Man charged with killing missing Sullivan Co. couple appears in court

Man charged with killing missing Sullivan Co. couple appears in court (Image 1)_9824

A man charged with killing a Sullivan County couple, who had been missing since early January, appeared in Carter County Sessions Court Friday morning for his arraignment.

Steve Finney was appointed as Eric Azotea’s attorney Friday, and Azotea was scheduled to appear in Sessions Court again on April 29.

District Attorney General Tony Clark said he is considering this as a capital case, which means they could seek the death penalty.

A TBI agent said Azotea served 13 years of a 15-year federal sentence and said he got out of prison in December 2013.

Carter County Sheriff Dexter Lunceford said at this time no other charges are pending in this case.

He told us a woman and two or three small children lived in the home with Azotea.

But Lunceford said at this time he doesn’t believe anyone else knew what happened or that the bodies were in the home.

Previous story:

Carter County man charged with murder after bodies of missing couple found in home 

The bodies of a couple missing since January were discovered in a Carter County home Wednesday, according to the sheriff.

Carter County Sheriff Dexter Lunceford confirmed the bodies were found stuffed in a crawl space at 135 Woodland Drive, which is a Johnson City address.

The bodies had been there since Jan. 7 and according to a court affidavit filed in Carter County Sessions Court, Arthur “Art” Gibson, Jr. and Amber Terrell were reported missing with the Sullivan County Sheriff’s Office on Jan. 10.

Eric James Azotea, 43, of the home, was charged with two counts of first-degree murder, two counts of abuse of a corpse and altering evidence in the case.

He was being held in the Carter County Jail.

Besides the Carter County Sheriff’s Office, the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation showed up at the Woodland home on Wednesday. Not much information was available at the time but a TBI spokesperson did confirm that the investigation centered around Gibson and Terrell.

Lunceford said the victims went to the home voluntarily and that they and Azotea knew each other. Investigators suspect drug activity in the case.

A forensics team from the University of Tennessee arrived at the home shortly before 1:30 p.m. Thursday to continue the investigation.

According to the affidavit, the missing persons report said Gibson had not been heard from by family members since Jan. 6. A second report was filed on Jan. 11 by the family members of Terrell. They said Terrell had not been heard from since Jan. 7.

Gibson and Terrell reportedly lived together in an apartment in Kingsport and were boyfriend and girlfriend.

According to the affidavit, the 1999 Ford Escort belonging to the pair was discovered off of Big Springs Road in Carter County on Jan. 12. The ignition switch in the vehicle had reportedly been tampered with and was found in a rural part of the county.

Law enforcement searched the nearby area, but found nothing.

On Jan. 23, investigators with the Carter County Sheriff’s Office, Sullivan County Sheriff’s Office and the TBI were assigned to the case.

According to the affidavit, around November 2014, Gibson had given “a quantity” of narcotics to Azotea.

Peters said Azotea never paid Gibson for the narcotics and had avoided attempts to collect money owed for the drugs.

On Jan. 6, Azotea contacted Gibson and asked to buy narcotics from him, and a confrontation reportedly took place between them, where Gibson demanded the money owed to him by Azotea.

Witnesses said Azotea was unable to pay Gibson.

According to the affidavit, Azotea arranged for Gibson to come over to his home on Woodland Drive on Jan. 7 to pay him the money he owed for the narcotics, as well as purchase more drugs.

Gibson, along with Terrell, went to the home on Jan. 7, and were not heard from again.

Following a four month investigation, Azotea was interviewed by the CCSO and TBI investigators, where he admitted to murdering Gibson and Terrell, according to the affidavit.

He said he stabbed both of them at his home. Azotea also confessed to using a tool to “punch” the ignition switch of the 1999 Ford Escort, as well as moving the vehicle to Big Springs Road.

After killing Gibson and Terrell, Azotea said he moved their bodies into an outbuilding on his property, left them hidden there for approximately two days, dismembered them and then disposed of them in a burn pit on the property.

According to the affidavit, Azotea said he took a firearm from Gibson and Terrell, disassembled it and disposed of it on Smalling Road in Carter County.

Azotea then disposed of his clothing, Terrell’s cellphone and the keys to the Ford Escort.

During a search of the home on Wednesday, TBI investigators found what are believed to be bone fragments near the area where Azotea said he burned the bodies. 

State anthropologists are reportedly searching for pieces of bone fragments near a shed on the property, the location where Azotea told investigators he took the bodies of Gibson and Terrell.

Sheriff Lunceford said the couple came willingly to the home on Jan. 7 to receive a drug debt from Azotea.

“They were not abducted, that we know of,” Lunceford said. “There’s nothing to lead us to believe that they were abducted. It took place here. They drove their own vehicle here.”

Nearby neighbors told News Channel 11 that they were in a state of disbelief Thursday, calling Azotea a charismatic and friendly guy who was always working on his home.

One neighbor recalled hearing Azotea using his chainsaw one night in January and then burning a fire outside of his shed in the same place investigators are currently searching for remains.

Officials said the Woodland Drive home is still an active crime scene and said they plan to stay on the property throughout the night and into tomorrow.

Previous story:

TBI agents search home in Carter County in missing couple case 

News Channel 11 is following new developments in the case of a missing Sullivan County couple.

The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation confirms its agents, along with investigators from the Sullivan County and Carter County sheriff’s offices, are searching a home on Woodland Drive in the Pine Crest community.

A TBI investigator told News Channel 11, they are searching the home “as part of an ongoing investigations involving a couple reported missing earlier this year to authorities in Sullivan County”.

Art Gibson and Amber Terrell were reported missing in Sullivan County back in January. The couple have been missing since January 7. That day, Terrell and Gibson left Gibson’s home to go to Carter County to visit a relative. After that, family members who heard from them that day said they planned to go out to eat with a friend in Johnson City.

No other details about what was found in home or what happened at the Woodland Drive home are known at this time.

News Channel 11 is following this developing story. We’ll bring you the latest details as soon as it becomes available.

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