Court hears grisly details in double homicide

Published 12:05 am Friday, June 12, 2015

Azotea web

Those present in Carter County’s General Sessions court yesterday heard the grisly account of the murder and dismemberment of a Sullivan County couple, as detailed in written statements by the accused killer, Eric James Azotea.

Azotea, 43, was arrested April 22 and charged with two counts of first degree murder, two counts of abuse of a corpse and one count of tampering with or fabricating evidence. During the initial interview, Azotea confessed to murdering Art Gibson and Amber Terrell, moving their vehicle to Big Springs Road and then dismembering and burning their bodies at his home.

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District Attorney General Tony Clark said he plans to seek the death penalty if the grand jury returns an indictment.

Tennessee Bureau of Investigation Special Agent Brian Fraley read two statements made by Azotea during a preliminary hearing Thursday afternoon. Both statements were read into the record because officers found the first statement from Azotea was false.

Both statements detailed how Gibson and Terrell were killed and how the bodies were dismembered, burned and then disposed of.

In the statements, Azotea admitted to buying methamphetamine from Gibson. He said the couple, Gibson and Terrell, visited his home on Jan. 7 at 135 Woodland Drive in the Pinecrest community of Carter County.

According to Azotea’s statement, he agreed to provide information on the murders, along with the details of how the two were killed and the location of the bodies, provided that his fiance, Kristen Erica Jones, would be given immunity from charges in the case. Fraley said the immunity was not offered by the State at first, but had been brought up by Azotea and was his main concern.

In Azotea’s first three-page statement, which Fraley read, Azotea said the couple had called and planned to come over to return tools Gibson had borrowed. When the couple arrived at the home, he said he noticed Terrell had a gun, so he punched her in the head and she then fell in the yard.

After that, Azotea said, he stabbed Gibson in the chest, at which point Terrell fired the gun at him and he then stabbed her in the chest. He said he then took the couple’s bodies to his workshop, wrapped them in plastic and cut them into pieces with a reciprocating saw over the next two to three days, later burning the body pieces and disposing of the remaining bones.

Azotea wrote he then used a coal chisel to punch the couple’s vehicle ignition before moving it to Big Springs Road, and having Jones drive him back home. While riding with her on Smalling Road, he said he disposed of the gun by throwing it out of the vehicle window. He noted that Jones didn’t know what he was doing and didn’t ask any questions.

After getting the statement, Fraley said officers returned to the home but noticed that the evidence did not match what they had been told.

“I knew what he told us was a lie,” Fraley said.

On April 23, Fraley returned to the Sheriff’s Department to re-question Azotea. He said he reminded him the immunity agreement only remained in place if he was truthful during the investigation. At this time, Azotea gave another statement, this one five pages long, and provided a sketch which showed where to find the couple’s remains.

In his second Azotea said Gibson and Terrell came to his home on Jan. 7. They all went inside to get a drink and then went out to his workshop, where Azotea said he noticed Gibson began to act “strange, as if he was high.”

He went on to say Terrell showed him a gun and how it worked. Azotea wrote he began to feel “uneasy” so he punched Terrell and then stabbed Gibson in the arm with a knife. He then got the gun from Terrell and shot her in the chest and, as she turned to jump off the porch, he shot her again in the back and she fell in the yard. He wrote he then turned and shot Gibson in the chest where he stood in the workshop’s doorway.

After that, Azotea said he moved Gibson’s body out of the way and brought Terrell inside and wrapped her in plastic. He then brought Gibson’s body inside and wrapped him in plastic as well.

It was then Jones returned home and asked him about the couple’s car in the driveway. Azotea wrote he told her that they had showed up and tried to “hurt us” and that he stabbed Gibson and he ran away. Azotea said he then moved the car to where it was found and had Jones drive them home. He said Jones was worried the couple would return during the night but he convinced her it was OK.

The next morning, Azotea wrote he stayed home from work and spent the day cutting up the bodies and burning the pieces in a firepit outside his home. He quit when Jones came home for the night, he said, and the next day, he said he couldn’t keep going, so he buried the remaining pieces — Terrell’s torso and Gibson’s head — in the crawlspace under his home.

According to his statement, Azotea took some of the couple’s belongings and disposed of them at a convenience store dumpster and then spent the rest of the day cleaning up. Finding some bone pieces in his firepit, he said he used a rake and his boot to grind the pieces into powder.

After receiving the second written statement, officers returned to the home and were able to go directly to the spot where the remains had been buried. Bullet casings were also found at the home.

Fraley told the court how investigators used geolocation technology to track a phone used by the couple to Azotea’s house. According to Fraley, the phone was used for the last time on Jan. 7 at 7:33 p.m. at 135 Woodland Drive.

General Sessions Judge Keith Bowers bound the case over to the Carter County Grand Jury. Azotea is scheduled to appear in Carter County Criminal Court on July 30.