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Police nab Sullivan County murder suspect

Rain Smith • Jul 10, 2017 at 10:51 PM

BLOUNTVILLE — After eluding police multiple times over the past two days, an initial "person of interest" in Saturday's Bristol homicide was apprehended late Monday night on a warrant for second-degree murder.

According to Sullivan County Sheriff's Office Public Information Officer Kristen Quon, Johnny Royston Jr., 36, was captured at approximately 10 p.m. on Emmet Road in Bristol, Tenn. As of 10:30 p.m., questions about the exact location and circumstances of his apprehension were not answered, and Quon said additional information would be released on Tuesday.

Over the weekend, the SCSO referred to Royston as a person of interest in the death of Rowdy Yates, 44. Yates was found early Saturday morning with a gunshot wound to the head, lying beside a camper at 543 Eatons Private Drive.

Police told the Times-News that Royston and Yates had apparently been friends, while two women who are acquaintances of Royston were believed to have been at the murder scene on Friday night. Quon said the females were later located at the Dollar General on Highway 421, where they were buying camping supplies, and brought in for questioning.

A murder warrant was then issued in Sullivan County against Royston. He was also wanted for violation of probation in Virginia, where his original charge was possession of a firearm by a convicted felon.

On Sunday afternoon, Royston was believed to be at a home in the Bristol section of the county. When officers approached the residence on Cook Hollow Road, Royston allegedly fled on a motorcycle, then dropped the bike nearby and jumped a fence.

Later on Sunday, Royston was spotted in his mother's vehicle at a Shell station on Lee Highway in Bristol, Va. Quon said that Royston again ran from the scene to avoid arrest.

On Monday afternoon, Quon said detectives were still working to determine a motive. Over the past two days, the SCSO issued numerous press releases on Royston, including photos of vehicles he was possibly driving. Quon said two of those vehicles were later recovered and impounded. They were believed to have been borrowed from Royston's friends or relatives.

Most recently, the SCSO believed Royston could be traveling in a black 2004 Nissan Sentra. It was said to have a tag that read "LOWES6" and may have a broken left taillight. Whether he was located in that vehicle was not immediately released.

Royston's family has a history of violent crimes. His father, Johnny Royston Sr., was released from prison in 2009. His incarceration stemmed from pleading no contest to voluntary manslaughter and arson in Sullivan County in 2000. That was for the 1998 death of his live-in girlfriend, 20-year-old Debbie Kay Hyatt, whom he set on fire.

In 2012, Royston Sr. was found guilty of rape and attempted murder in Sullivan County court and sentenced to 50 years. That was spurred by an incident two years earlier when he reportedly drugged a woman's drink at a State Street bar. She later woke up naked and bound with ropes at Royston Sr.'s camper off Highway 421. She escaped after she smashed a coffee pot over his head.

Tennessee's criminal history of Royston Jr. includes aggravated robbery and attempted armed robbery.

Check with TimesNews.net on Tuesday for additional details as they develop.

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