Two Cleveland, Tenn., men now face the grand jury for possible indictment on charges they beat a 46-year-old man to death and left his body adrift in a fishing boat near Grasshopper Creek Recreation Area.
Chance A. Loftis, 24, and Travis Hayes Jenkins, 28, had a preliminary hearing Monday on criminal homicide charges in the death of Donald Rogers. Fishermen found Rogers' body partially hanging out of an aluminum fishing boat near the recreation area on April 25. Deputies arrested Loftis and Jenkins in Bradley County the same day.
Loftis' attorney, Bill Speek, raised the possibility of a self-defense strategy when it was revealed through his cross-examination of Hamilton County Sheriff's Detective Jeff Baker that Jenkins told police Rogers had pulled a knife as the three men argued before the attack.
Local attorney Mike Caputo is representing Jenkins.
As the trio boated in the river, Rogers struck either a log or embankment, disabling the boat after the men had spent some time searching for their campsite. Court testimony revealed all three had been drinking beer and tempers rose as the evening wore on when they couldn't find where they had planned to camp.
Jenkins told police shortly after his arrest that Loftis became enraged when Rogers couldn't locate a campsite near the waterway and began beating Rogers on the head and then strangled him.
But Jennifer Bales testified that Loftis had told her a different account shortly after the killing.
Bales was a friend of Loftis who drove the men to the boat landing on April 24 where they met with Rogers. She later picked up Loftis on Johnson Road at 3 a.m. April 25 after early morning text messages from him woke her.
Recounting the tired and confused conversations she had with Loftis over a few hours, she at times cried while testifying.
Bales said she thought Loftis was exaggerating and talking about some backyard fights he and Jenkins had planned. She said the pair had talked for weeks about starting a backyard fight club.
"Jennifer, you don't understand, we beat this guy to death. I had to clear his airway twice, we beat him to death," Bales testified Loftis told her shortly after she had driven him back to the Cleveland home of Jenkins a few hours after Rogers' death.
But Jenkins claimed in his interviews with police that it was Loftis who "went off" and began beating Rogers and that it was he, Jenkins, who stopped Loftis and tried to help Rogers.
Jenkins didn't ride back to Cleveland with Bales and Loftis; he walked along Johnson Road and was picked up by a Hamilton County sheriff's deputy and given a ride to the Bradley County line after the deputy had checked his name for warrants and asked about the blood on his shirt.
Jenkins told the deputy he'd been walking in the woods and scratched himself.
At the time of their meeting there had not been any reports of a homicide. Rogers' body would not be found until 9 a.m., hours later.
Baker testified that investigators found blood in the boat, in a nearby house from which police received a burglary call, on a plastic bag of clothes, the dock and an oar on the dock.
He added that there was a trail of empty Bud Light beer cans leading from the dock to the house up a hill and strewn inside the boat.
A medical examiner's report showed Rogers' skull was fractured and determined that and damage to his neck as the cause of death.
Jenkins also told police the two killed Rogers' Yorkie dog. Its body was found floating near the dock, about 40 to 50 feet from the boat.
The grand jury typically takes six weeks or longer to return an indictment or not.
Todd South covers courts, poverty, technology, military and veterans for the Times Free Press. He has worked at the paper since 2008 and previously covered crime and safety in Southeast Tennessee and North Georgia. Todd’s hometown is Dodge City, Kan. He served five years in the U.S. Marine Corps and deployed to Iraq before returning to school for his journalism degree from the University of Georgia. Todd previously worked at the Anniston (Ala.) Star. Contact ...