Friends, family members and neighbors of slain East Ridge woman Jane Stokes broke down in tears outside of the city's municipal court Tuesday afternoon after learning a man accused of stealing Stokes' credit cards will now be charged in her killing.
Randall Reed, 43, has been charged with first-degree murder in the slaying of the 70-year-old woman on June 15.
Reed also was charged with aggravated robbery. He is being held without bond and is scheduled to reappear in East Ridge City court on July 5.
East Ridge police say Stokes, who lived in a small house at 707 Hardin Drive, suffocated after a plastic bag was bound around her head and her hands tied behind her back. A neighbor found her body on the bedroom floor of her home.
Reed was arrested last week after he allegedly used Stokes' credit cards throughout Chattanooga shortly after her death, according to police reports.
He appeared in East Ridge City Court on Tuesday to hear the theft charges, but City Judge Arvin Reingold passed the hearing until July upon Hamilton County public defender Alan Dunn's request. Reed was served with the additional warrants less than an hour later.
Close to 40 people connected with Stokes showed up at court Tuesday afternoon for the hearing - many arriving straight from her memorial service at First Presbyterian Church in Chattanooga.
East Ridge police spokesman Officer Erik Hopkins said investigators had waited to deliver charges until they had compiled a firmer body of evidence and a thorough timeline of Reed's activities before and after the murder.
"Investigators had a large amount of information to go through," he said. "There was a lot of physical evidence that had to be connected, along with a number of leads. They talked with a lot of neighbors."
Neighbors told police that Stokes had hired Reed to help make repairs to her storm-damaged home several weeks before her death.
Hopkins said the investigation is still open, but that detectives have only listed Reed - who has a lengthy criminal record, including forgery and theft cases - as a suspect.
As police escorted Reed from City Hall to the prison transport vehicle, he covered his face with his cuffed hands and deflected any requests for comment.
Dunn said he would likely represent Reed at the July 5 arraignment. He declined to comment further about the case.
Stokes had graduated from high school in Chattanooga and had lived on Hardin Drive for decades with her husband before his death.
She had worked at the accountant's office for over 20 years, and loved spending time gardening, reading and traveling, according to her obituary. She is survived by two daughters and two granddaughters, along with a host of family, friends and neighbors.
"Most folks seem to know Ms. Stokes as the sweet lady that lived next door," said Hopkins. "She pretty much knew everyone on the street."
Contact staff writer Kate Harrison at email@example.com or 423-757-6673.