Judge: Not enough probable cause for first degree murder in fatal Hawkins shooting

Jeff Bobo • Feb 20, 2020 at 9:30 AM

ROGERSVILLE — Hawkins County Sessions Judge Todd Ross ruled Wednesday that there wasn’t enough probable cause to merit first-degree murder charges against two defendants in the Dec. 16 shooting death of 22-year-old Ashley Vick.

Instead, Ross ordered charges of second-degree murder against Patrick Cody Charlton and Bradley Wayne Addington bound over to the grand jury following a preliminary hearing.

Vick, who resided in Church Hill, was found deceased on Dec. 16 in a ditch beside the road near 770 Tranbarger Road. 

An autopsy performed at the Quillen College of Medicine in Johnson City showed Vick died of two gunshots to the head, and her death was ruled a homicide.

However, she wasn’t immediately identified, so the Hawkins County Sheriff’s Office appealed to the media for help in identifying the body based on a distinctive tattoo. 

According to testimony Wednesday, the HCSO received information from at least five witnesses who stated that Vick had last been seen in the company of Addington and Charlton on the day she died.

“I did not want to see her in pain”

Upon being arrested on Dec. 20, Charlton, 27, of Kingsport, reportedly told investigators he initially shot Vick by accident when they crossed the railroad tracks on Tranbarger Road, which is in an unincorporated area north of Allandale.

Charlton reportedly stated he shot Vick a second time in the head because “I did not want to see her in pain.” Her body was found about 75 feet from the tracks. 

Although the statements that Charlton and Addington, 30, of Kingsport, gave investigators after their arrest were entered into evidence during the preliminary hearing, they weren’t read aloud in court.

However, some aspects of the statements were alluded to during the testimony of HCSO Detective Chad Britton and Tennessee Bureau of Investigation Special Agent Brian Pritchard, who were the only witnesses called to the stand.

Speculation about a motive for the shooting

For example, there was testimony that a sexual liaison occurred between Addington and Vick on the day of her death. Pritchard said he could only speculate on a motive for the shooting — that Charlton, who was supposedly dating Vick at the time, was “not happy” about the her affair with Addington.

Britton and Pritchard both testified, however, that there is no evidence that Vick was involved with either defendant other than what came from the defendants’ statements.

Britton testified about the physical evidence police have including a bloodstained BMW, where the shooting allegedly took place; floor mats from the BMW that were recovered at Addington's house; bloodstained broken glass that was located in the road near where the body was found; and the gun, which was allegedly recovered from an individual to whom Addington had sold it.

On Dec. 20, Charlton allegedly admitted to detectives that he shot Vick twice in the head with a 9mm handgun and placed her in the ditch.

Britton stated in Charlton’s arrest warrant affidavit, “Charlton stated the first shot was accidental and struck Vick in the head. Charlton said that Vick began making noise, which he compared to a deer dying. Charlton then admitted to shooting Vick a second time, later saying in his statement, ‘I shot Ashley because I did not want to see her in pain.’ ”

Prosecutor argues for premeditation

Assistant Attorney General Akiah Highsmith said the element of premeditation required for the first- degree murder charge was formed between the first and second shot, during which time the defendants made the conscious decision to fire again.

Public Defender Greg Eichelman, who represents Charlton, argued that investigators can’t know if the first or second shot was fatal.

Attorney Matt King, who represents Addington, argued that there is no evidence his client knew Charlton was going to shoot Vick.

Highsmith argued that Addington’s actions after the first shot, and his attempt to cover up the crime, are probable cause to send the first-degree murder charge to the grand jury.

The investigation is ongoing and the results of the autopsy and forensic studies will likely impact the prosecution’s theory of the crime, Highsmith added.

“Cleaned blood from the car”

On Dec. 19, Addington reportedly told the HCSO he was present when Vick was shot and that he was driving the vehicle, but he didn’t report it to anyone.

Britton said in Addington’s arrest warrant affidavit, “Addington further stated that he provided the shooter with a change of clean clothes and cleaned blood from the car where the shooting took place. Addington also admitted to taking the firearm that was used to shoot Vick from the shooter and selling it to another individual.”

Ross said the evidence presented in Wednesday’s hearing didn’t add to premeditation. 

In reducing the charges from first-degree murder to second-degree murder Ross also reduced the defendants’ bonds from $3 million to $500,000 each. 

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