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2 women who drove victim to shooting death charged with murder in 2011 Johnson City killing

Staff Report • Feb 7, 2013 at 2:03 PM

Johnson City police arrested two more people in a 2011 shooting that left a man dead after he was allegedly driven to his death site.

Ginger Holtsclaw, 28, and Ashley Harold, 29, were taken into custody this week after a Washington County grand jury indicted them last month on felony first-degree murder charges.

The victim, Gary Couch, was shot to death on Quarry Road July 30, 2011, after asking the women for a ride home to Greene County after they had been drinking at Numan’s in downtown Johnson City.

The alleged trigger man, Justin “Puff” Stratton, 31, is awaiting trial on first-degree murder. He was charged just days after the shooting and has already been indicted by a grand jury.

State prosecutors and police brought the new charges after further investigation in the case uncovered inconsistencies between the evidence and the women’s statements and their preliminary hearing testimony.

Assistant District Attorney Dennis Brooks said it’s taken a while to piece the evidence together and that’s part of the reason Holtsclaw and Harold are just now being charged.

“After the preliminary hearing there was further investigation,” and more evidence discovered that led to the arrests, Brooks said Thursday.

“I spent a lot of time weighing that and contemplating how it all fit together.”

Brooks said he wanted to be sure of the case before placing such serious charges on the women. Another man, Anthony Phillips, was also there that night, but he had not been charged.

The night of the shooting started with the women, Stratton and Phillips, going to the bar together. Stratton and Phillips ended up leaving before the girls. Couch had struck up a conversation with the women and he asked them for a ride.

When those three left the bar, they stopped for gas at the Sunoco on South Roan Street. Stratton and Phillips were already in the area at the car wash business next door, but Phillips said he was under the impression Stratton was there to buy some drugs from someone.

Holtsclaw told investigators that she was on the phone with Stratton at that point and he told her to go to Quarry Road.

Both women testified at Stratton’s preliminary hearing in November 2011 that they had no prior knowledge of the shooting.

The indictments indicate prosecutors believe otherwise.

When Holtsclaw turned from South Roan Street onto Quarry Road, she said Stratton’s SUV was “right on my back bumper.”

When he flashed his headlights, she stopped, she said. Holtsclaw testified Stratton and Phillips got out of the SUV and approached her car. She said she didn’t hear any gunshots, but pulled away as soon as Couch got out of the car.

Harold’s account was that when the vehicle stopped, she heard Stratton yelling for Couch, sitting behind the driver’s seat, to get out of the car, and when he did she looked back and saw a gun.

“I seen him shoot Gary when he stepped out of my car. I seen the fire come out of the gun and I told Ginger to go,” Harold testified.

Phillips testified that when the vehicles stopped, Stratton walked to the car and Couch got out.

“I thought they was talking and (Couch) threw his hands up and then I heard pow, pow,” Phillips said. He also testified he heard Couch ask Stratton why he was shooting him.

After the shooting, the four ended up back at Stratton’s mother’s apartment on Bell Ridge Road. All three testified that Stratton threatened them, saying he knew where their children went to school, where they lived and where their families lived.

They spent the next two nights at a local motel before Holtsclaw, Harold and Stratton were picked up for questioning by police. The girls were released, but Stratton was held on unrelated charges.

Stratton remained jailed on a $181,000 bond and the women each have $100,000 bonds.


Earlier report filed at 5:58 a.m. Thursday

Murder charges have been placed against two women who were with the accused gunman when a man was robbed and shot to death in south Johnson City in 2011.

A Washington County grand jury indicted Ginger Holtsclaw, 28, and Ashley Harold, 29, on felony first-degree murder charges for the death of Gary Couch, who was killed on Quarry Road in July 2011. Johnson City police announced their arrests this morning in a news release.

The alleged trigger man, Justin "Puff" Stratton, 31, is awaiting trial on first-degree murder.

The shooting allegedly occurred after Stratton instructed the two women to take Couch to Quarry Road after they had all been at Numan’s in downtown Johnson City. Both Holtsclaw and Harold testified about their roles in taking Couch to the spot of the shooting -- allegedly under Stratton's instructions -- in a November 2011 hearing.

Both women were jailed in the Washington County Detention Center on $100,000 bond each pending appearances in Washington County Criminal Court.

Keep visiting JohnsonCityPress.com for more details.

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