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Murder suspects apprehended in Thayer

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Jonnathan D. Graven
THAYER -- Two West Plains brothers, Jonnathan D. Graven, 31, and Jared D. "Skip" Graven, 23, were arraigned Nov. 21 in Howell County Associate Circuit Court before Judge Don Henry. The charges of first-degree murder, second-degree arson, tampering with a motor vehicle and abandonment of a corpse were read to each man and they said "yes" they understood the charges. Both of the men were defended by Public Defender Andrew Zleit.

A press release from the Howell County Sheriff's Department said on Nov. 15, the sheriff's department was advised of a fire off KK Highway, seven miles west of West Plains. When the fire was extinguished the firefighters reported finding a body in the back seat of a car.

The property where the garage and car was burned was vacant and owned by Lee and Ann Jordan of West Plains. They are not suspected of being involved in the incident.

Jared D. "Skip" Graven
DNA testing concluded the man dead in the car was Rickey J. Johnson, 22, of Pottersville.

Officers with the Thayer Police Department were instrumental in the capture of the two men.

On Nov. 19, Thayer Police received a tip from Jeremy Pounders who works for the West Plains Police Department but lives in Thayer, that two men were wanted for questioning in connection with a murder in Howell County and he believed they were at a local motel in Thayer.

Police Chief David Bailey, Assistant Police Chief Michael Bunting, Pounders and later Missouri Department of Conservation Officer Paul Veatch approached room three of the Tally Ho Motel about 8:30 a.m. the morning of Nov. 19. There they found four people, three men and a woman who were taken into custody and housed at the Thayer Jail until Howell County officers could come and get them.

Linda Crass owner of the motel said the four checked into the motel at 4 a.m. that morning.

The two other people whose names have not been given, were released without charges. Several items were seized following a search of the motel room along with two vehicles parked in front of the motel room. Both vehicles were taken for evidence.

Howell County Investigator Shannon Caldwell wrote in a report that on the evening of Nov. 14 and the early morning hours of Nov. 15, Johnson was at the home of the Graven brothers, at county road 6340. He said several people interviewed said Johnson seemed to be under the influence of prescription medication while at the Graven home and went into Jared Graven's bedroom to lie down.

Investigators believe during the early morning hours of Nov. 15, the Graven brothers stole a quantity of methamphetamines out of Johnsons's vehicle and pockets. Caldwell said this caused an altercation to break out between the brothers and Johnson and during the fight Johnson was killed. In his statement Caldwell said that some people were told by the Graven brothers that Johnson had been hit and stomped, causing his death.

Following his death, Johnson was placed in his 1994 Chevrolet Beretta and driven to the garage. After the garage and car were burned, Jared Graven drove Johnson's 1994 Chevrolet truck to Johnson's home and parked it next to his home.

During an interview, Caldwell said in his statement that Jared Graven admitted Johnson was at his home on Nov. 14 and 15 and that he had stolen a quantity of methamphetamine out of Johnson's vehicle and then driven the vehicle to Johnson's home. Caldwell also wrote that Jared Graven said he had taken a mattress from his bedroom that day and burned it. Jonnathan Graven said he saw his brother burn the mattress on Nov 15.

Both of the brothers have been in trouble with the law before and were both out of prison on parole after drug and theft convictions.

In court activities Nov. 21, Judge Henry told the brothers that if convicted on the murder charge, they could be sentenced to death or life in prison.

Howell County Sheriff Robbie Crites expressed his condolences to the Johnson family.

Besides officers with the Thayer Police Department, MDC Officer Paul Veatch, Oregon County Chief Deputy Eric King, and Howell County Sheriff's officers, other agencies involved in the investigation were the Missouri State Fire Marshalls Office, the Missouri Highway Patrol, Division of Drug and Crime Control and the Missouri State Highway Patrol Crime Lab, the South Central Drug Task Force, the West Plains Police Department/West Plains SWAT Team.

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