published Thursday, March 22nd, 2012

Texas slaying suspect arrested in Bradley County

A Florida man arrested in Bradley County on federal warrants charging murder and military desertion was being sought in connection with the August 2011 slaying of a woman in Texas, authorities said.

Gerard Powers Vern, 25, of Fort Walton Beach, Fla., told Tennessee state trooper Gray Gibson on Tuesday that he was traveling from Kentucky to Florida with his wife and three juveniles. Vern was pulled over for speeding around 3:15 p.m. on Interstate 75, according to a news release from the Tennessee Highway Patrol.

Officials in Bell County, Texas, said Vern also lists his first name as "Gerald," as was initially reported in Tennessee.

Bell County Assistant District Attorney Fred Burns, who said he was restricted to discussing only what was on the murder indictment, said Vern was charged in the shooting death of Tina Marie Butler on Aug. 24, 2011, in Killeen, Texas. He said he could discuss no more facts of the case until Vern is extradited to Texas and officially is in Bell County's court system.

Burns said the indictment was issued on information presented directly to the grand jury, and that there were no investigative reports available in the case.

FBI Special Agent spokesman Erik Vasys, of the FBI's San Antonio office, said his agency assisted in securing Vern as a fugitive from justice and confirmed Vern also was wanted by authorities at Fort Hood, Texas, on a charge of desertion.

When Tennessee troopers Gibson, Lt. Daniel Ruskey, Billy Collins and Rich Thomas were given consent to search Vern's 2004 Suzuki Forenza on Tuesday, they seized computer hard drives, a computer, a telephone, a knife and drug paraphernalia, according to authorities.

Vern was charged with possession of drug paraphernalia, speeding and violation of the financial responsibility law, authorities said.

Tennessee Highway Patrol spokeswoman Dalya Qualls said Vern's wife was released and allowed to continue on her way with the car and the children.

Bradley County General Sessions Court officials said Vern was arraigned Wednesday on his local charges and next faces a hearing on April 17. An extradition hearing on the Texas charges had not been set as of late Wednesday afternoon.

about Ben Benton...

Ben Benton is a news reporter at the Chattanooga Times Free Press. He covers Southeast Tennessee and previously covered North Georgia education. Ben has worked at the Times Free Press since November 2005, first covering Bledsoe and Sequatchie counties and later adding Marion, Grundy and other counties in the northern and western edges of the region to his coverage. He was born and raised in Cleveland, Tenn., a graduate of Bradley Central High School. Benton ...

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