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Update: Jury selected in first-degree murder trial in 2011 shooting, judge admonishes jurors

March 2nd, 2014 9:12 pm by Becky Campbell

Update: Jury selected in first-degree murder trial in 2011 shooting, judge admonishes jurors

Justin "Puff" Stratton, far left, and prosecutors listen as Stratton's lawyer talks to potential jurors from a podium.

Jury selection is complete in a first-degree murder trial in Jonesborough. It came with some tongue lashing from the judge to potential jurors who already had an opinion about the case.

Justin A. Stratton, aka Puff, 33, of Johnson City, faces charges of first-degree premeditated murder, felony murder, possession of a firearm in the commission of a felony, burglary and two counts of theft over $1,000.

He's charged in the July 30, 2011 shooting death of Gary Couch Jr., aka Goob, 25, of Reatown. It happened on Quarry Road in Johnson City after, according to police, Couch was driven there by two women and then shot by Stratton.

During jury selection Monday, Judge Robert Cupp took issue with more than one juror who indicated they had formed some type of opinion in the case even before hearing one shred of evidence.

The ire apparent in his voice, Cupp asked one woman, "Are you telling me that in this beautiful country we have, you read something in the newspaper and decide their guilt?" The woman was excused from the panel.

Another woman said she had followed the case closely because it is near her home in south Johnson City.

When Assistant District Attorney Dennis Brooks stood up following Cupp's berating of potential jurors, it appeared he was doing damage control.

"What we're doing in here is important enough that if something's on your heart you need to tell us," Brooks said. "Don't be afraid to speak up or think somebody's gonna look down on you."

After that exchange, no other jurors indicated they had formed an opinion about the case.

Brooks and Assistant District Attorney General Erin McArdle are prosecuting the case. Kingsport attorney Larry Dillow is Stratton's attorney.

Three other people are charged along with Stratton and could be witnesses during this week’s jury trial. Ginger Holtsclaw, 29; Ashley Harold, 30; and Anthony Phillips, 30, are charged with felony first-degree murder.

During jury selection, Dillow urged jurors to take into consideration other motives those witnesses might have and to scrutinize their testimony.

Police believe Stratton and Phillips met Holtsclaw and Harold at Numans the night of the murder and they encountered Couch there. Stratton allegedly directed the events that led to Couch’s death after the four left separately, with Couch accompanying the women to their vehicle under the pretense they were taking him home.

The women, and others at the bar, had apparently seen Couch counting his money while they were at the bar and Stratton allegedly said he was going to “get his stuff.”

A passing motorist discovered Couch’s body lying on Quarry Road near a train trestle the night of the alleged murder. When investigators responded, they found Couch dead from multiple gunshot wounds. They also believe he had been run over by a vehicle.

As the investigation progressed, police retraced Couch’s steps from that evening and said he had been last seen at Numan’s in downtown Johnson City. Witnesses saw Couch leave the bar with two white women, later identified as Holtsclaw and Harold.

The day after the murder, the women were pulled over by police and Stratton was with them.

Police believe Stratton directed the women to drive to Quarry Road and he followed. When the women stopped, the men all got out and Couch was shot, police said during the investigation.

If convicted, Stratton faces life in prison.

The burglary and two counts of theft over $1,000 related to allegations that Stratton broke into Reliable Motors and took keys to two vehicles he stole. One of those vehicles, an SUV, was allegedly the vehicle used to run over Couch after he was shot.

Stratton is in custody on a $181,000 bond.

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The man police and prosecutors believe was the ringleader in a 2011 Johnson City murder is set to go on trial Monday morning in Washington County Criminal Court.

Justin A. “Puff” Stratton, of Johnson City, is charged with first-degree murder and especially aggravated robbery in the July 30, 2011, shooting death of Gary “Goob” Couch Jr., 25 of Reatown.

Three other people are charged along with Stratton and could be witnesses during this week’s jury trial. Ginger Holtsclaw, 29, Ashley Harold, 30; and Anthony Phillips, 30, are charged with felony first-degree murder.

A passing motorist discovered Couch’s body lying on Quarry Road near a train trestle the night of the alleged murder. When investigators responded, they found Couch dead from multiple gunshot wounds. They also believe he had been run over by a vehicle.

As the investigation progressed, police retraced Couch’s steps from that evening and said he had been last seen at Numan’s in downtown Johnson City. Witnesses saw Couch leave the bar with two white women, later identified as Holstsclaw and Harold.

The day after the murder, the women were pulled over by police and Stratton was with them.

Police believe Stratton and Phillips met Holtsclaw and Harold at Numans the night of the murder and they encountered Couch there. Stratton allegedly directed the events that led to Couch’s death after the four left separately, with Couch accompanying the women to their vehicle under the pretense they were taking him home.

The women, and others at the bar, had apparently seen Couch counting his money while they were at the bar and Stratton said he was going to “get his stuff.”

Police believe Stratton directed the women to drive to Quarry Road and he followed. When the women stopped, the men all got out and Couch was shot, police said during the investigation.

If convicted, Stratton faces life in prison. He’s also facing other unrelated charges in two other cases. Those are two counts of forgery related to stolen checks and burglary and two counts of theft over $1,000 related to stolen vehicles.

Stratton is jailed on $181,000 bond.

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