A Johnson City man charged with shooting a man down on a deserted road last summer will get a new attorney after his had to withdraw from the case.
Justin A. “Puff” Stratton, 31, is charged with first-degree murder in the shooting death of Gary Couch in July 2011. It happened on Quarry Road after Stratton allegedly instructed two females to take Couch there after they had all been at Numan’s in downtown Johnson City.
Stratton has been represented by the public defender’s office since his arrest, but apparently some type of conflict has surfaced.
Assistant Public Defender Bill Francisco told Judge Robert Cupp on Friday that his office had consulted with the Tennessee Board of Professional Responsibility on the matter and that organization agreed about the conflict.
Apparently due to the nature of the conflict, Francisco was not made to elaborate.
The night Couch died started with Stratton, his friend Anthony Phillips and two women, Ginger Holtsclaw and Ashley Harold, going to Numan’s together. Couch was apparently already there and not with the group but talked to the girls at some point.
During the night, Couch asked the girls to drive him home to Greene County. The trio left, stopping for gas at the Sunoco on South Roan Street.
Stratton and Phillips ended up at the car wash business next door, but Phillips testified at a preliminary hearing last year that he was under the impression Stratton was going to buy some “roxy 30s” from a guy.
Holtsclaw testified at that hearing that she was on the phone with Stratton while she, Harold and Couch were at the Sunoco and was told to go to Quarry Road.
Some of the testimony from Holtsclaw, Harold and Phillips had minor contradictions and they couldn’t remember some details, but all three testified they had been drinking most of the day and the women, at least, were very intoxicated.
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 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.
It wasn’t until Phillips was sure Stratton was in jail that he would tell police what he saw, he testified.
Cupp set the case for Sept. 14 to appoint Stratton a new attorney. Stratton remains jailed on a $181,000 bond.