Photo by Sue Watson
Murder suspect Joshua Lee Fletcher is flanked by sheriff Kenny Dickerson, investigator Kenneth Jones and Maj. Kelly McMillen as they walk to justice court Monday of this week.
Murder suspect in custody
Murder suspect Joshua Lee Fletcher voluntarily turned himself in to Humphreys County authorities Friday, saying he was tired of running, according to Marshall County Sheriff Kenny Dickerson.
Fletcher was returned to Marshall County Saturday by Maj. David Cook and deputy Larry Rankin. He was charged with the murder of Samuel Deward Smith at Chewalla Lake in late July.
Sheriff Dickerson was glad to have the 31-year-old suspect in custody after a very long and arduous manhunt by state, local and federal agencies. The sheriff said he and Maj. Kelly McMillen spent countless hours on the case, along with other law enforcement authorites.
The case took many turns, the latest of which is the surrender of Fletcher to authorities.
During the interrogation of Fletcher by Dickerson and McMillen, the sheriff said light was shined on many questions about the case, including Fletcher’s whereabouts since he left Marshall County driving Smith’s pickup.
“The information has led us to believe the victim was struck one or more times with a large rock on the head, then his head was held under water causing the victim to inhale lake water,” Dickerson said. “There was also one or more cuts on the victim’s head and neck area with a knife.”
Smith ultimately is believed to have died from a
combination of multiple traumas in shallow waters near the bank of Lake Chewalla.
Dickerson said Fletcher was from Louisiana and it was thought he had been picked up on the roadside by Smith after Smith left his grandparents’ home in Louisiana.
The two are not believed to have known each other prior to their travel to Chewalla Lake.
Fletcher also confirmed that Smith had walked in the area several times with his dog, Khava, near the area where Smith’s body was found.
Dickerson said investigative facts led him to believe that a short time following the death of the victim, Fletcher took off in Smith’s pickup, days before the discovery of the victim’s body. The body was spotted floating face up by fishermen in a cove near the levee.
The pickup was abandoned in Winona and Khava was released and later found on I-55 by a passerby. Khava had been hit by a vehicle. The traveler called a friend in the area to report the dog on the highway and Khava was rescued a second time and taken to the veterinarian.
The first rescue of Khava was by Smith himself when the pet was found abandoned in a park in Arkansas.
Fletcher is believed, based on questioning, to have stayed in the Greenville area most of the time after fleeing Marshall County. It is believed he caught a ride there and stayed some in a homeless shelter.
Dickerson said Fletcher arrived at the jail hungry and said he had not had much food to eat.
“I took the suspect to the kitchen and fed him a nutritious meal prior to the interrogation,” Dickerson said. “Fletcher initially denied ever being in Marshall County, but upon presenting him with the photos taken at Lake Center Grocery clearly reflecting his identity, at that time Fletcher stated, ‘That’s me, isn’t it?’ “
“I said, yes, it is you unless you have a twin,” Dickerson said.
After showing Fletcher pictures of the crime scene, the suspect began to pray.
“It is the first time in my 45 years in law enforcement, that I have had a suspect to detail a crime prior to, during and after the crime in a prayer,” the sheriff said. “It was a very solemn prayer detailing the day, a very remorseful and solemn prayer that detailed the events at the lake. During that prayer, Fletcher prayed for himself and the victim and the victim’s family. He also asked God to forgive him. He prayed very sincerely for himself and the family.”
During the course of the conversation, Dickerson said Fletcher admitted to using crystal methamphetamine on many occasions. At times when the suspect had no money, he found people who who would share willingly with him, the sheriff said.
Dickerson said Fletcher confirmed what most of the investigation had uncovered – that he took Smith’s truck, went to Lake Center Store and asked others what the quickest way was to get to the interstate.
“The best we can figure, he spent three days with Smith,” the sheriff said. “Since he has been back here, he has been well-behaved and we have had no problems. Fletcher is believed to have been on the run since July 26, the day he was videoed at the store.”
Dickerson echoed earlier statements he has always made following a crime of this nature.
“You can run for a while, but not forever,” he said. “Fear and mental stress and strain will cause a person to give up.”
Beth and Dale Smith, the parents of Samuel Smith, were notified by telephone that the suspect was in custody.
“The victim’s family was very emotional and forgiving,” the sheriff said. “They wanted to know the facts about the incident and the truth and were glad the suspect was in custody.”
Dickerson thanked the investigators who spent hundreds of hours on the investigation.
“We certainly are glad he is in custody and that we know for sure his identity,” the sheriff said.
Fletcher’s bond was set Monday by justice court judge Ernest Cunningham at $1 million. A court-appointed attorney is being provided the suspect.