FLASHBACK: Insights Into Infamous Charleston Avenue Murders Revealed in Court Opinion; Huntington Police in July 2005 Thought They Were Close to Solution

by Tony E. Rutherford, News Editor
Charleston Avenue 2005
Charleston Avenue 2005

Almost apprehended.

That does not count in terms of  solved crimes, but a court opinion issued three years ago lends credence to how excellent  work by Huntington’s detectives nearly led to a Summer 2005 arrest in the prom night killings. However, the informant evidence turned sour. Had it not, instead of an unsolved case, one, two or three people would have faced murder one and/or accessory charges.

These court documents from a July 24, 2007 decision provides tantalizing information concerning the murders of four teens on Charleston Avenue in 2005. The public portion centers on an already well known theory --- that one of those murdered stole a large amount of marijuana from Cherylethia “Bunny” Holmes and that she ordered him killed. The other three young people happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time late that after prom morning.

The aftermath to the killings surfaced in this ruling by a three judge panel in Virginia concerning the admissibility of a search warrant which an HPD detective obtained from Judge David Pancake. It was used to search a residence in the 1800 block of Marshall Avenue. No murder weapon was located, but weapons were found. The defendant, a convicted felon, has now served his sentence for a felon in possession of a gun.

Prior to publishing this article, HNN sent copies of the court opinion to pertinent Huntington officials; no responses have been forthcoming. We rely entirely upon the statements and conclusions of the three judge panel.

It must also be stated prominently that a story appeared in the Herald Dispatch (July 27, 2005) related to what you are about to read. Police on July 27, 2005 stated the information provided in part by informants did not pan out on the credibility scale.

Although the court opinion is available as public information, HNN could not access any portion of the case docket, which would contain attorney briefs and more details. That information remains restricted.

Editor’s Note: Jack Swint, publisher,http://westvirginianews.blogspot.com initially provided a link to the unpublished U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit opinion.The “unpublished” terminology applies to non-citation of the disposition of the case as binding precedent in the circuit.Often, cases appealed pro se have unpublished opinions; this case, though, has numerous attorneys for both the defendant and U.S. Attorney’s office on the briefs, which themselves are not available on line.

THE COURT’S NARRATION

On May 22, 2005 , after attending a high school prom, four youths were shot to death. On July 25, 2005, (Mr.) Shannon Dennis “admitted to investigators that he witnessedthe defendant (Jamal Laronne Ray a/k/a Jamal Douglas) commit the murders, assisted defendant in fleeing the murder scene, and threw the murder weapon in the Ohio River.”

Four pieces of evidence constituted ‘probable cause’ to believe the defendant was involved in the four homicides, the opinion states. One,Dennis’ statement to law enforcement “even if tainted by his complicity in the murders;” two,“corroborating statement from the cooperating witness;” three, an HPD accident report (July 14, 2005) confirmed that the “suspected getaway vehicle” ---- a white 1987 Chevy Monte Carlo painted blue after the homicides and after the accident ; and , four, “at the time of the application for the search warrant, the suspected getaway vehicle was parked in front of defendant’s residence [1891 Marshal Avenue].”

Two informants had told detectivesabout two men “bragging” about involvement in the Charleston Avenue murders. The search warrant affidavit stated that police had conducted “numerous interviews” during the early investigation that “led investigators to believe that Donte Ward had been shot in retaliation for taking a large amount of marijuana from Cherylethia “Bunny” Holmes. Holmes admitted to investigators that marijuana had been taken from her Charleston Avenue home.

On July 5, 2005 a co-operating witness told HPD that Dennis “bragged about driving a suspect vehicle involved in the homicide to the scene and to throwing the murder weapon into the Ohio River.”

On July 14, 2005, a cooperating witness identified that a “B/M named T or Trouble,” {later identified as the defendant} stated that he murdered the four victims over a drug debt.”

On July 25, Shannon Dennis admitted “that he threw the murder weapon in the Ohio River. Dennis admitted they left the area in a white Chevy Monte Carlo, 1987 model with gray interior.

 

CONFLICTING WITNESSES

Based on the court document, the alleged murder and accomplice likely had been both lying and bragging (for attention?) rather than having involvement in the killings.

The following analysis affirmed “probable cause” for issuance of the search warrant . The appeal to the Richmond, Virginia, three judge panel followed earlier hearings (December 15, 2005 and February 6, 2006) before Judge Robert Chambers in Huntington, WV. HNN stresses that the court opinion upheld the legitimacy of the search warrant on the residence at 1897 Marshall Avenue, which was then inhabited by the defendant.

At the time of the December and February hearings, the defendant (who had been the alleged gunman) through counsel asserted that the police affidavit had “intentionally misrepresented” the alleged evidence to Circuit Judge David Pancake.

The appeals court upheld the findings of the district court that no intentional misrepresentation due to omissions occurred on the part of the HPD detective.

What statements had been left out?

Shannon Dennis’s estranged wife (Allison Dennis) had told investigators that her husband “was a liar and lied about everything” and that he was with Allison “on the day of the murders until I went to sleep.” Allison Denniscontradicted that statement. She had told investigators in the same interview “that she was really not certain that Dennis was with her on that day because they had been split up for a while. Under cross examination at the February 2006 hearing, she stated the split was because “Shannon [Dennis] was on drugs pretty bad at the time.”

 

The District Court had found “it’s clear that there was ample information provided to police, but most of it was inconsistent and contradictory. The information was provided over the course of several weeks following the murders.”

(Note: Both courts found the murder related conflicting evidence did not affect the material statements by the detective in seeking the search warrant. “It is unnecessary for us to address the other witnesses’ allegedly conflicting evidence,” the court opinion stated.)

AFTERMATH

The Herald Dispatch reported that by the time of the February 2006 hearing that a Huntington police detective testified that Ms. Holmes gave police the names of people she believed killed the teens.

Jamal Ray’s sentence for possessing a firearm at the Marshall Avenue home was upheld. According to Swint, he was released on July 20, 2009.

Jamal Ray’s name continues to appear on a list of individuals barred from units rented by the Huntington Housing Authority.

No one has been charged in the murders of Eddick Clark, Megan Poston, Michael Dillon and Donte Ward.

To read the full court opinion, click: http://pacer.ca4.uscourts.gov/opinion.pdf/064747.U.pdf

Photos:

http://archives.huntingtonnews.net/local/050522-rutherford-four-slain/photos/photo3.html

http://archives.huntingtonnews.net/local/050524-spencer-four-slain-vigil/index.html

 

http://archives.huntingtonnews.net/local/050524-four-slain-vigil/photos/photo4.html

http://archives.huntingtonnews.net/local/050525-vigil/photos/photo1.html

2005 Related Stories:

http://archives.huntingtonnews.net/local/050527-rutherford-detroit-interview.html



Comments powered by Disqus