UPDATE: A 23-year-old man police suspect of killing a well-known gang leader pleaded guilty to an unrelated drug charge Thursday in federal court.
Jermichael Brooks hasn't been charged in the slaying of Jumoke Johnson, 23, or Christopher Woodard, 20, who were shot from the back seat of a car as they traveled down East 12th Street on Jan. 20. Three sources told the Times Free Press in January that Brooks is the prime suspect in the double homicide, which may have been motivated by a cheating girlfriend.
So far, some of the evidence that has been tested doesn't put the weapon used in the killings in Brooks' hand at all. But he faces up to 20 years in prison, three years of supervised release and a $100 court fee on the federal drug charge, which he picked up in East Chattanooga three days after the double homicide.
Authorities already had a warrant out for Brooks' arrest in January for violating probation on an unrelated case in state court, court records show.
He and an acquaintance, Marquis McReynolds, each were sent to the Hamilton County Jail on Jan. 23 after local and federal agents spotted them in a stolen Honda Accord on Highway 58 and chased them across town. When the car crashed into a ditch near 2200 Monroe St., investigators found two firearms and some cocaine inside.
Investigators ran one firearm that Brooks said belonged to him through the National Integrated Ballistic Information Network, a tool that can match particular shell casings to particular guns, similar to the way authorities track fingerprints.
But that gun didn't return any connection to the Johnson and Woodard slayings, police said Thursday.
McReynolds since has pleaded guilty to having two bullets in his pocket while being a felon, and he will be sentenced July 28, court records show.
Police Sgt. Josh May, who has been building Chattanooga's ballistic information network program for the last six months, said the second firearm collected from the Honda Accord has yet to be tested. He wants to test 450 of the 3,200 guns police have recovered since 2013 to connect the dots among victims, witnesses and unsolved shootings. The one used to kill Johnson and Woodard, for instance, could be among them.
"It's possible we have the gun," May said, "but it's a process."
There are no witnesses to the killing, but police have another forensic angle: They swabbed the car from the 12th Street incident for DNA samples and sent them to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation in Nashville. May said Brooks told police he was inside the vehicle that night, but that he was dropped off by somebody before the shooting. He didn't name that person, and police are continuing to look at whatever names come up in their investigation, May said.
"But since it's still an ongoing investigation, we can't speak to the specifics of what we received from [Chattanooga police]," TBI spokeswoman Susan Niland wrote in an email Thursday.
Attorney Lee Davis, who is representing Brooks in his federal case, said state and federal authorities haven't been able to verify that his client pulled the trigger.
"We do not think he was involved in that," Davis said. "It's just some jailhouse rumor, and he damn near lost his eyesight over it."
Brooks was beaten by other inmates in jail five days after he was federally indicted on two charges from the chase: being a felon in possession of a firearm and intent to distribute the cocaine mixture. The gun charge was dropped as part of the plea agreement, Davis said.
Brooks' collarbone was broken, his eyes severely injured and his shoulders bruised, sources said at the time. The beating was so bad his then-defense attorney, Giles Jones, said he had to read the indictment to Brooks because the 23-year-old couldn't see during his arraignment — nearly two weeks after the assault.
Brooks still hasn't fully recovered.
"How's your vision at this point?" U.S. Magistrate Judge Christopher Steger asked Thursday before accepting the plea.
Brooks bent down to speak into the podium microphone.
"It's getting better," he said.
"Are you able to see out of both eyes?" Steger asked.
"Just one eye," Brooks said.
He will be sentenced Sept. 22 at 2 p.m.
Contact staff writer Zack Peterson at email@example.com or 423-757-6347. Follow him on Twitter @zackpeterson918.
A 23-year-old man who police were allegedly investigating for the murder of a former Chattanooga gang leader pleaded guilty today to federal drug charges.
Jermichael Brooks will be sentenced Sept. 22 at 2 p.m. for intent to knowingly distribute a cocaine-based mixture on or about Jan. 23.
He faces up to 20 years maximum in prison, three years' supervised release, and a $100 special assessment, prosecutors said.
Brooks was indicted by a federal grand jury in Chattanooga for felon in possession of a firearm and the drug charge.
He pleaded not guilty at the time.
Three sources also told the Times Free Press that police were investigating Brooks for shooting and killing Jumoke Johnson and Christopher Woodard from the back seat of a car while they were riding on Jan. 20.
Brooks has never been charged with the shooting but police are continuing to investigate and waiting for forensic evidence to come back from the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation.
Brooks already had a warrant out for his arrest for violating probation on a state case when police chased him three days later in a stolen vehicle, court records show.
When it crashed into a ditch along Monroe Street, police found two firearms and some cocaine inside.
Lee Davis, Brooks' attorney on the federal case, said the gun charge was dropped as part of the plea agreement.
Davis said he also checked into the police's double homicide investigation of Brooks and found no evidence to support it.
"We've checked that out," Davis said. "That has not been corroborated and we do not think he was involved in that."
This is a developing story. Check back later for more information.
Updated June 1 at 10:21 p.m. with additional information.