4th charged with murder in Quarry Road killing

Becky Campbell • Feb 19, 2013 at 3:39 PM

A fourth person was arrested Tuesday on a murder charge from a 2011 Quarry Road shooting that left a Greene County man dead.

Anthony Phillips, who had been in custody in Carter County, was served with the grand jury presentment in open court, and Judge Robert Cupp appointed Jim Lonon to represent him.

The victim, Gary Couch, was shot to death on Quarry Road July 30, 2011, after asking two women for a ride home to Greene County after they left Numan’s bar in downtown Johnson City. The investigation indicates the women drove Couch to his death site at the direction of Justin “Puff’ Stratton.

Stratton, 31, was the first charged with felony murder in Couch’s death, but the investigation has continued and led up to three other arrests. Two weeks ago police arrested Ginger Holtsclaw, 28, and Ashley Harold, 29, on a felony first-degree murder charge.

The women and Phillips were indicted at the same time, but Phillips was already in jail in Carter County, which delayed his court date here.

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 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 later told police he was under the impression Stratton went there to buy drugs from someone.

Holtsclaw told investigators 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 they had no prior knowledge of the shooting.

When Holtsclaw turned from South Roan Street onto Quarry Road, she said Stratton’s SUV was right behind her.

When he flashed his headlights, she stopped and saw Stratton and Phillips get out of the SUV and approach her car. Holtsclaw said she didn’t hear any gunshots, but pulled she 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 to get out of the car and that she saw Stratton with 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 Holtsclaw’s 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, Holtsclaw and Harold each have $100,000 bonds. Phillips’ bond amount was unavailable. The next court date for the four is April 26.

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