Defendant in death of TikTok star’s son called victim 2 minutes before shooting, Prichard officer testifies

Published: Oct. 3, 2022 at 12:27 PM CDT
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MOBILE, Ala. (WALA) - Two minutes before a Saraland man died from a gunshot wound this summer, defendant Reuben Thomas Gulley called him, according to testimony at a preliminary hearing Monday.

It was the last of several calls on June 24. Prichard police Detective Jason Hadaway testified that victim Randon Lee’s girlfriend told investigators that her boyfriend had sold marijuana to Gulley in the past and had set up another drug deal that day. Another witness told investigators that he and Lee had communicated over Snapchat and that Lee asked if it was OK to sell marijuana to Gulley.

Based on the testimony, Mobile County Circuit Judge Spiro Cheriogotis ruled prosecutors presented sufficient evidence to send the case to a grand jury. He also revoked Gulley’s bond on a pair of earlier, unrelated drug charges.

The case has drawn widespread attention because Lee’s mother, Ophelia Nichols, is a TikTok influencer with a large online following.

Beyond the phone calls. prosecutors appear to have little evidence tying the 20-year-old Saraland man to the scene. Surveillance video from the First Stop gas station on St. Stephens Road shows a black Toyota Camry pulling up to a gas pump around 7:30 p.m. A passenger wearing a red hoodie steps out of the car and immediately gets back in. Lee then pulls up in a silver car to the pump on the opposite side.

The man in the hoodie gets back out and appears to conceal a silver gun, waiting for other cars to leave and then walks over to the 18-year-old victim’s car. He gets in the back seat and then about 22 seconds later gets out and goes back to the Camry.

What happened inside is obscured, but Lee drives across the street, coming to a stop near a Dumpster at the Energize gas station. He died from a gunshot wound. Mobile County Assistant District Attorney Lauren Walsh said outside the courtroom that investigators believe Gulley is the man in the red hoodie.

“We do believe he is the shooter at this point, but even if he was the driver, he would be just as guilty under accomplice liability,” she said.

But Hadaway acknowledged under cross-examination that he cannot be certain Gulley was the shooter.

“How do you know he was not the driver?” defense attorney Chase Dearman asked.

The detective responded, “I do not know he was not driving.”

Hadaway also acknowledged that police had not talked to any witnesses who identified Gulley as the shooter and did not recover shell casings from Lee’s car, a murder weapon, fingerprints or DNA.

“Literally, the only evidence tying Reuben Gulley to this murder is that he made a phone call to the victim who was selling marijuana a few minutes before and had talked to him earlier that day,” Dearman said after Monday’s hearing. “There’s not a single living witness, and the police stated that they cannot put a single person – they cannot put Reuben Gulley on that scene. They do not know he was ever there. They don’t know if he was ever in the car.”

Walsh said the case is stronger than Dearman contends.

“I disagree with that characterization,” she said. “Circumstantial evidence cases are strong. They’re just as strong as direct evidence cases. And in this case, there were multiple calls between the victim and the defendant, as well as many communications about where they were meeting up and how that lines up with the time of the shooting and the video.”

Walsh said it is unclear why a drug transaction escalated so quickly.

“As far as motive, we don’t have that as this point,” she said. “But we do know that this was going to be a marijuana deal.”

Dearman said even if his client as driving the car – a fact he did not concede – prosecutors would have to prove the defendant was in on a plan to commit a crime.

“I don’t know what happened there that day, but the driver of that Camry could have given somebody a ride/ We don’t know who shot or who was there and Mr. Gulley maintains he is 100 percent innocent of this and did not murder anybody.”

Gulley’s previous arrest in April was related to two charges, first-degree possession of marijuana and possession of codeine. Walsh argued the new arrest made him ineligible for bond.

“It only took him two months to disregard the conditions of bond,” he said.

The drug cases currently are awaiting action by a grand jury. Dearman said outside the courtroom that he intends to try to resolve them through a guilty plea. That would make him eligible for bail on the murder charge, he said.

Cheriogotis said from the bench that he prefers treatment and intervention on minor drug cases.

“That’s usually the best option,” he said. “Where I see something escalate to this level … I think the earlier drug cases take a different tone.”

The judge said he, like the rest of the county, is “sick and tired of seeing people die over drugs.”

Cheriogots said there are many murders that begin over a small amount of marijuana.

“It just shocks me very time I hear it.,” he said.

Walsh said the murder investigation is ongoing and that police are trying to determine who else was in the Camry. Gulley chose not to talk to investigators, Hadaway testified.


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