The case is moving forward against a teenager accused of murdering a 28-year-old gay man near Decatur earlier this year, though questions remain about the shooting and the three people allegedly involved.
The homicide made national headlines because DeKalb County police classified the incident as “hate-motivated.” After the shooting on June 4, investigators said a gunman used an anti-gay slur before robbing and killing Ronald “Trey” Peters.
One of the three suspects in the case, 19-year-old Tyreese Johnson, appeared in Magistrate Court Monday morning for a preliminary hearing, where Judge Nora Polk ruled there was enough evidence for the case to proceed. It now heads to Superior Court, where prosecutors from the district attorney’s office will take over the case.
Witnesses said Peters was walking home on Orchard Circle when two men pulled up in a burgundy truck, put on masks and approached him, according to arrest warrants and a police report obtained by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Police later identified the men as Johnson and 21-year-old Joshua Cortez Ellis.
One of the men used a homophobic slur while ordering Peters to hand over his bag, which he refused to do, the initial police report stated.
The report states he was shot in the chest with a chrome pistol, and then shot in the neck after he was on the ground. They took Peters’ bag, and used his credit cards at gas stations about an hour after the shooting, Johnson’s arrest warrant states.
In an interview, K.E. Hoyt, the detective on the case, said Shaleeya Moore, 18, allegedly drove the men to the gas stations after the shooting.
They also went to a nearby Walmart, where Hoyt said the suspects were captured on surveillance cameras. All three have since been taken into custody and face murder charges.
Ellis, of College Park, was arrested in Clayton County on June 6 and was in jail when the murder charge was levied against him. He’s accused of robbing and pistol-whipping a man in Clayton County on May 5. Moore and Johnson were taken into custody in late July.
Moore is scheduled to appear before a judge Thursday morning for her preliminary hearing, while Ellis remains held in Clayton County.
Hoyt testified during Monday’s hearing and shed more light on how police identified the trio as suspects. She said investigators tracked Peters’ credit card in the hours after the shooting, which led them to the Murphy USA and Texaco gas stations and the Walmart, where they purchased food.
It’s still unclear who exactly shot Peters, though Hoyt said Johnson and Moore both pointed the finger at Ellis.
Peters, originally from Pell City, Alabama, worked at Regional Medical Group in Decatur as a case manager.
A responding officer to the scene checked the “hate-motivated” box on the police report based on a statement from a neighbor who saw the encounter, Hoyt said.
However, Hoyt added, “it was determined that this was a robbery, and that he wasn’t targeted” because of his sexuality.
Following Peters’ death, advocates said the shooting showed the need for Georgia to pass hate crime legislation, which would allow greater penalties for certain crimes committed with bias. Georgia is one of just four states that does not have a hate crimes law, though many individual police departments still track them.
— Staff reporter Asia Simone Burns contributed to this report.