He testified that Kelley was aware of alleged threats made against him. Crouch said Miranda threatened to rape and put a bullet in Crouch’s mother’s head and then kill his girlfriend, his father and then him. But Crouch’s roommate, Glen Hill, who was not involved in the killing, testified that Crouch had told him that he planned to kill Miranda. But Hill said he didn’t take him seriously.

In the appeal before the Georgia Supreme Court, Crouch’s attorneys are arguing that the Houston County Superior Court abused its discretion by not allowing jurors to hear evidence about Kelley’s “psychotic mental state” and “delusional thinking” at the time of the shootings, according to a summary of the case.

The defense contends that evidence was key to Crouch’s defense and that his constitutional rights to due process and a fair trial were violated, the summary said.

Crouch’s defense was that Kelley shot Miranda and McConnell on his own.

However, Houston County prosecutors counter that “Kelley’s alleged mental health disorder was not relevant as a defense” to Crouch planning and participating in the murders, according to the summary.

Prosecutors also argue that evidence at trial was undisputed that Kelley fired the shots that killed the men and that other trial evidence showed that Crouch planned the murder, told Kelley to shoot the victims and then had Kelley help him destroy evidence and dispose of the bodies, the summary said.

Additionally, Crouch alleges that his trial attorney was ineffective, which the prosecution disputes.

The court is expected to make a decision within six months of hearing oral arguments.

Kristen Beuthin, who is serving a 12-year sentence for helping conceal the bodies of two men slain in Houston County and cleanup the crime scene, testifies at the trial of Cole Crouch. He is on trial for murder and related charges.