Judge reserves ruling on weapon suppression in 2015 JC homicide, trial set for July 2020

Becky Campbell • Updated Jun 18, 2019 at 7:51 PM

Two Massachusetts state troopers testified in a motion hearing Tuesday about finding ammunition and a weapon four years ago in what they believed to be a stolen vehicle that was connected to a slaying in Johnson City.

Christopher Horton, 32, of Massachusetts, is one of two men accused of killing Perry Folk — another Massachusetts man living in Johnson City and known as Troy Nelson Jr. and Twink — who was gunned down and died in Johnson City Feb. 18, 2015, in the parking lot of a convenience store.

The shooting happened outside the Roadrunner at 1908 E. Unaka Ave. around 10:15 p.m. that day. Witnesses reported hearing shots fired and said a vehicle sped away, with Folk bleeding on the pavement. Investigators at the time said Anthony Hardaway, 36, also from Massachusetts, was driving the car but was not the person who shot Folk.

On Feb. 24, 2015, Horton was a backseat passenger in gray Hyundai Sonata that MSP Trooper Michael O’Brien pulled over on Feb. 24, 2015, after he noticed the license plate was covered in winter weather road grime and was illegible. The trooper testified Tuesday that he was sitting along a two-lane road observing traffic when the Sonata passed, and he pulled out behind it.

Massachusetts law, he testified, requires license plates to be visible and readable from at least 60 feet, but he was a car length behind the Sonata before his in-car tag reader could read it. O’Brien pulled the car over and called for backup from another trooper.

O’Brien testified when he got behind the car, the back seat passenger turned around and looked back, then leaned forward and made other movements, which led the officer to believe the man could be hiding something. O’Brien said the man looked back again, then slumped down in the back seat.

O’Brien pulled the car over and had his service weapon pulled because he felt the man in the back, later identified as Horton,  was acting suspicious. The officer ordered the woman driving the car to roll the back window down so he could get a better look at Horton. As backup arrived, O’Brien ordered Horton out of the car and he and Trooper Noah Pack took Horton into custody.

During a pat down and frisk, Pack, who also testified Tuesday, said he found several loose rounds of .38-caliber ammunition in Horton’s jacket. In Massachusetts it is a crime to possess a weapon or ammunition without the proper licensure, which Horton did not have. A .38-caliber handgun was located in the back floorboard of the vehicle, O’Brien testified. Troopers also found a packaged white substance believed to be cocaine in the car.

Horton’s attorney, Gene Scott, filed a motion in March asking a judge to exclude the weapon, a Lorcin model L380 semi-automatic pistol, that was found during a traffic stop in Massachusetts.

In his motion, Scott included the affidavit filed by the Massachusetts officer who pulled over a vehicle Horton was a passenger in which detailed the traffic stop that led to the discovery of the handgun, which was linked to Folk’s death. Scott’s motion stated the search conducted violated Horton’s Fourth Amendment rights and that police had no “reasonable suspicion” to detain Horton.

The motion also stated the weapon was not in plain view. It was apparently found inside a bag in the back floorboard of the car, which is where the officer said Horton had been moving around prior to the traffic stop.

Assistant District Attorney General Erin McArdle filed a response to the motion late Friday. Scott asked Criminal Court Judge Lisa Rice for a delay in ruling so he could look into the state’s claim that the officers search of the car was warranted because of Horton’s movements and the vehicle’s stolen status. The vehicle was later determined to have been recovered but not removed from a stolen car database.

Hardaway was driving the vehicle when Folk was killed. He was arrested in Massachusetts and extradited back to Tennessee. He pleaded guilty in 2016 to conspiracy to commit felony murder. He was sentenced to 15 years in prison, but will be eligible for release on parole after serving 30 percent. He is serving that sentence at Trousdale Turner Correctional Center in Middle Tennessee.

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