A Houston County jury deliberated for only an hour Friday before finding a man guilty of the slayings of his drug supplier and another man from California.
Cole Crouch, who planned and orchestrated the killings, was convicted of 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.
Judge George Nunn sentenced the 24-year-old Crouch to life in prison with the possibility of parole plus 20 years for concealing the deaths.
Crouch will not be eligible for parole until having served 30 years of his sentence, said Jeff Grube, one of the attorneys representing him. The maximum Crouch could have received was a life sentence without the possibility of parole.
Grube had pleaded for the possibility of parole to give Crouch “a light at the end of the tunnel.”
Assistant District Attorney Greg Winters had sought the maximum sentence.
He noted that everyone Crouch invited to his rented west Houston County home on Aug. 18, 2013, is dead, in prison or headed to prison. It’s all because Crouch owed Miranda $15,000 in drug money and didn’t want to pay it back.
According to testimony at the weeklong trial, Crouch enlisted his close friend Tom Kelley to shoot Ruben Miranda, 32, who supplied Crouch with marijuana and methamphetamine for resale. Miranda’s friend, Shaland McConnell, 30, also was 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. Kelley testified that Miranda was standing on the tarp when he shot him first in the chest and then in the back of the head. Kelley shot McConnell in the head while he was sitting on the couch.
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 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.
But Nunn noted from the bench that evidence against Crouch during the trial was “overwhelming.”
Jurors viewed photographs of the bodies that were projected on a screen in open court.
“The worst picture I saw was of the bodies dumped out in the woods for the animals to eat, and that was disgusting,” Nunn said from the bench.
During the hearing, Crouch’s family and friends, many through tears, pleaded for mercy. A victim’s advocate for the district attorney’s office read aloud impact statements from family and friends of Miranda and McConnell that spoke of heartbreak and loss.
Crouch, who showed no emotion when the verdict was read and the sentence imposed, declined to make a statement.
Meanwhile, Kelley is serving a life sentence with the possibility of parole for the murders plus 10 years for concealing the deaths. Beuthin is serving 12 years and Evans 10 for concealing the deaths and tampering with evidence. Walker is facing a sentence of one to five years for concealing the deaths and tampering with evidence under a negotiated plea. She is expected to enter the plea later this month.