The district attorneys in Calhoun and Cherokee counties will split the prosecution of two Calhoun County men arrested for their alleged involvement in the homicide of Wellborn Elementary School teacher Kevin Thompson, whose body was found late Friday night or early Saturday morning.
Tyrone Thompson, 27, of Weaver and Nicholas Smith, 22, of Jacksonville are each charged with felony counts of first-degree robbery and kidnapping.
The two men will receive additional capital murder charges Monday, Jacksonville police Assistant Chief Bill Wineman said.
Tyrone Thompson and Smith also are charged with fraudulent use of a credit card for allegedly using 29-year-old Kevin Thompson’s ATM card to withdraw cash from various banks in Jacksonville and Anniston Wednesday night, the evening Kevin Thompson was kidnapped from his home at Jackson Trace Apartments in Jacksonville.
The Calhoun County District Attorney’s Office will prosecute Tyrone Thompson and Smith on the robbery, kidnapping and fraudulent credit card charges.
Cherokee County will handle the capital murder charges, because police suspect Tyrone Thompson and Smith murdered the Wellborn teacher there, Wineman said.
“Neither of them have made a confession … but they are saying, ‘yeah, I was there,’ and ‘yeah, that’s me,’” Wineman told The Star Saturday afternoon. Jacksonville police have obtained surveillance video from area banks that apparently shows Tyrone Thompson and Smith using Kevin Thompson’s ATM card and 2005 silver Honda Civic. “But when it comes down to who committed what, they are not admitting to any of that.”
Visitors before midnight?
Kevin Thompson’s mother, Frances Curry, first reported her son’s disappearance to Jacksonville police Thursday morning, after Wellborn Elementary officials notified Anniston police that he had not shown up for work at the school, where he taught third grade.
Curry said she last saw her son Wednesday evening when he left her Anniston home to go work out at Anniston Family FitnessCenter. From there, he went to play piano at New Hope Baptist Church in Jacksonville and then home to his Jackson Trace Apartments, according to information from Curry and police.
Thompson was last seen by a neighbor around 10:45 p.m. The neighbor told investigators the teacher was standing in the parking lot of the apartment complex with “two suspicious black males” and a woman, according to a missing persons flier posted by family and a police report.
Jacksonville police Chief Tommy Thompson told The Star Saturday that police believe Tyrone Thompson and Smith showed up at Kevin Thompson’s apartment sometime late Wednesday before midnight.
Chief Thompson said the teacher most likely wasn’t alarmed when the two suspects appeared at his home; Tyrone Thompson and Kevin Thompson were childhood friends, Chief Thompson and Curry said.
“If they kidnapped him initially or he left on his own, we don’t know,” the Jacksonville chief said. “I don’t think he was complicit after the initial encounter when they came to see him; I think he decided, ‘I shouldn’t be with these folks.’”
Police said surveillance video taken from the banks that Tyrone Thompson and Smith visited Wednesday night and the injuries found on Kevin Thompson’s body Saturday morning indicate the teacher was forcibly robbed and kidnapped.
Preliminary investigation suggests Tyrone Thompson and Smith drove Kevin Thompson to the Farmers & Merchants Bank in Jacksonville to withdraw cash there. For the next couple of hours, the suspects took the victim to a number of other banks and ATM machines, including the Fort McClellan Credit Union and the Alabama Teachers Credit Union, off U.S. 431 in Anniston, Chief Thompson said.
Jacksonville investigators are waiting to receive the subpoenaed transactions from those financial institutions before they know how much money Tyrone Thompson and Smith were able to withdraw.
Afterward, Smith and Tyrone Thompson drove — in the victim’s silver Honda Civic — to Cherokee County, where they allegedly killed Kevin Thompson, the Jacksonville chief said.
After an hours-long search Friday, police discovered the teacher’s body alongside U.S. 278 in Cherokee County.
Police don’t know what exactly prompted Kevin Thompson’s homicide.
“I think ... after they made the money run, they just went riding around, and after a point, the two of them realized they had a liability on their hands, and they decided to get rid of him,” Chief Thompson said.
Marshals locate a suspect
Tyrone Thompson was in custody at the Anniston City Jail Saturday afternoon, while Smith was in custody at the Clayton County Jail in Georgia. Both are being held on $100,000 cash bonds and will be transferred to the Calhoun County Jail sometime in the near future, police said.
Anniston police and Jacksonville investigators picked up Tyrone Thompson in Anniston Friday morning, after they discovered Kevin Thompson’s missing Honda in a garage at a residence in the eastern part of the city.
U.S marshals from Birmingham apprehended Smith somewhere in Atlanta Friday afternoon.
Wineman and Anniston Sgt. Fred Forsythe said it is standard for U.S. marshals to assist in the search for suspects and victims in these types of cases. But police declined to release information on how authorities located Smith, saying if that information were made public, it would jeopardize the marshals’ ability to successfully find people.
Smith has been fighting extradition charges to Calhoun County, Chief Thompson said. The suspect was originally held at the Georgia jail on a probation revocation before the warrants on the robbery, kidnapping and fraudulent credit card charges came through.
Since December, Smith has been on probation after pleading guilty in 2008 to second-degree robbery, according to online court records. Smith was also arrested on robbery and burglary charges in 2006, after he broke into a Jacksonville home. In that case, Smith accepted a plea agreement that allowed the robbery charge to be dropped in return for his guilty plea to first-degee burglary, court records show. Smith received a three-year prison sentence for that 2006 guilty plea but got out on probation a year later — only to be arrested again on the 2008 robbery charge.
Chief Thompson said Saturday it was unclear whether Smith knew Kevin Thompson before Wednesday night.
In some ways, Tyrone Thompson’s criminal history and personal relationship with Kevin Thompson is less clear, police said.
Court records show that Tyrone Thompson was charged with seven counts of first-degree robbery in 2005; Oxford police suspected Tyrone Thompson of holding up the local Cracker Barrel with two other men, according to a Star article written after the incident.
But after Tyrone Thompson spent 34 days in jail on an $850,000 bond, Oxford police dropped all charges against him, and Calhoun County District Judge Larry Warren signed non-prosecution agreements for all of the charges, according to court records and The Star article.
At that time, Oxford police would not provide The Star with information about why the charges against Tyrone Thompson were dropped or what evidence they had against him in the first place.
Since then, Tyrone Thompson has had a series of minor brushes with the law — including traffic violations, a guilty plea to possession of marijuana and a pending illegal firearm charge out of Etowah County.
Police said it was unclear whether the two Thompsons, Kevin and Tyrone, were related.
Throughout his interviews with Anniston and Jacksonville police, Tyrone Thompson has identified himself as “like family to” Kevin Thompson, Wineman said.
Kevin Thompson’s mother said Kevin and Tyrone attended Constantine Elementary together.
Curry told The Star Friday that she suspected Tyrone Thompson had something to do with her son’s disappearance when she learned he was in custody at the Anniston City Jail.
“Tyrone was always in and out of trouble, and I taught Kevin to take care of your friends and to be loyal,” Curry said Friday.
During that conversation, she told The Star she began to have second thoughts about her son’s willingness to remain friends with Tyrone Thompson as they got older and the latter continued to have run-ins with the law.
“I said, ‘Kevin, you can’t help everybody; you’ve got to stop,’” Curry recalled. “And he said… ‘you told me to take care of people.’”
Curry said Friday that her anxiety over her son’s disappearance caused her to regret that advice she gave her son.
“I have a daughter that is still here; I will never teach her that,” Curry said Friday.
Tragic news delivered
Shane Adrian, a death investigator for the Calhoun County Coroner’s Office went to Curry’s home at 2:45 a.m. Saturday to tell her about the discovery of her son’s body.
Throughout the two-day search for her son, Curry noted her dissatisfaction with the way Jacksonville police handled the case. Police were not immediately concerned about her son’s well-being and originally suggested he had gone on a surprise vacation when they found no obvious signs of foul play at his apartment, Curry told The Star.
Police declined to release information about how Kevin Thompson was killed, pending an autopsy report from the Alabama Department of Forensic Sciences Huntsville lab.
Chief Thompson estimated that the schoolteacher died sometime shortly after midnight Thursday.
“The autopsy will tell us more about that,” Chief Thompson added. “And when we get the bank transactions and can do the math on that.”
A joint investigation by Jacksonville police and the Cherokee County Sheriff’s Office will continue over the next couple of weeks. Multiple agencies assisted in the missing persons case, including Anniston police, the Calhoun-Cleburne Drug & Violent Crimes Task Force, the U.S. Marshals Service out of Birmingham and the Department of Forensic Science lab at McClellan.
The lab at McClellan has been responsible for combing over Kevin Thompson’s Honda for forensic evidence. It’s the same lab that will have to close by June 30 due to insufficient state tax revenue to keep it open.
Star staff writer Cameron Steele: 256-235-3562.