Johnathan Anthony, 18, Kemonta Bonds, 21, and Antonio Pass, 19, all of Mableton, and Jekari Strozier, 20, of Austell, were charged with malice murder, six counts of felony murder, aggravated assault and aggravated battery in the beating death of Joshua Chellew, 36.
The case caught the attention of conservative media pundits such as Rush Limbaugh, who cited it as a possibly racially motivated killing of a white man by four black youths and questioned why it didn’t get national media attention at a time when the George Zimmerman trial was getting nonstop national coverage with heavy racial overtones.
Jesse Evans, the deputy chief assistant district attorney who is prosecuting the case, said he was not surprised the grand jury approved all the initial charges based on the evidence.
Prosecutors believe Chellew was beaten and stomped on during the early morning of June 30 at a Chevron station at 6211 Mableton Parkway, a mile south of Veterans Memorial Highway.
Chellew then ran into the five-lane highway in an attempt to escape, was allegedly knocked unconscious by the group of young men and was later hit by a car, according to arrest warrants
The grand jury also indicted the suspects on four counts for violating the Street Gang Terrorism and Prevention Act. Prosecutors have said the men are members of the Re-Up group and that social media websites like Twitter had photos associating them with the group.
If convicted of all charges, the four defendants could each be sentenced to life in prison, but the death penalty is not an option, according to Cobb District Attorney Vic Reynolds.
Reynolds said the death penalty is only for certain aggravated circumstances, like an armed robbery resulting in a death or the killing of multiple people.
A goal of the District Attorney’s office is to push the state Legislature to have any gang-related activity resulting in a murder to be punishable by the death penalty, Reynolds said.
All four of the suspects have been held without bond at Cobb County jail since July 2.
There will be an arraignment, where the defendants will have a chance to enter their pleas, within the next two or three weeks, Evans said.
Evans said he is ready to move forward, but because there are multiple co-defendants, it is hard to predict when the case will go to trial.
Facts of the case as reported
The men are accused of starting a fight with Chellew in the parking lot of the Chevron station at about 1:20 a.m., punching, hitting and kicking him.
As Chellew attempted to escape, he backed into the center of the nearby five-lane highway, but the teenagers reportedly continued to push him to the ground where he was beaten until he was unconscious, according to arrest warrants.
Chellew was hit by a driver on Mableton Parkway who originally fled the scene, according to police, but later turned himself in. He was not charged because the hit-and-run was ruled an accident.
Witnesses on the scene told police that “at no time did (the four teens) attempt to aid (Chellew), or to stop the approaching vehicle,” the warrant states.
After Chellew was struck by the passing car, the four young men reportedly walked away, “leaving him helpless.”