One of RICO defendants facing death penalty pleads not guilty

Courtney High
Courtney High

Courtney High, one of the three men facing the death penalty in the state's gang racketeering indictment, has pleaded not guilty to charges that he conspired to help kill a state's witness in 2016.

Reading the charges Monday at High's request, Hamilton County District Attorney General Neal Pinkston said High worked with two other men, Andre Grier and Charles Shelton, to kidnap and murder a state's witness in May 2016. At the time, witness Bianca Horton planned to testify against Cortez Sims, who was convicted of shooting and killing 20-year-old Talitha Bowman, injuring Horton and a second man and paralyzing Horton's then nearly 2-year-old baby during a 2015 shooting at College Hill Courts.

Pinkston said Horton, 26, left her workplace on Quintus Loop in Chattanooga on May 24, 2016, and was found the next day dumped on Elder Street, her body riddled with bullets. Authorities found two cellphones in her car, Pinkston said, and within the data located three numbers associated with Grier and Shelton. Those numbers were near the area of Horton's workplace, when she returned to the apartment and also by the site where she was dumped, Pinkston said.

photo Courtney High

To complete the act, Pinkston said, Grier purchased a white van that he and Shelton later moved to a location on O'Leary Street; he said Grier put his name on the title. The Federal Bureau of Investigation located that vehicle, swabbed it and found Shelton's fingerprints and DNA, Pinkston said. In addition to cellular and forensic data, prosecutors connected the dots using recorded jailhouse phone calls, in which several people discussed Horton's death, Pinkston said.

After the reading, Steven Moore, one of High's attorneys, pleaded not guilty on behalf of his client and noted that High's role isn't specifically addressed in some of the allegations. Grier and Shelton haven't pleaded guilty or not guilty yet and are either in the process of finalizing legal appointments or filing motions.

If High is convicted of first-degree murder and felony murder, Pinkston said, prosecutors would ask for the death penalty in a separate hearing. One of the criteria prosecutors have to prove is the defendant committed the murder to prevent the prosecution of another, in this case, Sims, who is also charged with the 2014 killing of Deontrey Southers in this indictment.

This death penalty notice is a slice of Pinkston's racketeering indictment that charges 55 men and women with committing either criminal or fraudulent behavior on behalf of the Athens Park Bloods street gang.

Prosecutors charged about eight defendants in a handful of homicides, some previously unsolved - but from there, their involvement varies. Some are charged with facilitating drug sales or murders for the gang. Others are included because of past criminal history that prosecutors believe is linked to the gang. Their defense attorneys are either contesting the state law that makes this prosecution possible or asking for evidence that proves a link between the gang and the criminal activity.

Since all of the defendants now are being tried together, prosecutors will likely move to sever Grier, High and Shelton's proceedings. The next check-in date is Nov. 26 before Judge Tom Greenholtz.

Contact staff writer Zack Peterson at or 423-757-6347. Follow him on Twitter @zackpeterson918.