MOULTRIE, Ga. — Prosecutors have a question for Jeffery Alan Peacock: Why’d he change clothes?
The trial for Peacock, accused in the May 15, 2016, killings of five people, began Monday morning, and his clothing raised one of the day’s biggest questions.
Peacock was one of three people who called 911 about a house fire at 505 Rossman Dairy Road that Sunday morning.
Inside, five young people — Jonathan Garrett Edwards, Ramsey Jones Pidcock and Aaron Reid Williams, all 21; Alicia Brooke Norman, 20; and Jordan Shane Croft, 22 — were found dead. A GBI autopsy later revealed they had been shot.
In an interview recorded about 10:30 that morning and played for the court on Monday, Peacock told Colquitt County Sheriff’s Office Investigator Mike Murfin that he and his five friends had been drinking the night before. They all went to bed around 11 p.m. or midnight, he said, and they got up around 7 or 7:30 a.m.
Peacock told Murfin he had left that morning to get some cigarettes and to buy breakfast for everyone. Everyone else was watching a show on Netflix.
“I got back and the house was fully engulfed in flames,” Peacock said on the recording. “Nobody was outside.”
Checking Peacock’s story, Murfin acquired copies of security videos from businesses between the residence and Hardee’s, where Peacock bought breakfast. In his testimony Monday, Murfin noted the time stamps on the videos as Peacock’s truck was caught by their cameras.
The green Chevrolet pickup was first seen eastbound at Circle N Petro at 8:03 a.m., and its progress could be tracked as it passed EZ Corner on West Central Avenue, The Best Little Store in Georgia on West Central, American Pawn on First Street Southeast and Walgreen’s across Veterans Parkway from Hardee’s.
The camera in Hardee’s drive-through took a good video of him placing his order. In it, he’s wearing a green shirt with white lettering and khaki shorts.
Then the security cameras tracked him as he made his way back along the same path toward the residence. Time stamps on the last images are a little awkward with him passing Best Little Store at 8:27 a.m., EZ Corner at 8:28 a.m. and Circle N at 8:27 a.m. No one speculated on why those times didn’t line up.
Missing from that, though, was a trip to BP Riverbend, another convenience store along the route. That’s where Peacock told Murfin he’d bought Marlboro 27 cigarettes on his way back from getting breakfast at Hardee’s.
Michael Cox, now a lieutenant with the Moultrie Police Department, was also a sheriff’s office investigator at the time of the fire. Part of his job in this investigation was to go through videos from Circle N and Riverbend to see when Peacock bought the cigarettes. On Monday he testified he watched recordings time-stamped from 6:30 to 9:30 the morning of the fire at Riverbend and 6:30 a.m. to 9 a.m. at Circle N without ever seeing Peacock.
On top of that, Cox said the clerk at Riverbend told him no Marlboro 27s were sold that morning.
Peacock was the third of three callers to 911 about the fire. Recordings of all three were played for the court, and the dispatcher kept Peacock on the line until he could hear sirens.
Sheriff’s Deputy Cody Green testified he was dispatched at 8:31 a.m. and arrived at about 8:40. He was the first officer on the scene and Peacock was standing in the yard, visibly distraught.
The house was engulfed in flames, Green said, and it was horribly hot. He put Peacock in the back of his patrol car with the air conditioner turned up all the way so that he could cool off and calm down.
Max Demott testified he drove by the scene and shot a video on his cell phone as he passed. At the urging of a friend who used to work for the sheriff’s department, he turned over a copy to investigators.
The video was entered into evidence at Monday’s trial because it shows something that seemed odd in retrospect: Peacock was standing by his pickup in a gray sleeveless shirt and cargo shorts. That’s the same outfit he was wearing when he spoke with Murfin a couple of hours later.
Where were the green shirt and khaki shorts he was wearing at Hardee’s?
That answer came the next day.
The Georgia Bureau of Investigation applied for and received a search warrant on the afternoon of the 15th, but it covered the house, the grounds and all the vehicles there. They brought in technicians from other regions and area sheriff’s offices sent people to help, but it was still a big job. It was Monday, the 16th, before investigators could go through Peacock’s truck.
Amy Braswell, a crime scene specialist for the GBI, was in charge of collecting evidence, and she was helped by a Colquitt County Sheriff’s Office investigator when she went into Peacock’s truck.
The investigator found a green shirt sticking up from between a large speaker box and the seat of the pickup truck, Braswell said in her testimony Monday. The khaki shorts were found immediately thereafter in the same place.
Both had red stains that investigators thought might be blood.
Braswell packaged samples of the material to be tested to see if it was blood and if so, whose, as well as other samples to be tested for the presence of accelerants that might have been used to start the fire. Accelerants are flammable substances, like gasoline or kerosene, that can help a fire catch hold, and their presence would strongly point toward the fire being arson.
Testimony on Monday did not give the results of those tests.
The results of another GBI Crime Lab test were disclosed, though.
During cross-examination of state fire investigator Don Allen, defense attorney Jerry Word asked if it was true the GBI had found no trace of accelerants in samples Allen had submitted from the fire scene. Allen acknowledged it was true. Word said that meant either all the accelerant burned up or it was never there to begin with, and Allen had to agree that was right.
Superior Court Judge James Hardy is hearing Peacock’s case as a bench trial, which means there’s no jury. It will resume at 9:30 a.m. Tuesday at the Colquitt County Courthouse Annex courtroom.