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Eyewitness to Johnson City slaying testifies at Greene trial

DEE GOODIN • Aug 9, 2007 at 12:00 AM

The only eyewitness to a Jonesborough man’s killing took the stand Wednesday afternoon to tell of the events of June 28, 2005, the day 21-year-old Brian Ricker’s body was found outside a north Johnson City motel.

It was the third day of trial for Danny Greene, 22, 436 Hamilton St., who, along with his cousin, Jason Austin, is charged with first-degree murder in Ricker’s shooting death. Austin’s trial is scheduled for March 17.

After testimony from several experts with the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation’s Nashville lab, Marcus Coffey, 30, 930 Hopson St., was called to the witness stand.

Under questioning by Assistant District Attorney General Kent Garland, Coffey told the Criminal Court jury that Austin had called him about 4:30 a.m. on the day of the shooting and told him that if he wanted the money Austin owed him for working on his vehicle, he would have to come to the vicinity of Super Kmart Center on Peoples Street.

“I didn’t know Danny Greene at the time,” Coffey said. “I’d never met him personally.” He said he had known Austin for maybe a year.

Coffey said he agreed to testify for the prosecution after prosecutors told him he could be charged with murder.

At this point, Don Spurrell, Greene’s attorney, objected to the use of the word “murder.” Judge Jerry Beck of the 2nd Judicial District, who is presiding over the case, agreed and listed a variety of offenses involving death. He then told the jury that only they could determine if the killing was a homicide or a murder. When Spurrell earlier objected to Garland’s use of the word, the judge gave the jury the same instructions.

As testimony continued, Coffey said, “I passed them (on Browns Mill Road), turned around followed them and parked in a church (North Johnson City Baptist Church) parking lot ... They got out and Mr. Austin and Mr. Greene came over. Mr. Austin asked me to drive him down to this motel and told me to go in the backside.”

“As you parked what happened?” Garland asked. Coffey said, “Mr. Austin and Mr. Greene got out of the truck. They had seen Mr. Ricker and said, ‘There he is.’ ’’ Coffey said the two got out of his truck and began walking toward Ricker. “I could see Mr. Ricker walking around the building ... as clear as I can see you right now.”

Earlier this week, Johnson City Police Department Investigator Larry Brown testified it was his understanding that Ricker’s then-girlfriend, Misty Blackburn, sent Ricker to the vehicle to get her sweater. A gray sweater was found lying next to Ricker’s body.

“ ... I couldn’t hear what they were talking about,” Coffey testified, “but Mr. Austin was speaking to Mr. Ricker. They spoke for no more than 20 to 25 seconds. There was no kind of like, body language. I observed Mr. Austin yank a gun out from behind his back and strike Mr. Ricker in the face. Mr. Greene, who was standing with his back to me, also pulled a gun ... Mr. Ricker took off running and I heard two shots fired and saw him fall and hit the ground. He didn’t move ... All the air went out of him and he didn’t move.”

Coffey said then he tried to start his older model truck to leave. “When I got ready to pull out, Mr. Greene and Mr. Austin jumped in the back of my truck.” He said he returned them to the church parking lot to their vehicle. “I drove off — immediately ... I just stomped the gas.”

Coffey testified he agreed to plead guilty to facilitation of murder and turn state’s evidence after being told by the district attorney general’s office he could be charged with firstdegree murder and that both Austin and Greene had implicated him in Ricker’s death.

When cross-examined by Spurrell, Coffey said he had only known Austin about a year, but did know him well. Coffey testified he “partied” with Austin one time and bought narcotics from him occasionally.

During Spurrell’s cross-examination, an objection raised by Garland resulted in Beck sending the jury out of the courtroom.

After much discussion between the judge, Spurrell, Garland and District Attorney General Tony Clark, Beck said, “Coffey testified he received no favors from former District Attorney General Joe Crumley, he did get a deal.”

Garland and Clark agreed.

“I’m going to have to charge the jury (to determine) if any witness has any reason not to tell the truth and the witness got a deal,” Beck told the prosecutors. “You all have opened up a lot of avenues for Mr. Spurrell to jump into.”

Spurrell’s cross-examination of Coffey will resume at 9:30 this morning at the Washington County Courthouse in Jonesborough.

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