Investigators believe a man used a drive-by shooting, a murder and the torching of a vehicle with his victim inside to cover his crimes in an attempt to silence his co-conspirators before his trial on a 2017 murder in Paulding County.

County sheriff’s detectives and agents charged Carlos Fredrico Hightower, 28, on Thursday, Sept. 19, in relation to the murder of a Rockmart man found shot to death in a burning vehicle in west Paulding Aug. 26.

“As this investigation unfolds, detectives and agents are discovering a very tangled web of criminal activity with some of the individuals involved in these cases,” said Sgt. Ashley Henson of the Paulding County Sheriff’s Office..

“Although Hightower has not been cooperative throughout the course of this investigation, detectives and agents believe that he was trying to silence and/or kill the co-conspirators” from the 2017 murder of Ronald Chadwick Morgan on Holly Springs Road in Paulding County, Henson said.

The charges against Hightower include two counts of murder, arson and numerous others crimes.

Investigators believe Hightower and Austin James Nicholson, 24, participated in a drive-by shooting Aug. 25 at about 11:28 p.m. at a residence at 378 Winding Valley Drive in Rockmart in west Paulding County.

No one was injured inside the Winding Valley Road home, which was the former residence of Magan Darleen Carroll who was a co-conspirator in the 2017 murder of Morgan, Henson said.

Then, about an hour and 20 minutes later at 12:48 a.m. investigators were called to a vehicle on fire at 2172 Vinson Mountain Crossing in Rockmart in Paulding County. Paulding Fire/Rescue personnel responding to the scene eventually discovered that a badly burned body was inside.

The GBI later determined the body to be Nicholson and he had been shot prior to the car being set on fire, Henson said.

Deputies and probation officers arrested Hightower later the same day on Aug. 26 on a Probation Violation warrant, Henson said.

“Hightower was booked into the Paulding County Jail and held on his probation violation charge until he was officially charged with the aforementioned offenses” on Thursday, Sept. 19, Henson said.

Detectives and Agents believe that Hightower and Nicholson went to Carroll’s residence and conducted the drive-by shooting in an effort to keep her quiet about the upcoming 2017 murder trial.

Detectives and Agents also believe that a short time later, Hightower shot Nicholson and then burned his vehicle to hide any evidence of either crime, Henson said.

Hightower’s girlfriend, Akeyla Xemaja “KeKe” Philpot, 23, was arrested on Sept. 12 and charged with murder, arson and other charges for her role in assisting Hightower in this case, Henson said.

Detectives and agents want to encourage anyone who may have additional information in these cases to please call the Paulding County Sheriff’s Office Criminal Investigations Division at (770) 443-3015 or Crime Stoppers Atlanta at (404) 577-TIPS (7477), he said.

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