From Sept. 19, 2011:
Suspect linked to 7-year-old cold case
Jury indicts inmate officials believe killed Fulton paralegal in '04.
By Marcus K. Garner
John Ray was hoping to enter law school seven years ago.
He was a paralegal for the Fulton County Conflict Defender's Office and an Army veteran who mentored youths in southeast Atlanta's Lakewood Heights neighborhood.
His promising life ended the night of May 16, 2004, when he was beaten in his home, stabbed in the head and chest, then tied up and left to die.
Now investigators believe they've found the man responsible — just before he may have managed to elude them.
Last week, a Fulton County grand jury indicted Torico Montavius Jackson on charges of killing Ray and stealing items from his home.
Jackson, 30, was due to be released last month from Valdosta State Prison on a 2008 armed robbery conviction. But Atlanta homicide Detective David Quinn and Marshall English, an investigator for the Fulton County District Attorney's Office, requested that Jackson be held a while longer.
"It's just a coincidence that we were working this case and we find out where he is," Quinn told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
John E. Ray was brutally stabbed and beaten to death in 2004 by a man police believe targeted him from a gay dating web site. Atlanta cold case police detectives have reopened the case in 2011.
Jackson has been in prison five times since 2001 on charges including child abandonment, credit card theft, drug possession and shoplifting.
Annie Barnes, a victim in a robbery and carjacking for which Jackson was convicted, was surprised to learn last week that he had been out of prison and was accused of murder.
Barnes identified Jackson in a police lineup in January 2003, nearly a year after her car and purse were taken at gunpoint outside Merkerson's Fish Market on Whitehall Road.
"I had so much fear," she told the AJC as she described the stickup on Nov. 22, 2002. "He put the gun to my stomach, and he told me if I moved, he would kill me right in front of the place. It was the most painful thing I'd ever gone through."
Investigators believe Ray met Jackson at some point, invited the convict into his home and was attacked and robbed.
Ray's body was found three days after the killing, face-down on the floor, his hands bound behind his back and the broken-off blade of a knife in his chest.
Gone were Ray's TV, some stereo equipment and his car, Quinn said.
The original investigators found a crime scene cleansed of much of the evidence.
"Whoever killed John Ray took a shower," Quinn said. "That person also policed up the crime scene they created. Investigators who worked the case back then said the house reeked of Clorox."
This case was one of the first handed to the Atlanta complex and cold case unit when it was formed in January. English and Quinn were given a set of seemingly disparate pieces of evidence collected seven years ago — some that began to bear fruit only after the original detective had been reassigned.
One of the first pieces was Ray's car, a Pontiac Grand Prix found not far from his house on Browns Mill Road in Lakewood Heights. The car was wrecked in an aborted police chase and filled with the stuff taken from Ray's home, investigators say.
"The car was found upside down with the air bag deployed and blood on the ceiling and on the dashboard," said Quinn, who pointed out that a GBI analysis of the blood wasn't completed until August 2006. "It was revealed that Torico Jackson's blood was on that deployed air bag."
English said they were able to connect more information from Ray's car and home to Jackson.
Comparing photos of Jackson from two arrests that bookend the date of the killing — the first on a probation violation and the second on charges that included cocaine possession — investigators found not-so-subtle changes consistent with someone being in a car wreck in which the air bag burst open.
"You can notice that there are no scars or any kind of injuries on his face on the arrest photo of March 25, 2004," English said. "Then, when he is arrested on June 20, 2004, he has a large scar on his nose, black eyes and several other injuries on his face."
A routine review of phone records discovered that Jackson, calling from Ray's home, contacted a girlfriend he'd been staying with.
By themselves, Quinn said, these pieces of evidence weren't enough to finger a suspect. As recently as June, searching records from Ray's work computer, investigators considered the possibility that his killer may have targeted him from a gay dating website.
Police say evidence showed that whoever visited Ray the night he was killed had drunk alcohol with him beforehand.
But two important links, overlooked before, singled out Jackson.
"John Ray left us a nugget inside his briefcase" found in his car, Quinn said. "And the date on it is May 12, four days before his murder."
It was a one-page printout of a Georgia Department of Corrections inmate profile with Jackson's picture on it.
Jackson's was one of four inmate profiles found on Ray's work computer during the original investigation that Fulton officials said was not part of his workload, Quinn said.
Ray's friends told police that he often did criminal background checks on individuals he intended to date, and he had told them the week of his death that he'd met a new guy. Quinn said the theory is that Jackson and Ray "were getting to know each other."
Another clue was a red Roca-Wear sweatshirt Jackson wore in a state ID photo that detectives tied to the attempted cleanup at the crime scene.
"A load of clothes was washed on that crime scene as Mr. Ray lay dead," Quinn said.
A red Roca-Wear sweatshirt was found in Ray's washing machine with bleach stains consistent with the material used to clean the crime scene.
Quinn said solving a cold murder case offers the same rewards as one cleared in a shorter time.
"It is refreshing," he said, "to go knock on a family member's door or make that call and say, 'Guess what? We've developed a suspect in your loved one's death.' "
For Ray's family and loved ones, the indictment is the beginning of the end of a long, painful saga.
Ray's sister Jonique Brown said last week: "That fact that we now have some closure and actually know who may have done this to him is very exciting."
Investigators show photos of Torico Jackson, who was indicted in 2011 for the 2004 murder of John Ray. Investigators say the two pictures are among the evidence that led them to bring charges against Jackson, who is accused of beating and stabbing Ray to death. This was one of the first cases that Atlanta's complex and cold-case unit investigated.
From Sept. 13, 2013:
Guilty ruling returned in 2004 slaying
Killer sentenced to two life terms in fatal stabbing.
By Marcus K. Garner
A brutal Atlanta killing went unsolved for more than nine years until Wednesday.
A Fulton County jury, after hearing seven days of testimony and taking an hour to deliberate, determined that Torico Jackson fatally stabbed and beat John Ray on the night of May 16, 2004.
Ray, a 32-year-old U.S. Air Force veteran, was found dead in his Lakewood Heights home several days after he'd taken his last breath.
He'd been stabbed in the head and chest.
The blade of the murder weapon was broken off in his body.
His car, TV and stereo equipment were gone.
Ray's home had been wiped clean of any fingerprints or clues.
Tips and witnesses were scarce.
And the investigation went cold until June 2011.
"It brought up all those sad feelings again," Ray's younger sister Jonique Brown said when investigators with the Fulton County Complex and Cold Case task force reopened the hunt for Ray's killer.
But Wednesday, after Jackson was convicted of murder, felony murder, aggravated assault, burglary and possession of a knife during the commission of a felony, Brown said she could release.
"I think I was a little relieved," she said. "He deserved whatever the judge gave him."
Jackson was sentenced to two life terms plus 25 years. He will be transferred from the Fulton County jail to a state Department of Corrections facility.
Fulton County district attorney's investigator Marshal English and Atlanta police homicide Detective David Quinn — members of the cold case task force — identified Jackson as the suspect just weeks before he was due to be released from Valdosta State Prison for a 2008 armed robbery conviction.
"This was justice denied for so long," Quinn said. "Everything came out in court."
Police said Ray and Jackson likely connected on a dating website.
But they couldn't be more different.
Ray, the veteran and Benedict College graduate, had worked in the Fulton County Conflict Defender's office as a paralegal, had volunteered with at-risk youth and had applied to law school.
Investigators show photos of Torico Jackson, who was indicted in 2011 for the May 2004 murder of John Ray. Investigators say the two pictures are among the evidence that led them to bring charges against Jackson.
Jackson, 30, had been in prison five times since 2001 with arrests for armed robbery, credit card theft, shoplifting, drug possession and child abandonment.
Police believe Ray had his suspicions about Jackson, because when the case reopened, investigators found paperwork in Ray's briefcase detailing Jackson's criminal history.
"John was speaking from the grave," Ray's best friend, Markeyshi K'Patrick, said of the new evidence. "They had some information to cross-reference with DNA."
Ray's car had been wrecked within two miles of his home the night he was killed, police said. And blood on the deployed airbag would eventually point to Jackson, Quinn said.
Also, two calls on Ray's home phone the night of his death were either from or to people linked to Jackson, Quinn said.
Friends and police said Ray's home had been burglarized several times in the month leading up to his death.
Co-worker Theresa Diamond, then the chief investigator with the conflict defender's office, told Ray she was worried about his safety the last time she saw him.
"I begged him not to go back to that house," Diamond told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. "He told me about the burglaries, and I told him it was an inside job. I knew that he was going to get killed in that house and told him to come stay with me."
During the trial, Jackson's attorney argued that his client acted in self-defense, authorities said.
But Quinn said the jury saw through that claim.
"They believed what we put up, which we believe was the truth," he said.
Brown, Ray's sister, said she's happy the case has been solved. But her brother's loss will never be resolved.
"Even though (Jackson is) sentenced to life, it still doesn't bring closure and it still doesn't bring John back," she said. "Now the question that will always be in the back of our mind is, 'why?'"