Houston & Peach

Man pleads to reduced charges in Houston murder case

WARNER ROBINS -- One of three men originally indicted on murder charges in a 2013 execution-style double homicide in Houston County has cut a deal with the prosecution, according to court records.

Justice Bernard Evans, 21, of Macon, has pleaded guilty to two counts of concealing a death and one count of tampering with evidence in connection with the drug-related slayings of Shaland D. McConnell, 30, and Ruben Guillermo Miranda, 32, both of California. Evans has maintained he is innocent of the killings since first charged nearly two years ago.

“What I can say for Mr. Evans is this: It is and has been critically important to him and to his family that he was not and is not guilty of murder in this case,” said Evans' Macon attorney Lars Anderson said Tuesday. “As stated by the assistant district attorney in his recitation of the facts before the court, certain events occurred in Mr. Evans’ presence which lead to the death of two people, and Mr. Evans did not know it was going to happen and was not a part of any planning, or of any carrying out of a plan, to kill two people.”

Evans was sentenced to serve 10 years in prison plus 20 years on probation by retired Judge Tommy Day Wilcox, who was filling in at Houston County Superior Court last week. If Evans successfully completes the first 10 years of the probation, then the probation will terminate early.

He was granted first offender status, which means the felony convictions will come off his record if he successfully completes his probationary period after prison. He also received credit for time served since his arrest Aug. 21, 2013. He was banned from Houston County and ordered to pay a $1,000 fine.

His negotiated plea includes his “truthful testimony” with the expectation that the indictment related to the murder charges against him will be dismissed, according to court records. The charges he pleaded guilty to were outlined in a bill of accusation successfully sought late last week by Assistant District Attorney Greg Winters.

Winters could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

Evans, Thomas Andrew Kelley, 21, and Coleman Lawrence Crouch, 23, were previously indicted twice -- in October 2013 and then in March 2015 -- on two counts of malice murder, two counts of felony murder, two counts of aggravated assault, two counts of concealing a death and one count of tampering with evidence.

Evans, Kelley and Crouch were reindicted after charges were upgraded to murder against Kristen Ann Beuthin, 20, of Loganville. Beuthin, one of two women initially accused of helping clean up the crime scene, was indicted on the same charges as Kelley and Crouch in the 2015 indictment. The 2015 indictment replaced the 2013 indictment.

The other woman, Amy Patricia Walker, 21, of Macon, was indicted on two counts of concealing a death and one count of tampering with evidence.

On Aug. 18, 2013, McConnell and Miranda were shot in the back of the head with a .45-caliber Glock pistol inside a rented Chadwick Road residence where Crouch lived. Their bodies were dumped in a heavily wooded area off U.S. 41, Ga. 49 and North Houston Lake Road.

Kelley, Crouch, Beuthin and Walker have all pleaded not guilty to their alleged involvement in the crime.

Beuthin was Kelley’s girlfriend, and Walker was Evans’ girlfriend at the time of the slayings, authorities said.

An insanity defense has been mounted on behalf of Kelley, the accused shooter, while the attorney for Crouch is seeking to have him tried separately. Kelley and Crouch are being held at the Houston County jail without bond. Evans, who is also in jail, may remain there until the case goes to trial because of his expected testimony.

Beuthin is free on $50,000 bond, and Walker is free on a $10,000 bond.

Efforts to reach the other defense attorneys were unsuccessful.

To contact writer Becky Purser, call 256-9559.