DeKalb County police found a man’s bloody and beaten body inside a room at the Super 8 hotel in Tucker on the afternoon of Jan. 8.
Before investigators could identify the victim, arrest warrants listing him as “John Doe” were issued shortly before midnight for Darrius Aderhold, Jonathan Ray and Christopher Foreman for murder.
Monday, DeKalb County’s top prosecutor, Robert James, filed the first death penalty petition of his tenure as district attorney, accusing the three men of killing, then robbing 46-year-old Robert Ross as part of a gang initiation targeting a gay man.
“The facts of this case scream out for the death penalty, and I don’t really know what else to do in a scenario like this,” James said Tuesday. “The levels of violence in this case are just so high that it shocks the conscience.”
James had previously admitted to being ambivalent about seeking the death sentence in murder cases, despite inheriting four capital cases when he took office. He said he compared the circumstances of this case to others brought for capital punishment before his time in office.
According to prosecutors, the trio of 20-somethings lured Ross to the room, bound him, and beat and stomped him to death with the leg of a wooden chair before taking his pants, his jewelry and his car – all to gain or advance their status in the Bloods gang.
Ross’ body was so badly mutilated that investigators and medical personnel arriving on the scene couldn’t determine his sex or race, police said.
And statements made by at least one of the suspects suggest a calculation to the crime, according to an interview with a woman who was in the room before the incident.
“[The] interview … revealed that subject advised her not to return to the hotel room because he was in a predicament and that what he did would be on the news,” a DeKalb County arrest warrant for Aderhold read.
The alleged circumstances prompted James to act against his previous compunctions.
“This is one of those cases where the facts are that bad,” James said. “If we don’t seek [the death penalty] in cases where an individual is sought out because of his perceived sexual orientation, where there’s gang activity involved … what case do I consider the death penalty in?”
All three suspects were arrested within days of Ross’ body being discovered.
Ray, 20, was on probation at the time of the incident. He had been arrested in 2010 on burglary charges and pleaded guilty to misdemeanor criminal trespassing, according to court and jail records.
Foreman, 20, had been arrested just months earlier in November 2011 for giving false statements to police. He pleaded guilty to the misdemeanor in June while in jail on the murder charges.
Aderhold, 22, had no record of prior arrests.
They all remain in the DeKalb County Jail without bond.
Although prosecutors identified the case as a potential hate crime, no such charges were brought against the trio.
“We have a problem with our hate crime statute in Georgia,” James said, noting that the stronger criminal gang laws were applied in indicting this case.
Fourteen of the 22 charges are for violating Georgia’s Street Gang Terrorism and Prevention Act. Remaining charges include malice murder, two counts of felony murder – that is, causing a person to die as a result of committing a felony – aggravated battery, aggravated assault, false imprisonment, robbery and theft by taking.
The defendants were indicted in March. James said that choosing to pursue the death sentence against each of them wasn’t a decision he made lightly.
“We’re in December and we started reviewing the case in March,” he said. “If time tells you how difficult it was for me, no, it was not easy.”