Columbus Police confirm they have arrested the fifth suspect in the murder of 32-year-old Branden Denson. This just more than one year since Denson was found shot three times in the back in the Pizza Hut parking lot on Buena Vista Road back on April 6, 2018.
Police confirm 21-year-old Tyree Smith was caught during a traffic stop in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Major J.D. Hawk tells News 3’s Mikhaela Singleton that Smith had evaded capture just nine hours before he was ultimately arrested.
“There was certain information that had been put into a computer system which helped with taking him into custody, like a look out on certain things,” Major Hawk explains. “That’s what lead to the traffic stop.”
Police will now begin the extradition process to bring Smith back to Muscogee County. He will join four additional suspects in the case, Eric Spencer, Dover Coppins, Tommie Mullins, and Johnathon Swift.
“Justice served, man, they got what they deserved,” says Pizza Hut employee Marquis Taylor.
Taylor tells News 3 he was the first to find Denson the night of the murder. He also says he knew Denson from college classes.
“It was a busy night, so at first we didn’t know what happened. A customer just came in and said, hey ya’ll should check on this person outside,” Taylor explains. “We all went out there, we seen him slumped over in his truck. I knocked on the window and said, sir are you alright? Are you okay? No one answered and that’s when I opened the door and I saw the blood.”
Taylor says it was a shock to recognize someone he knew.
“I was just like, damn I know him, I go to school with him. He was cool with me, laid back nice dude,” he says. “I tried to get him out and do CPR, but it was too late. He was already gone.”
Eric Randall Spencer was the first to be arrested in May 2018 and charged with Murder, Armed Robbery, Possession of a Firearm During Commission of a Crime, and Possession of a Firearm by a Convicted Felon.
Dover Coppins was arrested and charged with Murder, Armed Robbery, and Possession of a Firearm for his role in the Denson’s murder at the end of August. Tommie Mullins was charged with murder and arrested at the end of August as well.
Detective Robert Nicholas testified at Mullins’ Recorder’s Court hearing in August and said evidence and witness testimony support Mullins as the main instigator of the attack on Denson. Det. Nicholas said Denson’s parents admitted during questioning their son left the house the night of the murder with a briefcase containing around 16 pounds of marijuana. They also said he had plans to meet “TJ”.
Mullins was a local rapper with the stage name KOK TJ, according to investigators. Det. Nicholas testified the suspects met Mullins to plan how to rob Denson of his drugs and cash. The officer also adds a witness identified Coppins as Denson’s shooter, after which Mullins congratulated him and started to divide up the marijuana.
“That sounds crazy, but that’s nothing new in Columbus. That’s Columbus,” Taylor says. “My first initial thought was it was a drug deal gone wrong and a set up. That’s my first initial thought when I saw it.”
He says what really hit home about the case for him was the family Denson left behind.
“He was young, like my age man, and he had a little girl. That really hurt my heart, because I’m a father,” Taylor says. “I just hope the family can get some peace.”
The fourth suspect, Johnathan Swift, was arrested in August, 2018.
Although four other persons of interest were also named in the case, Major Hawk says there’s no plan to issue additional arrest warrants at this time.
“When you’re investigating, a lot of names come up. Some of those names are of people we wanted to talk to, but at this time no further warrants have been issued. That’s not to say they might not be at a later time, but right now we’re pretty much satisfied with what we’ve got,” Hawk says.
He adds Smith’s extradition from Oklahoma can take up to a month before he will return to Muscogee County for his first court appearance..