It was a birthday party for an old middle school buddy with drinking and drugs when former U.S. Marine and Iraq war vet Zachary Gamble started talking about the atrocities he’d seen in combat and the night took a turn for the worse.
A Cobb County detective testified in court Friday that Gamble’s friend asked him to leave. The detective said witnesses told police that Gamble, who had been drinking and twice left the party to buy cocaine, went outside and was pacing back and forth in the parking lot and yelling.
At some point, he texted his friend a three-word taunt that’s unprintable in this newspaper. Another man from the party went outside and confronted him. Gamble threw the first punch. Three other men joined the fight. Gamble, 34, fell to his knees and was punched in the face and kicked while he was lying on the ground.
About 40 minutes later, shortly after 6 a.m., a taxi driver found Gamble lying unconscious in the parking lot. It was dark and the driver hadn’t seen him. She felt a bump when she ran over his leg. Gamble never woke up. The attack was March 25. He died in the hospital two weeks later when his family removed him from life support.
The details revealed during Friday's hearing began to describe for the first time publicly what happened that night and why.
Four men, including Gamble's friend, Tarell Winston Secrest, 36, of Marietta, who have been charged with murder, aggravated assault and aggravated battery in the death of Gamble appeared in court Friday so Cobb County Chief Magistrate Judge Frank Cox could decide whether to send the case to the grand jury.
Also charged are Arthur Lynell Batchelor, 37, of Acworth, Jason Scott Hill, 35, of Marietta, and Sean DGene Hall, 38, of Atlanta. Cox heard testimony from Cobb County homicide detective John Dawes, then sent the case to the grand jury to decide whether to indict the men. He denied bond for all four.
Gamble’s family was in the courtroom but declined to comment afterward. They kept the case in the public eye, offering a reward and passing out fliers at the apartment complex, hoping witnesses would come forward, as Cobb investigators started with Gamble’s cellphone and began to piece events together.
The story struck a nerve. An Iraq veteran with a 7-year-old son who was depicted by his family and in photographs as a smiling, loving father had survived two tours in Iraq as a Marine corporal and squad leader, only to die of a beating in a parking lot after a birthday party.
At Friday's hearing, one attorney for the defendants said it was a case of a party that got out of hand and a fight that was mutual combat, not murder. Another wanted to know how sure investigators are the cab didn't cause a severe injury when it ran over him.
Dawes, the detective, testified that statements from three of the four men charged and from other witnesses confirm that Gamble and all four of his attackers were probably intoxicated when the fight broke out. It's not certain if any of them were on drugs, but Dawes testified that twice Gamble and Batchelor left the party to buy cocaine, and returned.
He said at some point during the party that lasted for most of the night, Gamble made comments that were offensive. That included recalling how in Iraq he had witnessed a man's head being blown off and his body still standing, women and children being killed, and how he couldn't sleep at night because of what he'd seen.
A defense attorney asked the investigator if he thought the fight broke out over drugs. Dawes said he had no evidence of that. He described how he pieced the events together by going back through Gamble's cellphone and finding records of phone calls between Gamble and the four men charged, as well as calls after the attack.
Dawes said Gamble had at least three skull fractures from the fight. He said he went to the hospital the day Gamble was found unconscious and saw no evidence a "tire roll" had caused his head injuries.
He said he interviewed Gamble's old friend Secrest that evening and Secrest "didn't act at all surprised" when the investigator told him Gamble was hurt. But he claimed no responsibility, Dawes said.
"He said they actually hugged before he left the party," the investigator testified.
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