An argument in the dark leads to Walker County homicide

An argument in the dark leads to Walker County homicide

October 21st, 2015 by Tyler Jett in Local Regional News

ROCK SPRING, Ga. -- He walked outside, gun in his hand, unsure of what he would see through the dark.

It was 11:15 on Monday night, and 52-year-old Michael James Gobert heard a man yelling at his stepdaughter, according to the Walker County Sheriff's Office. They were on Gobert's property on Straight Gut Road, near the trailer behind his home.

Gobert gripped his gun, the one he kept holstered to his hip, the one he told his neighbor not to fear.

He fired a warning shot into the ground, he told authorities. He said his wife grabbed her own gun and fired, too.

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Straight Gut Road

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"Stop," Gobert yelled, according to the sheriff's office, "or I'll shoot."

"You won't shoot me," he said someone yelled back.

Michael James Gobert

Michael James Gobert

Photo by Contributed Photo /Times Free Press.

Near the trailer, according to the sheriff's office, three men piled into a Nissan Sentra.

Johnny "JJ" Montgomery II behind the wheel, Edrius Jamal Putman in the passenger's seat and Deisman Harrison in the back. Montgomery drove forward, toward the road.

Walker County Sheriff Steve Wilson said Gobert fired 14 times at the men as they tried to escape. Bullets sprayed the passenger-side window. Harrison hid on the floor. A bullet sliced into Putman's right thigh, hitting a key in his pocket.

Wilson said another bullet whizzed past Putman, into the driver's side and into Montgomery's head, killing him. The car crashed near Gobert's shed. Someone called 911.

The sheriff's office arrested Gobert on a charge of murder and two counts of aggravated assault. Wilson said Gobert admitted to shooting the men in the car. The sheriff was unsure Tuesday of Gobert's motive.

"It doesn't appear to us at this time that the three men in the automobile were presenting any threat of death," the sheriff said.

"(Gobert) should have taken more steps to identify the threat and process that threat before he decided to use deadly force."

Wilson said Harrison, Montgomery and Putman came to Gobert's property Monday night to party. They were acquaintances with his stepdaughter, Nicole Carroll. Putman and Carroll got into an argument, the sheriff said, because Carroll "was not satisfied" with a sexual act.

Putman then hit Carroll with a humidifier, Wilson said. The sheriff's office charged him with simple battery.

***

In Ringgold, 39-year-old LaBron Warthan sat on a porch on Sparks Street on Tuesday afternoon, smoking a cigar and holding his head. Warthan worries about what people will think of Montgomery, 31, his cousin. He was black, like the two men with him. He wore fitted hats and do-rags. Tattoos covered his arms.

Warthan has seen how young, black victims can be perceived, especially when the shooter is white. Especially in a town where 85 percent of the residents are white. He could envision people misunderstanding Montgomery, based merely on the pictures.

Montgomery did not have a criminal record in Walker or Catoosa counties. And he didn't experience racism, Warthan said, at least nothing extreme, the type that outsiders assume will unfold in the South.

"Everybody loved him," Warthan said. "He was no thug. No gangster. We're from Ringgold."

Across from Warthan on the porch, Anna Ruth Montgomery described her son as an insecure boy. He grew up listening to her records of Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder and The Temptations. He sang at Mount Peria Baptist Church when he was 10. Then, he began singing for Warthan's rap group.

Anna Ruth Montgomery said her son liked music because people told him he was talented. It made him feel special, gave him a place in his community.

"He was a little skinny boy," she said. "He was scared of everybody."

With a microphone, he felt popular. When he was 20 years old, he moved to Minnesota to learn from his uncle, a professional musician who earned a living singing R&B and gospel. Johnny Montgomery formed his own rap group, N.D.O. — as in, "No Days Off." He performed in Atlanta, Knoxville and Nashville. He auditioned for "The Voice" this year.

Montgomery also frequented Chattanooga karaoke bars, Warthan said. He watched his cousin perform at SkyZoo once, watched women approach after the performance. They loved how he sang, and how he color-coordinated all of his outfits, a skill he learned from his mother. He owned 70 pairs of shoes, highlighted by his variety of Air Jordans.

On the porch, Anna Ruth Montgomery bowed her head.

"God knows best," she said. "God allowed it for some reason — some reason I don't know."

"The choir," Warthan responded. "They need his voice (in heaven)."

"I can't question God," she said. "He let him go."

Contact Staff Writer Tyler Jett at tjett@timesfreepress.com or at 423-757-6476.