Five shots fired in murder case

Friday, March 15, 2013

By Karen Hall

Staff Writer

Testimony continued all day Tuesday and Wednesday in the trial of Jerron Braden, 19, charged with the murder of Penny Blackwell Coyle.

Agents from the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation Crime Lab clarified some of the details of what happened the night of Nov. 21, 2011.

From the shell casings and bullet fragments found at the scene on Old Rock Crusher Road, agents were able to determine that five shots were fired from the same 9 mm. handgun. One missed Coyle and went into the driver's door of her 1998 Buick Century, where it broke the glass of the rolled-down window. A "long gun," also 9 mm., was eliminated from consideration, and so were two handguns linked to other area homicides. The TBI agent refused to speculate how far the weapon was from Coyle when it was fired.

Coyle's car was towed to the crime lab and examined for evidence. Fingerprint expert David Howell testified he searched the whole car and found just one usable print, on the post between the window and the windshield on the passenger side. It was not Coyle's print, nor did it match any other prints in law enforcement's database.

"You spent 45 minutes and proved nothing relating to my client," said defense attorney David McKenzie.

"Correct," said Howell.

A plaster cast of a tire track found at the scene, next to Coyle's car on the driver's side, was examined by another TBI expert, Miranda Gaddes. She testified it belonged to the passenger side rear tire of a 2003 blue Chevy Impala that was also towed to the crime lab.

Under cross examination, Gaddes admitted she could not determine if the tire track was made the night of the murder.

The Impala belonged to another witness, Natalie Perryman. At the time of Coyle's death, she said, she was in a sexual relationship with Jeffrey "Pookie" Mitchell, one of the men named in Braden's statement.

Perryman allowed Mitchell to borrow and drive the car almost every day, including Nov. 21, 2011. He got the car from her during the day, she said, and brought it back sometime during the night. Perryman said she woke up at 2 a.m. Nov. 22, looked out the window of her mother's house, where she was living, and saw the car in its usual parking place. Perryman testified she tried to call Mitchell 10 or 15 times before she went to bed to find out where her car was, but he wouldn't answer the phone.

The last witness before lunch Wednesday was Tim Miller, assistant director of the 17th Judicial District Drug Task Force.

"Was Penny Blackwell Coyle a confidential informant?" asked Assistant District Attorney Eddie Barnard.

"Yes," Miller said.

"Who was her handler?" Barnard asked.

"Me," said Miller.

Almost immediately after recruiting Coyle, Miller testified, she came under suspicion as a C.I. from Tonya Hampton, at that time one of Lewisburg's main crack cocaine dealers, and, through Hampton, Sharod "C-Moe" Moore, another big dealer.

After several attempted buys in the fall of 2011 which were thwarted by Hampton claiming she saw Task Force vehicles in the area, Miller decided to stop using Coyle as a C.I. until things cooled down.

She had been threatened by Hampton in a phone call that Miller overheard.

"I know who you are - where you live - you know what people will do to you," Hampton reportedly said to Coyle. "She was upset, clearly," said Miller. "I did believe she realized it was dangerous.

"Tonya Hampton could reach out to anybody in the crack cocaine world in this town," the agent continued.

Coyle and Miller stayed in touch, and talked on the phone almost every day. The evening of the day she died, Miller said, Coyle called him, saying she might have someone new to buy from.

Miller was at home asleep when Marshall County Sheriff's Deputy Mauro Edwards gave him the news of Coyle's death, and he immediately got up and went to Old Rock Crusher Road.

On the witness stand, Miller became visibly upset when he was shown a picture of Coyle's dead body in the car, with "her head blown off, just about," as he described it.

"Did you jump-start the investigation by naming the No. 1 suspect?" asked McKenzie.

Miller said he did, naming Mitchell and Moore, and adding, "I may have named Tonya (Hampton) as well."

Testimony Wednesday afternoon from a Verizon Wireless executive and records custodian revealed that the last person Coyle talked to on her cell phone was Moore, and they had a 15-second conversation just before 9 p.m., Nov. 21.

See the Tribune's website, for updates as the trial continues.