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DA says accused Pinecrest killer to face death penalty if indicted in double slayings

John Thompson • Jun 12, 2015 at 1:00 AM

ELIZABETHTON — First Judicial District Attorney General Tony Clark said he intends to seek the death penalty for Eric James Azotea, accused of killing a Kingsport couple.

Carter County Sessions Court Judge Keith Bowers ordered Azotea, 43, bound over to a grand jury after a preliminary hearing Thursday on two counts of first-degree murder on Thursday afternoon.

After the hearing, Clark said he will seek the death penalty for Azotea once the case reaches Criminal Court.

Azotea is accused of killing Arthur Gibson, 36, and Amber Terrell, 22, both of Kingsport, when they visited Azotea’s residence on Jan. 7.

The only witness in Thursday’s hearing was Brian Fraley, special agent for the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation. Fraley told how the investigation led to the development of Azotea as a suspect and revealed through the geolocation of calls made from Gibson’s cell phone. He said the final call on the phone was made at 7:33 p.m. on Jan. 7 from 135 Woodland Drive, which is the residence of Azotea and his fiancee, Kristen Jones.

Fraley also revealed that a study of Internet searches made by Azotea had been made on the subject of burning human bodies. The bodies of Gibson and Terrell had been partially dismembered and burned. Fraley said that in a statement Azotea made to Fraley and investigators with the Carter County Sheriff’s Department on April 22, Azotea had said he had been investigating the burning of bodies.

Defense Attorney Steve Finney asked Fraley about a discrepancy in two written summaries of interrogations of Azotea made a day apart. He said one makes it sound like the Internet searches were done close to the time of the deaths, while the other statement is less specific.

Fraley responded by saying the search was done on Jan. 3., which was just days before the Jan. 7 slayings. He said there were subsequent searches on the subject in the following days, including which wood burns the hottest.

Fraley said Azotea made statements about the killings after he had received a promise that Kristen Jones be granted immunity. Fraley said Clark agreed to the immunity if Azotea was truthful. Fraley said Azotea told investigators Jones was not home when the couple was killed and played no role in the killings.

After the agreement, Fraley said Azotea told him he had known Gibson many years ago, but they had lost touch until recently. Since then he had been purchasing small amounts of methamphetamine from Gibson. According to the written account provided by Fraley, Azotea claimed he stabbed and killed both Gibson and Terrell on the front porch of his home.

Fraley said Azotea’s account did not match details found at Azotea’s house during a search. He said the following day, he told Azotea that the guarantee of immunity for Jones was based on Azotea’s truthfulness. Azotea then told him that when Gibson and Terrell came to his house on Jan 7, Terrell had a pistol. He said he took the pistol away from her at one point and shot her twice and Gibson once, killing both of them.

Fraley said Azotea confessed he used a Sawzall to partially dismember the bodies burned them in a burn pit near his wood shed on the day of the murder until Jones came home, and the next day he worked while Jones was at work, cutting and burning body parts.

After that, he said he buried the remains, which included Gibson’s head and Terrell’s torso, in the crawl space under his home. The remains were found and a forensic anthropological team from the University of Tennessee took over the investigation of the site to process bones and other evidence.

Finney asked Fraley many questions about whether Azotea had asked for an attorney at any point in the interrogation. Fraley said Azotea had made comments about maybe he should have an attorney, but never requested one be present during the interview.

Finney also asked about why the second interview was not properly recorded. Fraley said he had been told the interview could be recorded from a section of the jail, but neither the sound or the video could be retrieved although several computers and programs were tried.

After the preliminary hearing, Clark said he would seek the death penalty in the case. Azotea’s case will be presented to a grand jury on July 8 and he is scheduled for arraignment in Criminal Court on July 30.

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ELIZABETHTON — A man accused of killing a Sullivan County couple over drug money in the Pinecrest area then dismembering and burning their bodies was bound over to a Carter County grand jury Thursday.

District Attorney General Tony Clark said he planned to seek the death penalty in the case against Eric James Azotea if the grand jury returns an indictment.

Authorities say Azotea, 43, confessed to shooting Arthur Gibson Jr. and Amber Terrell, who had been missing since January. After a three-month search, the couple's remains were found April 22 in a crawl space at Azotea's Woodland Drive home off the Milligan Highway near Johnson City.

He entered a not guilty plea to double first-degree murder charges on April 29.

Azotea is no stranger to local law enforcement. In 2001, he was convicted of a series of armed bank robberies and a carjacking in Johnson City that occurred the previous December.

He was captured on Dec. 27, 2000, following the robbery of Elizabethton Federal Savings Bank on Sunset Drive. He had the $30,601 from the bank and a Llama .45-caliber pistol in his possession. He also was convicted of a carjacking that occurred after the robbery, as the victim called 911. Police located the car where it was abandoned at a nearby shopping center lot, and Azotea was seen running from a nearby store.

He had committed two other bank robberies using similar tactics earlier that month.

On Dec. 1, Azotea entered First Tennessee Bank on South Roan Street wearing black clothing, a ski mask and gloves, carrying a handgun and escaped with $6,946. On Dec. 11, he robbed the SunTrust branch on Broadway, pointed a gun at one teller, and told them they had 10 seconds to fill a bag with money or their time would run out. He also threatened to return if they gave him dye packs. That time he got $6,291.

Azotea was sentenced to 14 years in federal prison for the robbery convictions, as well as seven years for the carjacking.

Keep visiting JohnsonCityPress.com for more on Thursday's hearing.

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