Local News

Cole Thomas case 'is a homicide investigation'

Posted January 10, 2018 9:10 a.m. EST
Updated July 13, 2018 11:15 a.m. EDT

— Family and friends of Christopher Cole Thomas were in court Wednesday as two of the four men linked to his 2016 disappearance asked for a reduction in their bond.

Thomas, 22, was on his way from Minnesota to Florida for Thanksgiving when he was reported missing on Nov. 25, 2016. Friends said he pulled off Interstate 95, got out of the car near North Elm and East Morgan streets in Benson and disappeared.

One month later, investigators learned that Thomas had been involved in a drug deal before his disappearance. The two men who were with Thomas confirmed to authorities that they had purchased methamphetamine from an acquaintance. After the deal, they said, Thomas became paranoid and started driving erratically before he stopped the car in Benson and ran off.

Thomas is presumed dead, but authorities have never said if his body has been found.

Almost a year after his disappearances, authorities charged Julian Valles Jr., of Dudley, Anthony Ridell James Jr., of Mt. Olive, and Rudolfo DeLeon Jr, of Mount Olive, with felony concealment of a death. Valles and James also face charges of obstruction of justice.

"There are just so many emotions. You feel anger, disappointment sometimes. Our main focus is finding Cole," said Gwyn Herrington, Thomas' grandmother. "We want Cole home. We want closure."

All of Thomas' friends and family in the courtroom echoed that sentiment.

"They're all devastated. Just like we are about losing Cole," Herrington said.

Valles was being held under $750,000 secured bond, DeLeon under $750,000 secured bond and James under $200,000 secured bond.

DeLeon was first to appear. According to prosecutors, Thomas was last seen getting into his car.

DeLeon's attorney, pointing out that he had spent as much time in custody as the maximum possible sentence for his single charge, asked to have his bond reduced to $10,000.

While the judge expressed concern about holding DeLeon indefinitely, he was convinced by the prosecution that DeLeon might be a flight risk and reduced his bond only by $250,000, to $500,000.

The prosecutor, in making a case to keep DeLeon in custody, pointed out that although DeLeon is only charged with felony concealment of a death, additional charges are possible.

"This investigation is a homicide investigation," she said. But, pressed by the judge able when homicide charges would be forthcoming, she was unable to answer.

In asking for a bond reduction, James' attorney said, "He is scared to death" after threats from co-defendants.

The prosecution agreed that James was in danger, but said he'd be at a greater risk if he were freed. The judge didn't change his $200,000 secured bond but promised to review it again in two weeks.

A fourth man, Jeremy Carpenter, who was arrested in Minnesota and linked to Thomas' appearance, appeared in the Johnston County courtroom Wednesday, and his lawyer asked for more time to review the evidence against him. Carpenter's bond is set at $500,000 secured.