Atlanta man charged in fatal shooting of actor Thomas Jefferson Byrd

Credit: COPY

Credit: COPY

An Atlanta man has been arrested on a murder charge in the fatal shooting of Thomas Jefferson Byrd, a popular actor gunned down earlier this month, police announced Friday.

Byrd, 70, starred in several films by director Spike Lee and was a Tony Award-nominated stage actor. He was found dead on Oct. 3 after being shot several times in the back near his southwest Atlanta home, police said.

Following up on evidence and tips, investigators said they identified the suspect in the case as 30-year-old Antonio Demetrice Rhynes. Warrants were issued for his arrest Wednesday and he was taken into custody early Friday morning at the Royal Oaks Apartments along North Camp Creek Parkway, Atlanta police said.

Credit: Fulton County Sheriff's Office

Credit: Fulton County Sheriff's Office

He was booked into the Fulton County Jail, where he remains held without bond.

Rhynes has been arrested at least five other times in Fulton since 2007, online jail records show. His previous charges include armed robbery, aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, burglary and hijacking a motor vehicle, among others.

Earlier this month, investigators announced a $10,000 reward for information leading to an arrest in the shooting, which occurred along Belvedere Avenue near the actor’s home on Oct. 2 about 10 p.m., police said.

Investigators said Byrd was walking home from a store on Cascade Road when the driver of a 2010 Chevrolet Impala, later identified as Rhynes, got out and shot him. The actor’s body wasn’t discovered until about 1:45 a.m. Oct. 3, according to police, who found spent rifle rounds at the scene.

News of the arrest was bittersweet for his daughter, Shannon Byrd-Crossley, who said she did not know Rhynes. She added she is grateful for the Atlanta Police Department’s efforts.

“Any progress that is made, we are thankful for it,” said Byrd-Crossley, an artist and theater teacher who lives in Atlanta. “I do feel great relief. But at the same time, it doesn’t bring him back.”

Born in Griffin, Byrd graduated from Morris Brown College, taught elementary school in Atlanta and acted on stage, on TV and in film. He went on to perform in shows led by Lee and director Kenny Leon. Byrd’s Tony nomination for best featured actor in a play came in 2003 for his work in August Wilson’s “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” on Broadway.

Loved ones held a memorial service for Byrd on Tuesday outside Hillside International Truth Center in Atlanta. The service was also streamed online for hundreds more.

Nicknamed T-Byrd, the slain actor is survived by his son, Thomas IV; five daughters, Aria, Carmen, Kalah, Shannon Byrd-Crossley and Desaree Murden; five grandchildren; and his ex-wife.

“I realized that God’s gift to me was my dad and the way he loved me and the way that he made me feel — that I was the smartest, most capable, most beautiful person in the world,” Murden said Tuesday, her voice cracking with emotion. “I could do anything. I would say something trivial. And he would be like, ‘Girl, you are so smart.’”