It was a neighbor who found Jane Stokes on the floor of her East Ridge home on June 15, 2011. The 71-year-old's head was wrapped in cellophane, her hands bound behind her back, zip ties around her wrists. Stokes had died from suffocation, and police quickly zeroed in on Randall "Randy" Reed, a man who'd done work on her fence that April and May.
More than seven years after her murder, Chattanooga prosecutors Tuesday began trying Reed in Hamilton County Criminal Court — for the second time. Though prosecutors introduced evidence that showed Stokes' DNA and makeup on Reed's shirt and earned a first-degree murder conviction in 2013, the Tennessee Criminal Court of Appeals sent the case back to Hamilton County last year, saying that a local judge allowed prosecutors to improperly mention a polygraph test. Those tests are considered inadmissible evidence in Tennessee.
"Our evidence is going to show you Randall Reed took Ms. Stokes' credit card. He stole it," Assistant District Attorney Jason Demastus told jurors. "He extracted the PIN number necessary to take money from her accounts, directly after he committed this crime.
"Not only did he take her PIN number, but he took her life," Demastus continued. "And for that, he must pay the consequences."
Reed, 50, doesn't deny that he used Stokes' credit card; he pleaded guilty to his multiple counts of fraudulent use of a debit card before Judge Tom Greenholtz. But Reed denied doing the killing, and his attorneys Tuesday made a similar argument to one heard by jurors in 2013: That Reed, who struggled with a crack cocaine addiction, was staying at a hotel in Chattanooga with his ex-wife and using drugs. He received a call from his alleged dealer, Milo Geiger, who wanted him to use a credit card in exchange for more crack cocaine.
"Milo knows he has a fish on the line," Chattanooga defense attorney Donna Miller said. "Milo knows Randy is a crack cocaine addict. They spent the next day making withdraws. They met up throughout the day, he withdraws money, and Milo in turn gives him drugs. Randy has no idea whose credit card this is. And quite frankly, he doesn't care. You'll get to see Milo's vehicle in the background of one photograph."
Within hours of Stokes' death, which friends and coworkers noticed quickly, ATM cameras captured photographs of Reed withdrawing money from her account. And prosecutors Tuesday called a handful of bank officials who detailed the number of transactions. Miller said Reed turned himself in to police after local media outlets ran the photographs and he was later charged with her murder.
Miller said her client tried to tell police about Geiger's involvement, offering contact information, known addresses and a controlled buy. But East Ridge officers, she said, were fixated on Reed and never fully investigated that possibility.
According to a Times Free Press article from 2013, Geiger testified he'd never met Stokes and didn't know Reed. He is on the state's witness list, meaning he could be called to the stand during the trial.
On Tuesday, prosecutors also began detailing the forensic evidence they say links Reed to the killing. Julius Johnson, a now-retired detective with the East Ridge Police Department, said he helped execute a search warrant on June 17, 2011, at a Travelodge hotel room where they learned Reed was staying.
Johnson said officers also searched his car and spotted zip ties in the rear floorboard of his 2004 Chevrolet Cavalier.
Reed's trial continues Wednesday at 9 a.m. in Hamilton County Criminal Court.
Contact staff writer Zack Peterson at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6347. Follow him on Twitter @zackpeterson918.