Ryles capital murder trial begins

Published 3:00 am Tuesday, September 9, 2014

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Messenger Photo / April Garon
Brandon Ryles is escorted back to the Pike County Jail after the first day of trial. He is charged with three counts of capital murder.

For the second time within a month, testimony began Monday in the case of one of four men charged with murdering Mark Adams and Carla Smilie.

The two were found shot to death April 2011 in Adams’ Needmore residence. Four men were arrested and charged with capital murder in the case. Marquise McLaney and Troy McClaney both have pleaded guilty to two counts of felony murder and agreed to testify for the state. Brandon Ryles, whose trial began Monday, and John Foster both faces three counts each of capital murder in connection with the crime.

Foster had previously reached a plea agreement with prosecutors, but it was revoked in August when he refused to testify during Marquise McLaney’s trial. McLaney eventually reached a plea deal during that trial.

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As court opened on Monday, Circuit Court Judge Shannon Clark reminded the 15 jurors of their role in the case. “You are the most important people in this room right now,” Clark said.

Ryles is charged with one count of capital murder for each death and a third count for committing an act of murder during the course of another crime. Prosecutors say the four men stole firearms from Adams’ residence at the time of the robbery and murders.

Early testimony in the case focused on the connection between Foster and Adams and the involvement of Linda Blake, landlord. District Attorney Tom Anderson said a phone call between Blake and Adams placed Foster inside Adams’ residence on April 4, 2011, the day of the murders.

Adams had been watching Blake’s dog, Gator, and the landlord called to check on the dog. During that phone conversation, Adams reportedly gave the phone to John Foster, who was identified as an associate of Adams’ and as someone who had previously lived in a trailer managed by Blake.

Anderson said the phone call was key for the trial, and said Adams may have been unaware of how crucial the phone call was in placing Foster inside of the residence while Smilie and Adams were still alive. The couple’s bodies were discovered on April 5, 2011, by Blake and her boyfriend, Charles Green.

Prosecutors said Ryles, Foster and the two McLaneys reportedly drove to Troy on April 4, 2011, to buy marijuana and decided to stop by Adams’ residence, which was not visible from the road. “They had to know where they were going in order to get to it,” Anderson said.

However defense attorney Gary Bradshaw said Foster was the instigator in the trip to Adams’ residence. Bradshaw said Foster wanted money from Adams, and Blake told Foster on the phone “Mark can’t get you any money.” Bradshaw also said Blake on the same day had kicked Foster out of the trailer park after hearing of his involvement in an argument with his girlfriend at that time.

Jurors heard testimony Monday from Troy Police Detective Brian McLendon who was lead case agent. McLendon testified that numerous shell casings were found on the floor and around Adams’ residence. “There were numerous shells on the floor in and around the house,” McLendon said. “Mark Adams was face down and Carla Smilie was in the fetal position.”

McLendon also testified the to the condition of the residence. “Things were knocked over, but not everything was strewn about,” he said.

McLendon was asked by Bradshaw how investigators were able to rule out Blake and Green as suspects. “Through interviews we were able to eliminate them,” McLendon said. “Linda Blake was completely out of town at the time, and we compared that to the phone records.”

Lt. Micheal O’Hara, a crime scene investigator with Troy police, testified bout the firearms recovered April 7, 2011, off County Road 6600 and a red Nokia cellphone discovered inside the residence.

Prosecutors said the group took the weapons from Adams’ residence after the murders and then disposed of them on a deserted road, after hitting a downed tree with the Jeep driven by Ryles. Following Foster’s initial statements to Troy Police, investigators located three firearms along the side of County Road 6600. Along with a Winchester 12-gauge shotgun, a Stevens pump-action 12-gauge shotgun and a Remington 22-caliber long rifle, police recovered what was identified as a lock-blade pocket knife and two black gloves.

O’Hara also testified there was a shotgun casing only partially ejected from the Stevens 12-gague shotgun.

“There was a shotgun shell in the bottom part of the chamber,” O’Hara said. “It was partially caught inside of the chamber like it was trying to be used or ejected from the shotgun. It was stuck.”

The cellphone was one of several recovered in the investigation, including one found in a backpack inside of Adams’ kitchen, two phones from Foster and one phone from Ryles. O’Hara said the red Nokia phone was found on the coffee table inside Adams’ residence and it did not have a SIM card, which would be necessary for the phone to operate. O’Hara said the phone had been investigated by the Dothan Police Department as well as the forensic technology lab at Troy University.

Following O’Hara’s report of the cellphone, Bradshaw asked O’Hara to identify shotgun shells in pictures of the crime scene. In particular, Bradshaw focused on one shell casing found tucked and partially underneath the leg of a pair blue jean pants on the coffee table and another shell casing that had been logged as being found on the top of the VCR in Adams’ home. O’Hara said he had not picked up those particular items but had provided the Alabama Department of Forensic Science with the brown bags used to contain the evidence and take pictures of the scene.

“The photo was taken as I stood beside the door,” O’Hara said. “It was an overview. It was not meant to focus on one specific item.”

Testimony resumes at 9 a.m. today in Circuit Court.