The theft of something that is so commonly traded in, dropped and lost today led to a horrific crime back then. Four lives were lost, two people were severely wounded, and three people went to prison.The four victims of the “Cell Phone Murders”
“It was protracted and heartless,” Madison County District Attorney Rob Broussard said. “The problem with this crime — there’s a problem with every crime — but with this one, it was a protracted, kinda psychological torture on the young folks in the room.”
HUNTSVILLE, Ala. – Today everyone has a cell phone. But in 1996, there were more expensive and less common.
Court documents lay out the graphic details of what happened that night, a night etched in the memories of so many.
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“I’ve been a part of a lot of different homicides in town since ’94, ’93, and that was the worst one, even today,” said Madison County Sheriff Kevin Turner. “That’s the worst one I’ve been a part of.”
Michelle Hayden and Ashley Rutherford, who were engaged at the time, lived in a house with Rutherford’s aunt. Joseph Wilson, Nicholas Acklin, and Corey Johnson visited the house, acting like they were interested in buying some marijuana. After seeing the drugs, the three men left.
September 18, 1996
Corey Johnson came back later though asking to see the marijuana again, grabbed it, and left.
Corey Johnson, during his prison sentence (Photo: Alabama Department of Corrections)
After Johnson was gone, Lamar Hemphill, who was visiting Rutherford at the time, realized his cell phone was missing. Hemphill called the phone, and Joey Wilson answered.
Hemphill filed a complaint with the sheriff’s department, alleging that Wilson stole his cell phone. A few days later, Wilson learned of the complaint. September 25, 1996, 10 p.m.
It was late on a Wednesday night. Michelle Hayden, Lamar Hemphill, and Brian Carter were watching TV at Ashley Rutherford’s house. Rutherford was at work. Michael Skirchak and Johnny Couch, who were on their way to pick up a friend, Michael Beaudette, stopped to visit them.
Door leading into the Rutherford home.
It was around 10 p.m. when Joey Wilson, Nick Acklin, and Corey Johnson arrived at the home. Wilson started asking who had filed a warrant against him for taking a cell phone. Hemphill said he didn’t know anything about a warrant, saying he only filed a complaint.
Michael Beaudette arrived later and was instructed to empty his pockets. Inside the Rutherford home.
Acklin, Wilson, and Johnson were all armed with pistols.
At one point, Johnson held Couch up by his hair, while Joey Wilson cut it. Wilson also stomped Couch while he was laying on the floor. Johnson began slapping Hemphill, Couch, Carter, and Skirchak. Using the bottom of a Jack Daniel’s whiskey bottle, Johnson hit Hemphill in the head and Carter in the mouth. He then grabbed Couch by his hair, which was long, using it as leverage to slam his head into a dresser several times.