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3 soldiers plead not guilty in fatal attack on another
The 23-year-old man who allegedly stabbed another soldier to death in an unprovoked attack was charged with first-degree murder on Tuesday and is being held in lieu of $2 million bail.
Seattle Times staff reporter
TACOMA — Police and prosecutors say no one really knows why Army Spc. Tevin Geike, 20, was fatally stabbed during a roadside encounter while he was out with friends early Saturday morning.
The primary suspect, fellow soldier Jeremiah DeShaun Hill, 23, isn’t talking and the people he was with told police they were shocked by what happened, Pierce County Prosecuting Attorney Mark Lindquist said.
Friends who were with Geike at the time of his slaying were mystified, too, police and prosecutors said.
The two groups had not seen each other before that night, though all were soldiers stationed at Joint Base Lewis-McChord. The stabbing happened just as a confrontation between the two groups was breaking up.
On Tuesday, Hill was charged with first-degree murder and made his first appearance in Pierce County Superior Court, where he pleaded not guilty.
Court Commissioner Meagan Foley set his bail at $2 million at the request of prosecutors.
Two of his friends, Ajoni Runnion-Bareford, 21, and Cedarium L. Johnson, 21, were charged with first-degree rendering criminal assistance for allegedly helping Hill dispose of the knife used to stab Geike and attempting to clean blood out of the car.
Bail for Runnion-Bareford was set at $250,000.
Johnson, whose mother flew up from Dallas to be at the hearing and had hired a private attorney, was released on personal recognizance and ordered restricted to Joint Base Lewis-McChord.
Johnson’s attorney argued that he had no previous criminal history and did not participate in the crime.
“He wasn’t driving the car. He didn’t dispose of the weapon. He didn’t help Hill back to the car,” said Michael Schwartz.
The hearing became emotional when Foley ruled that Johnson would be released. Johnson cried, his mother shook, cried and prayed, saying, “Thank you, Jesus” in the courtroom. Across the aisle, friends of Geike yelled: “What?” and “No!” and clung to each other and sobbed.
“I don’t care that he didn't have anything directly to do with it,” said Kimberly Turnipseed, who said Geike hung out with her daughter and was like one of her own children. “He didn’t stay behind and he didn’t call the cops.”
Geike was walking with two friends in the 12500 block of Pacific Avenue Southwest around 2:30 a.m. Saturday when the car with Hill, Runnion-Bareford, Johnson and two other men drove by, according to the affidavit of probable cause outlining the police case.
One of the men in the car allegedly yelled something “hateful” out the window, police said.
The comment was originally reported to have been an “unspecified racial slur,” but the victim’s friends were unable to remember the exact words used, according to Pierce County Prosecuting Attorney Mark Lindquist.
One of Geike’s friends yelled back something about disrespecting combat veterans, and the car with Hill and his friends pulled over, according to the affidavit.
Hill and three of his friends got out of the car, the affidavit alleges.
“When the participants learned that both the walkers and the men in the car were soldiers, some of the men in the sedan backed away and it appeared the incident was over,” the affidavit says.
The riders started getting back in the car, police and prosecutors say, when Hill suddenly grabbed Geike in a bear hug before throwing him to the ground, the affidavit says.
While Geike’s friends realized that he had been stabbed, Hill got in the car and the group drove away, the affidavit says.
Geike died at the scene. An autopsy revealed he had suffered two stab wounds, a superficial wound to the side and a second wound that pierced his heart, the affidavit said.
Investigators were led to Hill when they learned from an Army medic who said he bandaged a significant wound on Hill’s hand over the weekend that it was reported by Hill to have been sustained “when he stabbed someone to death,” the affidavit says.
Military personnel tracked down Hill’s known comrades and identified the five people in the car, according to the affidavit. Eventually, all but Hill told the same story, the affidavit said.
According to initial reports, Lakewood police said the slaying may have been racially motivated and possibly a hate crime. Geike was white, as are his friends. The suspects and their friends are black and Hispanic, police said.
Lindquist, the prosecuting attorney, said detectives have talked at length with Geike’s friends but have been unable to determine a motive. The victim’s friends specifically said they could not remember what insulting words were hurled at the beginning of the encounter or whether they were racist in nature.
Furthermore, according to Lindquist, none of the men present heard the issue of race come up after the initial insult and none felt it was a factor in the attack.
Lakewood Police Lt. Chris Lawler said the men who were with Hill told police they were surprised their companion attacked Geike, and they did not know why he did it.
Lindquist said that in order to prosecute the crime as malicious harassment, the state’s hate-crime statute, there would have to be evidence to show the defendant intentionally committed the crime because of the victim’s race, color, religion, gender or sexual orientation.
“We are prosecuting this case as aggressively as we can under the facts,” said Lindquist. “If there were a hate crime here, we would charge it as a hate crime, but there isn’t.”
Runnion-Bareford was charged with first-degree rendering criminal assistance for allegedly throwing the knife out of the car window and parking his car off base and attempting to clean the blood from it, prosecutors allege.
Johnson was charged with first-degree rendering criminal assistance for allegedly directing the driver to a remote area of the Tillicum neighborhood and telling Runnion-Bareford to dispose of the knife, according to the affidavit.
Police later found the knife believed used in the slaying.
Christine Clarridge can be reached at 206-464-8983 or firstname.lastname@example.org