Homicide suspects caught

Published 12:00 am Friday, September 21, 2012

Derrick Dewayne Walton, 18

Marcus Ledrey Thomas, 19

Sheriff: gunman has confessed to ambush at store

By Billy Davis

(Editor’s note: Initial information provided to The Panolian mixed up the alleged roles of alleged gunman Derrick Walton and alleged accomplice Marcus Thomas in the print edition of The Panolian. The names have been corrected in the story below. A correction will be published in the September 25 print edition of The Panolian)

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Panola Sheriff Dennis Darby said Thursday that around-the-clock investigative work led authorities to the killer of a convenience store owner in Sardis.  

Authorities allege Derrick Dewayne Walton, 18, pulled the trigger on a .380 automatic and instantly took the life of Tareq Abu-Athiah, 35, outside Sama Quick Stop on Hwy. 51.

A second suspect, Marcus Ledrey Thomas, 19, was also on the scene of the murder, authorities claim.

Both Walton and Thomas are from Sardis. Both are charged with capital murder.

“They killed him for a few hundred dollars in his pocket,” said Darby, explaining that one of the suspects knew the store owner carried away a wad of cash at night.

Video surveillance at the store shows Abu-Athiah closing the store for the night at about 11:40 p.m. Monday when an assailant brandishing a small handgun ambushes him from behind.

A second store employee, who was not identified, was shot repeatedly and taken to The Med.

“We believe the shooter ran out of bullets or the employee would be dead, too,” Darby said.

The sheriff said the video footage shows Walton pointing his now-empty gun at the wounded employee while a second suspect, believed to be Thomas, can be seen rifling through Abu-Athiah’s pockets for the cash.  

The second suspect is barely visible in the video but his tennis shoes can be seen near the body, the sheriff said.

Blood spatter recovered from Thomas’s tennis shoes confirmed he is the second suspect in the video, Darby said.

District Attorney John Champion released a still shot of the gunman Monday and asked the public to help them locate him.

The gunman had his face wrapped with a shirt or bandana in the video but he was still recognized by others because of a jacket he was wearing, said Darby.

The sheriff said local and state authorities worked continuously since Monday night, and Thomas had confessed to his role in the murder 36 hours after the homicide.  

“We got a confession from the gunman (Walton) in 40 hours,” said Darby.

Thomas and Walton were initially questioned then released. They were later arrested in Sardis without incident, Darby said.

Abu-Athiah, who lived in Senatobia, was buried in Al-Rahma Cemetery in Arlington, Tenn. He was known locally as “Eric.”