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 days after he’d taken his last breath.
He’d been stabbed several times 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.
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?’”
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Credit: Miguel Martinez & Seth Wenig