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CORONER’S INQUEST

Man charged in Argenta killing recorded incident on his phone, authorities said

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DECATUR — Dramatic new evidence was revealed Wednesday at an inquest into the shooting death of Decatur man Kevin Cooper.

It now turns out that his alleged killer, Phillip J. Gehrken of Forsyth, recorded the murder on his phone.

The existence of the video was confirmed by Sgt. Roger Pope Jr., an officer with the Macon County Sheriff’s Department giving evidence to a Macon County Coroner’s Jury who ruled 51-year-old Cooper’s death a homicide.

Cooper was shot dead on the evening of July 11 at a business property owned by Gehrken, 52, in rural Argenta. Gehrken is being held in he Macon County Jail and denies three alternate counts of first degree murder.

His defense lawyers have indicated he plans to plead a case of self-defense, claiming Cooper had made a grab for him and he opened fire to defend himself.

Whether the video tape bolsters or disputes Gehrken’s self-defense claims was not commented on by Pope. But it looks set to have a major impact on the case as the officer confirmed to jurors that it captures the killing before, during and after multiple shots are fired, including the fatal one that penetrated Cooper’s mouth and neck.

“Mr. Gehrken had used his cell phone, for which we assume he was expecting a confrontation of some sort, and so he video-recorded the whole incident and the actual shooting is on video,” Pope explained in response to a juror’s question.

The juror, who looked astonished, said simply “Wow.”

Pope described Gehrken and Cooper as business partners who borrowed construction equipment from each other but had been involved in a series of disputes leading up to the July homicide.

The Cooper case was part of a busy morning for jurors, who also probed two additional shooting deaths, a stabbing and two mystery cases of human remains discovered with no obvious cause of death.

The death of Antwane L. McClelland Jr. was ruled a homicide after jurors were told he was shot 17 times around 2 a.m. July 15 during a block party in the 1100 block of East Leafland Avenue.

In a tragic irony, Decatur Police Detective Ben Massey said the block party had been held to mark the anniversary of another Decatur shooting victim's death.

“Through talking to witnesses it appeared as though there was some sort of argument or alteration of some sort and shots were being fired,” added Massey.

McClelland’s killer has not been found although Damariyon T. Mills, 22, is pleading not guilty to the aggravated discharge of a firearm and unlawful use of a weapon. Prosecutors allege he had been at the party and was seen firing a gun as he fled the area.

Another case where the killer is still at large is the July 11 early morning murder of Shomari T. Page, 44, found shot to death behind the wheel of his vehicle at the intersection of West Main and North Edward streets.

Jurors ruled his death another homicide after Decatur Police Detective Brian Kaylor told them the victim had been shot in the head.

“There was a front seat passenger inside the car who remained on scene but provided little information as to what had occurred or who could be responsible for it,” Kaylor added.

Decatur detectives have gotten a lot further in the July 19 stabbing death of Anthony A. Jones, 34, who died when his neck was slashed as he walked near the intersection of West Eldorado and North Union streets.

Detective Jason Kuchelmeister said police had quickly found and arrested Paul D. Outland, 54, after working witness reports and obtaining video surveillance. Outland is pleading not guilty to three alternate counts of murder in the death of Jones, which jurors ruled was a homicide.

And in the first of two cases of skeletonized remains found in Decatur, the jurors heard how a set of bones buried in debris in a boarded up house in the 500 block of West William Street was identified as belonging to David O. Smith, 67.

Detective Brian Kaylor said the bones had first been found in August of 2020 but positive identification came from the State Police Crime Lab a year later based on family DNA. Jurors were puzzled how part of Smith’s leg had been found on top of a debris pile but the rest of his remains “four to six feet” below that.

“I can’t speculate as to how one got to one location versus the other,” added Kaylor. “I don’t know the answer.”

Macon County County Coroner Michael E. Day said an autopsy had not been able to pin down a cause of death. The jury returned a verdict of “undetermined.”

And the jury decided the death of James Dodd, 50, was also undetermined after some of his bones were found on Sept. 11, 2020, in and near a creek bed behind 2727 North Union Street in Decatur. An autopsy also failed to come up with a cause of death.

Detective Jeremy Appenzeller with Decatur police said a hiker looking for mushrooms discovered the remains and more bones were later unearthed by specially trained “cadaver dogs”. The tally included leg bones, pelvis and several ribs but the skull was not found.

Day sent off a DNA sample to the State Police Crime Lab and, a year later the lab announced a hit, matching Dodd’s DNA to records that showed he had served time in prison.

Day told the jurors Dodd had been known to frequent the Oasis Day and Resource Center in Decatur. “Sadly enough, from Sept. 11, 2020, until the receipt of this report (on the DNA) on Aug. 24, 2021, no one had reported him missing…” Day added. “He had limited resources and has had very limited contact with any family.”


Contact Tony Reid at (217) 421-7977. Follow him on Twitter: @TonyJReid

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