Azotea arraigned on two counts of murder

Published 12:01 am Saturday, April 25, 2015

Eric Azotea

Eric Azotea

A Carter County man charged with the murder of a Sullivan County couple made his first appearance in court Friday.

Eric James Azotea, 43, of 135 Woodland Drive, Johnson City, was arraigned in Carter County General Sessions Court on charges of two counts of first degree murder, two counts of abuse of a corpse and one count of tampering with or fabricating evidence.

Judge Keith Bowers appointed attorney Steve Finney to represent Azotea and scheduled the next court appearance for Wednesday.

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Carter County Sheriff’s Department Deputy Chief Investigator Mike Little arrested Azotea Wednesday afternoon after a four-month investigation into the disappearance of Arthur Gibson Jr. and his girlfriend, Amber Terrell, both of Kingsport. Investigators interviewed Azotea Wednesday, and he confessed to killing the couple, dismembering their bodies, then attempting to burn their remains, Little said.

Forensic scientists from the University of Tennessee’s Forensic Anthropology Center, commonly called “The Body Farm,” were called to Azotea’s home on Woodland Drive Thursday afternoon to help with the recovery of the bodies, Carter County Sheriff Dexter Lunceford said.

“We have reason to believe the bodies are under the house,” he said, adding that while some fragments of what appeared to be bone had been discovered at the scene, forensic testing would have to be completed to determine whether the bone fragments were human and whether they belonged to Gibson or Terrell.

During the investigation into the disappearance of Gibson and Terrell, police learned Gibson was involved with selling drugs and Azotea allegedly owed Gibson money for narcotics he had purchased, Little said. That alleged drug debt may have been the motivation behind the crime, Lunceford said.

Officers began investigating Gibson and Terrell’s disappearance in mid-January after family members reported them missing. The couple were last seen Jan. 7. Family members told police the couple had gone to visit a relative in Carter County.

The couple’s car, a 1999 Ford Escort, was found abandoned off Big Springs Road in Carter County Jan. 12, but a multi-agency search of the area revealed no signs of the couple, Lunceford said.

Because the couple were reported missing in Sullivan County and the vehicle was found in Carter County, the Carter County Sheriff’s Department, Sullivan County Sheriff’s Office and Tennessee Bureau of Investigation launched a joint investigation.

Azotea’s arrest Wednesday was not his first.

In 2000, Azotea was convicted of three counts of bank robbery and a weapons charge in federal court and sentenced to 168 months (14 years) on that case. He was also convicted of carjacking, hindering a secured creditor and failure to appear in Washington County Criminal Court and was sentenced to 10 years on those charged with the Washington County sentence to be served consecutively to the federal sentence. Azotea is currently on probation through the Tennessee Department of Corrections due to the Washington County convictions said TDOC Public Information Officer Alison Randgaard.