The former roommate of a man on trial for murder testified Tuesday that the accused had talked about “getting rid” of “Mr. Ru” and dumping his body in a heavily wooded area known as Vinson Valley.
A week later, that man was dead.
Coleman “Cole” Crouch, 23, is accused of murder and related charges in the execution-style slayings of Shaland D. McConnell, 30, and Ruben Guillermo Miranda, 32, of the San Francisco Bay area of California.
The men were shot in the back of the head the night of Aug. 18, 2013, inside a west Houston County home in what authorities have characterized as drug-related killings. Their bodies were found several hours later in Vinson Valley, which is off North Houston Lake Road.
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Glen Hill, who shared a rented, three-story house in the West Quail Run subdivision with Crouch, told jurors he was out of town the weekend of the killings. But when he returned to the Chadwick Road residence late that Sunday, he said he smelled the “strong odor of bleach.”
He also found two women, girlfriends of two of Crouch’s friends, in the home and acting “very nervous.” Hill said he left and came back within the hour.
When he returned, Crouch was at the residence with his friend, Justin Evans, and Evans’ then-girlfriend, Patricia Walker. The other woman, Kristen Beuthin, had left. Beuthin was the girlfriend in 2013 of Crouch’s other friend, Thomas Kelley
Hill also saw bullet holes in the green, living-room wall on the second-floor of the home. He said Crouch told him that Kelley had shot two people in a “gun deal gone wrong.”
Hill said he and Crouch had words. Hill then packed a change of clothes, went to a friend’s house and later to the sheriff’s office to tell authorities what he suspected.
Hill told authorities that about a week earlier, when he, Crouch and Kelley were drinking and smoking marijuana, Crouch and Kelley had talked about getting rid of a man he knew as “Mr. Ru.”
“It was brought up in a discussion, and I laughed it off,” said Hill, who said he didn’t take Crouch and Kelley seriously at the time.
That man was later identified as Ruben Miranda. Miranda had come to the Chadwick Road residence at least five times in the year Crouch and Hill had lived there. Miranda always had one or two pounds of marijuana and once arrived with a backpack full of marijuana, Hill testified.
But an attorney representing Crouch argued that Kelley, the accused shooter, who previously pleaded guilty to his role in the crime, acted independently of Crouch.
“Kelley took it upon himself to shoot and kill these people,” Crouch’s attorney Jeff Grube told jurors earlier Tuesday during opening statements.
Crouch feared for his and his parents’ safety because he owed Miranda $15,000, Grube said.
He told jurors that Crouch lived under the pressure of, “Is this going to be the day that I’m going to get it? Or my mother’s going to get it? Or my dad’s going to get it?”
Crouch only had $800 the day Miranda and his “muscle,” McConnell, arrived at the home to collect what was owed, Grube said.
Crouch had gone upstairs to the third floor to get a gun to possibly trade toward the debt when Kelley shot and killed the men, Grube told jurors.
Grube said Crouch is not guilty of the charges against him. Crouch was indicted on two counts each of malice murder, felony murder, aggravated assault and concealing a death, and one count of tampering with evidence.
Kelley, 22, is serving a life sentence for the killings plus 10 years for concealing the deaths.
Evans, 22, of Macon, is serving a 10-year sentence after pleading guilty to two counts of concealing a death and one count of tampering with evidence.
Beuthin, 21, of Loganville, is serving a 12-year sentence for concealing the deaths and tampering with the evidence. Evans and Beuthin helped clean up the crime scene.
Walker, 21, of Macon, faces trial on two counts of concealing a death and one count of tampering with evidence. Walker also allegedly helped clean up the crime scene.
In other testimony Tuesday, Houston County sheriff’s Sgt. Guy Fussell testified that a man, later identified as Hill, initially called the sheriff’s office in the early morning hours of Aug. 19 and asked if he could leave an “anonymous tip” about a crime that had been committed.
Hill then went to the sheriff’s office and spoke briefly with Fussell and later with sheriff’s investigators.
Meanwhile, Fussell and other sheriff’s deputies drove to the Chadwick Road home where they took Crouch into custody. “The smell of bleach was overwhelming,” Fussell told jurors. “It actually made my eyes burn.”
Sgt. Patrick Alexander told jurors about cleaning and paint supplies found in the home and about a section of a wall that had been repaired where a shell casing had lodged.
He showed them photographs of the living room and stairs leading to the garage that showed evidence of a chemical that glows blue when traces of blood are found.
Alexander testified about several handguns and rifles found in different parts of the home, two bulletproof vests found in Crouch’s bedroom closet and marijuana, including “a big bag” of it, found throughout the home.
Testimony is expected to continue Wednesday.