The accused murderer of a man in west Paulding County in late August had been released from prison only four months earlier and was facing an upcoming trial on a murder charge from 2017, a sheriff’s office spokesman said.

Carlos Fredrico Hightower, 28, of Rockmart, is accused of participating with Austin James Nicholson, 24, in a drive-by shooting at a west Paulding house Aug. 25 before allegedly shooting and killing Nicholson and leaving his body inside a burning vehicle.

Investigators believe all the incidents were connected to the Jan. 20, 2017, murder of Ronald Chadwick Morgan, 31.

Paulding sheriff’s detectives determined Morgan had been shot to death while riding a motorcycle on Holly Springs Road in west Paulding County, said Sgt. Ashley Henson of the Paulding County Sheriff’s Office.

Hightower, Nicholson and Carroll were arrested the next day and charged in connection with Morgan’s murder.

“It is believed that the murder was the result of some type of dispute over property,” Henson said.

Nicholson and Carroll were released from the Paulding County Jail on bond Feb. 11, 2017. Hightower, however, also had been charged with violating probation and remained in jail before ultimately going to prison, Henson said.

“Prior to Hightower begin transferred back to prison, he posted bond on the 2017 murder charges but was never released from custody,” Henson said.

Hightower was released from prison on April 6, 2019, but still had not gone to trial on the 2017 murder charge, Henson said..

He and Nicholson then allegedly participated in a drive-by shooting that was planned to keep another alleged co-conspirator, Magan Darleen Carroll, 24, quiet before Hightower’s trial on the murder charge.

Carroll no longer lived at the residence on Winding Valley Drive in the Country Walk Subdivision in west Paulding and none of the current residents were injured, Henson said.

Hightower is accused of then shooting and killing Nicholson about 80 minutes later and setting a vehicle on fire with the victim’s body inside on Vinson Mountain Crossing near the Polk County line — all in an effort to cover his crimes, Henson said.

Deputies and probation officers arrested Hightower on Aug. 26 on a warrant alleging a violation of probation. Hightower was booked into the Paulding County Jail and held on his probation violation charge until he was officially charged for the Aug. 25-26 crimes on Thursday, Sept. 19, Henson said.

The charges included Malice Murder, Murder, and Arson in the First Degree; two counts of Influencing Witnesses, Possession of a Firearm by a Convicted Felon and Possession of a Firearm During the Commission of a Crime; five counts of Aggravated Assault; and Criminal Damage to Property.

Paulding County Jail records showed Hightower had numerous arrests on charges going back 12 years to 2007.

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