In June 2019, Thomas Mack Arnold stood before a Criminal Court judge Gary McKenzie during a probation violation hearing and declared, “I am 100% positive I will change,” if given another chance.

Arnold Sr., 38, didn’t sway the judge who revoked his probation. State and local investigators said he didn’t change his ways. Monday, just over a year after that hearing Arnold was back in court.

Following a preliminary hearing during which two witnesses — including a stepson — testified, Arnold’s first-degree murder charge was bound over to action of the grand jury.

An indictment is not a finding of guilt, but a review of pending charges by a citizen panel called the grand jury that decides if there is enough evidence to forward the charge to a higher court for further action.

In a preliminary hearing the standard of proof has a low threshold and the state is not required to present all of its proof during those hearings. The prosecutor’s goal is to present just enough evidence to prove the case should be reviewed by the grand jury.

If a true bill — or indictment — is handed down, Arnold will face arraignment in Cumberland County Criminal Court on Jan. 15.

Arnold is accused of the Sept. 27 shooting of Billy Ray Jones, 63, of 25 Christian Rd. The scene is located southwest of Crossville off Brewer Rd.

Assistant District Attorney Phillip Hatch called Tennessee Bureau of Investigation Special Agent Luke Webb who testified he found the victim lying on a sofa in the front room of a mobile home, shot once in the chest. Shotgun wading was found by the victim and Webb said there was also a hole through the wall that struck close to the front door.

Webb said it was his belief the shot was fired from a kitchen into the living room and he believes Jones was either standing and sitting on the sofa when shot.

During the resulting investigation, Arnold was developed as a suspect and he was later taken into custody by Crisp County (Georgia) sheriff’s deputies near Cordell, GA. Webb said he drove the five and one-half hours to Cordell to pick up the suspect.

While in Georgia, Webb testified he viewed a video taken when Georgia authorities talked to Arnold. He quoted Arnold as tell the officers, “It was self-defense. I know I shouldn’t have run. I’m sorry.” Arnold also said two persons who were with him at the Christian Rd. residence “know nothing about it” and had nothing to do with the incident.

Under cross examination from Assistant Public Defender Lara Dykes, Webb testified he received the call of the shooting at 6:22 p.m. and was not told anything about it happening between 2-3 p.m.

Ten to 12 vehicles were parked at the scene and several people were inside or outside the residence when the shooting took place. Testimony showed a number of people lived at or would spend days at the residence.

Some persons present were identified only by first name while others by full name.

Dykes asked if the residence was known in the community as a “drug house and chop shop,” and Webb testified he had been told that information.

No drugs were found at the residence when investigators later executed a search warrant on several vehicles and the house.

Webb also testified under questioning from Dykes that a knife was found on a floor air vent not far from the sofa.

Webb also testified that Mike Jones, brother of the victim, testified that a masked man ran into the house, shot the victim and then ran out of the house.

Webb also agreed with the defense attorney that someone had used the victim’s credit cards. The TBI agent was also aware that money had been withdrawn from the victim’s bank account but had not been told anyone had “drained his bank account” since the shooting.

Also testifying was Branson Eldridge, stepson of Billy Jones. He testified he was in his Jeep outside the residence when Amy Arnold and the suspect arrived at the residence.

Eldridge said he watched as Arnold, with backpack strapped on, exited the vehicle and went into the house. He stayed outside talking to Amy Arnold. Eldridge said he heard voices coming from the open front door followed by a shot.

He said Arnold then exited the residence with backpack still on and told him to leave and go to “Josh’s house.”

During the hearing he testified that Arnold was inside the residence for “ten to 15 minutes,” but on the night of the shooting, he gave a statement that said Arnold was inside the trailer for “two to three minutes.”

Eldridge said he did not see a mask or a shotgun and neither have been recovered.

Eldridge testified on the night of the shooting he was questioned for two to three hours and at one point he told investigators he was upset “and this is not the time to talk about it.”

Eldridge claimed investigators told him pending charges of reckless endangerment, possession of a Schedule I drug, failure to exercise due care, no proof of insurance and registration and license violation charges he was arrested for on Oct. 17 “would all go away” if he helped investigators.

Hatch asked Eldridge before he testified if he had not talked with the state prosecutor prior to his testimony and had been told to “just tell the truth,” and Eldridge said yes.

General Sessions Judge Larry Warner then ruled there was enough evidence to send the case to the grand jury.

Dykes then addressed the court on lowering the $1 million bond that Arnold has been unable to make.

“The evidence does not support that kind of bond,” Dykes said. “I am asking that it drastically be reduced.”

Hatch countered that the charge was a homicide case from which Arnold fled the scene to another state.

Warner ruled that bond would remain the same.


Michael Moser may be reached at mmoser@crossville-chronicle.com

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