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Auburn capital murder case heads to grand jury

Auburn capital murder case heads to grand jury

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Chilling allegations emerged in a Lee County courtroom Monday regarding the murder of an Auburn landscaping employee and possible ties to two other murders in Dadeville during an April crime spree.

Kentrice Symonee Hill, 21, of Birmingham, appeared Monday in a preliminary hearing before Lee County Judge Russell Bush. Hill is charged with capital murder-robbery, capital murder-burglary and first-degree theft of property in connection to the shooting death of Nancy Nash, 54, on April 17.

Bush found probable cause to send Hill’s case to the grand jury. She is being held in the Lee County Jail without bond.

Derrick Hightower, 32, of Columbus, Georgia, also is charged in connection to the case. However, warrants have not yet been served due to the COVID-19 pandemic and Hightower’s confinement in Jefferson County.

“There are just some issues dealing with COVID-19 and transporting,” Lee County District Attorney Brandon Hughes said. “We’re being very careful not to introduce somebody from that area (Jefferson County) into the Lee County Jail. But warrants are pending on him. They’re in the system and at the appropriate time we will serve those warrants on Mr. Hightower.”

The background

Auburn emergency dispatchers were called early April 17 in reference to a vehicle fire off Highway 280 West. First-responders arrived found a Chevrolet pick-up truck engulfed in flames, Auburn Police Detective Greg Kloepper testified in court Monday.

It wasn’t until the fire was put out that Nash’s body was found with multiple gunshot wounds, on the property near the end of the driveway of the Creative Habitats landscaping business. Her vehicle was stolen, Kloepper said.

Investigators put out an alert for the vehicle. It was found later in Birmingham. Police were then able to identify Hill as a suspect due to someone stating that they saw her in Nash’s stolen vehicle, Kloepper testified.

Police arrested and charged Hill in Birmingham and interviewed her before bringing her back to Lee County, where she gave a second statement to police, Kloepper testified.

The investigation

Hill told investigators that she met Hightower in Columbus. Kloepper said he was unsure of the pair’s relationship.

The pair was traveling from Columbus to Birmingham on April 17. Hill said that while they were traveling to Birmingham on Highway 280 East, they turned into the driveway of Creative Habitats and got their truck stuck, Kloepper testified.

Hill then went and walked down 280 and knocked on a door to get someone to help get their truck unstuck, but no one answered. When she returned, Hightower was trying to get the truck unstuck, Kloepper said.

After failing to get the truck out, the pair walked down the driveway to the office at Creative Habitats. Hill said Hightower asked Nash — an employee of the landscaping business — to use a phone charged and told her that their truck was stuck in what he thought was mud. Nash informed him that it wasn’t mud, it was mulch, Kloepper testified.

Nash then called her boss, who lived on the property, to get help with the vehicle.

Hill said Hightower then produced a gun and said to Nash, “You know what this is.” Nash responded by asking if he was joking. Hightower then told her to get naked, Kloepper testified.

Nash then walked away and that’s when Hightower fired gunshots, according to testimony. Hill said she thought Nash was hit by a bullet in the back of her leg due to the way she stumbled, testified Kloepper.

A glass door was then shattered by what Hill thought was either Nash trying to run through it or additional gunshots. Hightower proceeded to chase Nash out of the building, Kloepper said.

Hill told investigators that she heard gunshots also outside while she remained inside the office building, Kloepper added.

When Hightower returned he hold Hill that Nash told him that the keys to her vehicle were in her lunch bag. Hightower also grabbed a black box and monitor because they were recording devices, Kloepper testified.

In all, a monitor, DVR, red bag with medical supplies and keys to Nash’s car were taken from Creative Habitats, Kloepper said.

Police were later able to recover the black box because Hill told them where it was located. It was found at the bottom of a dumpster behind a motel in Birmingham, Kloepper testified.

The pair took the stolen items to Nash’s truck and put them in the truck bed. They also found a pistol in Nash’s car, according to testimony.

Hill told investigators that Hightower said they needed to hide the body. He pulled Nash’s body to a wooded area and then told Hill to “finish her,” Kloepper testified.

Hill said she grabbed the pistol and went to Nash. She said she fired three shots, but aimed above Nash on purpose, testified Kloepper.

Once Hill returned, the two went to their stuck truck and Hightower set it on fire. The two then left the scene in Nash’s vehicle, Kloepper said.

Dadeville murders

Hightower is also facing several charges in Birmingham, including capital murder and attempted murder, according to previous reports.

He is also a suspect in a double-murder investigation in Dadeville, which also occurred April 17, say previous reports.

Willie Tidwell and Barbara Tidwell were found suffering from gunshot wounds in the 200 block of North Barrett Street at about 7:30 p.m. on April 17, according to previous reports.

No charges have yet been filed in the Dadeville case, according to court records.

Andrew Stanley and Elijah Beaver represent Hill. Stanley did not speak to reporters after Monday’s hearing.

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