0

Suspects bound over in auto-theft case

By Jason A. Smith

jsmith@henryherald.com

Three men suspected of stealing a vehicle and leading police on a chase, stood before a judge for the first time Friday since being jailed more than two months ago.

Antonio Moss Jennings, of Atlanta, Ronard Ketrone Neal, of Decatur, both 35, and 17-year-old Kevin Delarnce Surrey, of Atlanta, are charged with theft by taking. Surrey is also charged with fleeing/attempting to elude an officer. Each is being held in the Henry County Jail on an $80,000 bond.

The case against them originated March 10, at 550 Eagle's Landing Parkway in Stockbridge. Henry County Police believe the suspects are responsible for taking a landscaping truck carrying $30-40,000 worth of equipment from a construction site.

Police Detective Mike Hardy provided details of the agency's investigation during a probable-cause hearing in Magistrate Court Friday. According to Hardy, the victim was working at the site and saw Surrey get out of a Chevrolet Suburban driven by Neal, and enter the truck. "The Suburban then left the parking lot, and followed the landscaping truck," said the detective.

According to police, a nearby firefighter was driving in the area at the time, and saw the Suburban and the truck. Hardy said the fireman reported that the suspects were driving at a "high rate of speed," prompting him to follow them.

A Henry Police officer on Interstate 75 saw the two vehicles being driven by the suspects, and began to follow the stolen truck. A chase reportedly ensued, extending into parts of Clayton County, said Hardy.

The chase allegedly took police northbound on I-75, onto Old Dixie Highway, and back onto U.S. Highway 19/41 heading south. Hardy said after the truck hit another vehicle, Surrey got out of the truck and attempted to get away. "He was later caught hiding in a residence in Clayton County," said Hardy.

Clayton County Sheriff's deputies located the vehicle in an apartment complex on Ga. Highway 138. Hardy said when authorities saw the Suburban, Neal was behind the wheel, and Jennings was in the front passenger seat.

During the hearing, defense attorneys for all three suspects attempted to cast doubt on the validity of statements made by the victim in the case. Detective Hardy acknowledged to Neal's lawyer, Jeff Cofer with the Henry County Public Defender's Office, that Neal was identified by the victim at the scene of the arrest without the benefit of a lineup.

Cofer added that the prosecution had presented "no evidence" indicating his client was aware of the alleged theft of the truck.

Defense Attorney Christina Kempter, also with the Public Defender's Office, questioned Hardy regarding the manner in which statements were obtained from the victim. Hardy conceded that the victim, who he said speaks "broken English," wrote his statements in Spanish, which were not immediately translated into English by police.

Attorney Frederick Jones represented Surrey. He continued Kempter's line of questioning, indicating that police did not have an interpreter present for the victim at the time he identified Surrey. "I'm trying to find out how you ascertained that [he] actually said Mr. Surrey was the one who jumped in the vehicle," said Jones.

The three defense attorneys argued for dismissal of the charges against their respective clients, but Judge Robert Godwin denied their request. The cases for all three were bound over to Henry County Superior Court.

Kempter disagreed with the judge's decision, saying the state did not prove her client was involved in any crime. "My client has no knowledge of this theft," said Kempter. "Even if it's shown later that he was in that vehicle, his mere presence does not equate to participation."

Jones said he was not surprised the charges were bound over for Surrey, because the standard of proof for prosecutors is relatively low in preliminary hearings. "You can use hearsay and a bunch of other information," said Jones. "This is typical of a situation where an officer comes in and is talking not only about what he has observed, but what other officers have observed who are not here. The problem is, we don't have them to question about what occurred. That will happen at a later time, but the judge did have enough information to bind the case over."

Cofer agreed the state presented sufficient probable cause against Neal. Still, he said his client's presence in the Suburban at the time of his arrest is not as suspicious as it might seem. "The vehicle my client was driving was his wife's vehicle," said Cofer. "So, he had every right to be in it."

Cofer added it remains to be seen whether his client knew Surrey's intentions in allegedly committing the theft. A future hearing date for the suspects not been set.