SMITHFIELD, N.C. (WNCN) — Two of four men charged in connection with the death of Cole Thomas, the man who disappeared in Johnston County in November 2016, appeared before a Johnston County judge on Wednesday.
Thomas vanished the night of Nov. 25, 2016, in Benson, and his body has yet to be found.
Thomas’ father, Chris Thomas, told CBS North Carolina in July the four arrests were a relief, but their family’s nightmare isn’t over yet.
Three of the four charged in the case were set to appear in court Wednesday. Anthony Ridell James Jr., 26, of Mt. Olive, was the first to appear.
James, along with Julian Valles Jr., 34, of Dudley, and Rudolfo DeLeon Jr., 27, of Mt. Olive, were arrested and charged on July 17 in connection with Cole Thomas’ disappearance.
They all face charges of felony concealment of a death.
Valles also faces three counts of felony obstruction of justice, and James is facing one count of felony obstruction of justice in connection with Cole Thomas’ disappearance.
Jeremy Brian Carpenter, 42, of Taylor Falls, Minnesota, was arrested July 18 in Minnesota in connection to the case.
James’ lawyer said his client was the “least involved in the disappearance of Mr. Thomas.” His bond was originally set at $350,000, but the judge lowered it to $200,000 due to his “potential role” in case.
The prosecutor, Assistant District Attorney Paul Jackson, told the court that Thomas, Valles and Carpenter devised a plan to drive from Minnesota to North Carolina purchase a large amount of methamphetamine.
James had a connection with Rudolfo DeLeon, another co-defendant in the case. The three met with DeLeon, who said the three were going to purchase three ounces of meth, according to the prosecution. They purchased two and were fronted one ounce, the prosecutor said.
After obtaining the meth, the three were going to head back to Minnesota when they drove by sheriff’s deputy in Mount Olive. The prosecutor said at that point, Thomas became paranoid and eventually the drugs were thrown out the window of the vehicle.
Thomas then jumped from the vehicle and disappeared.
After that, stories diverged about what happened, the prosecutor said.
James told authorities that he saw one of his co-defendants call DeLeon, whom they’d bought the drugs from. He also said he saw one of his co-defendants beat Cole Thomas with a bat and that he later heard gunshots, the prosecutor said. And he said that bruises he turned up with stemmed from a beating he took in connection with the transaction, the prosecutor said.
But James also later said everything he told police had been a lie, the prosecutor said.
James blew a kiss to his family as he left the courtroom.
Carpenter appeared after James where his bond reduction request was denied.
His lawyer had requested his $500,000 bond be reduced to $100,000. The district attorney argued that Carpenter is a flight risk and worry for his safety if out.
DeLeon did not appear in court Wednesday.
After court, Thomas’ father, Chris, said it was difficult being in the courtroom and facing two of the four men believed to be involved in the murder of his son.
“Yeah, it was. I just, I want answers, that’s it. Whatever it takes. I know they know. It’s just a matter of time. It’s just a matter of time. Somebody’s going to break,” he said.