published Wednesday, April 17th, 2013

Contractor saw Chattanooga slaying suspect, called police

Defendant Randall Reed walks out of Judge Rebecca Stern’s courtroom during a break on the first day of his trial.
Defendant Randall Reed walks out of Judge Rebecca Stern’s courtroom during a break on the first day of his trial.
Photo by Angela Lewis /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

A local construction company owner noticed when one of his accounting employees didn't show for work on June 15, 2011. That same day, he spotted the man suspected of killing her.

Chris Moffat, head of Moffat Construction, testified Tuesday in the first day of Randall Reed's first-degree murder trial in connection with the smothering death of 70-year-old East Ridge resident Jane Stokes.

Moffat had known Stokes for decades. She had worked at Moffat's wife's accounting office. The pair often socialized during smoke breaks.

Moffat had hired Reed to do work on Stokes' home in late April of that year. Workers repaired roof damage from recent tornadoes and did work on a fence for Stokes.

Hamilton County District Attorney Bill Cox asked Moffat if Reed would have known Stokes lived alone from his time working there.

He did, Moffat replied.

Nearly two months after Reed's work at the house ended, on June 15, 2011, Stokes didn't come to work, which was unusual.

A co-worker called her house. No answer.

The co-worker then called a neighbor, Patricia Steinaway.

Steinaway went next door and tried to get Stokes to come to the door. No answer.

She went inside.

That's where she found Stokes dead, cellophane wrapped around her head and zip-ties binding her tight, Steinaway testified.

Local media outlets quickly posted photographs from an ATM camera that showed a man making withdrawals from Stokes' account.

Moffat saw the photos on a news website and called police. He then tried to lure Reed to meet him at a storage unit so police could capture the suspect.

Reed said he'd meet him the next morning but instead turned himself into police.

During opening statements, Cox held an iPad in front of the jurors and flipped through photos of a smiling Stokes and the inside of her home.

"This is Jane's dining room where just days before she sat with her daughters who were visiting," Cox said, flipping to another photo. The prosecutor told jurors Reed's gruesome acts shattered the tranquility of Stokes' home.

"Only two things were taken -- her credit card and her PIN," Cox said. "The credit card was taken from her purse, the PIN from her memory."

"And then he killed her in the most tragic and despicable and cowardly way," Cox said. "By wrapping cellophane around her head and either leaving her to die or watching her die."

Defense attorney Chrissy Mincy told the jurors that the death was tragic but none of the evidence would link Reed to the killing. Police had information that another man killed Stokes but did not investigate, she said.

Outside of the jury's presence, Mincy asked Criminal Court Judge Rebecca Stern if she would be allowed to introduce information about the other man. But since the only mention of this other individual came from Reed, it cannot be introduced unless he testifies.

The trial resumes this morning in Stern's courtroom.

about Todd South...

Todd South covers courts, poverty, technology, military and veterans for the Times Free Press. He has worked at the paper since 2008 and previously covered crime and safety in Southeast Tennessee and North Georgia. Todd’s hometown is Dodge City, Kan. He served five years in the U.S. Marine Corps and deployed to Iraq before returning to school for his journalism degree from the University of Georgia. Todd previously worked at the Anniston (Ala.) Star. Contact ...

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