Ryan Jeremy Jones

Ryan Jeremy Jones

A Catoosa County man is behind bars facing more than 30 charges after he allegedly attempted to conceal the shooting death of his friend, whom he'd recently been burglarizing the county with, police say.

Catoosa County sheriff's deputies were dispatched to 80 Pine Grove Circle just after midnight on July 26 after a young man was found dead due to a gunshot wound to the head.

The victim has been identified as 19-year-old Robert "Ricky" Payne, and officials say his body has been sent to Atlanta for an autopsy.

Payne's friend, 19-year-old Ryan Jeremy Jones, discovered Payne's body and was subsequently arrested on multiple charges during the investigation after police determined he'd waited approximately 15-20 minutes to call 911 after finding the body.

Jones was charged with concealing the death of a person, making false statements, tampering with evidence, and possession of marijuana (less than one ounce).

Jones bond has been set at $147,500.

Detectives say Jones' story changed times during questioning, but that he claimed he found the body after Payne agreed to meet him at his house.

Jones claims he got a phone call from Payne asking for a ride to the East Brainerd area of Chattanooga, Tenn. Jones says he told Payne that he wasn't home right then, but to go ahead to his (Jones') house and wait for him.

When he finally arrived home, Jones says he found the lights on, a side door to the home open, the home ransacked, and Payne shot to death in his bedroom.

As deputies and detectives began investigating the scene, they discovered that Jones had moved some things around in the home after finding the body, had marijuana on him, as well as a .9-mm handgun with the serial number removed, reports show.

To complicate matters further, Jones has been charged with numerous unrelated charges stemming from an additional ongoing investigation.

Sheriff's Capt. Chris Lyons says Jones faces an additional 25 counts of entering an automobile or other motor vehicle with intent to commit theft or felony.

Lyons says those charges are related to Jones and Payne being the prime suspects in a series of automobile break-ins that've plagued the county over the past couple of weeks.

"Over the month of July, we've had a rash of vehicle break-ins and found that Mr. Jones was responsible for a large majority of them," Lyons said. "He and the deceased were already primary suspects in the case, but during the death investigation we discovered additional evidence related to those cases."

Lyons says the vehicle break-ins occurred during a two-week period between July 10 and when Payne's body was found.

As for Payne's death, Lyons says the department doesn't believe that Jones had anything to do with the shooting.

"The body is going out for an autopsy, but we know we have a gunshot wound to the head," Lyons said. "Whether it was accidental or on purpose, we don't know, but we don't think it was done by another person."

Adam Cook is a general assignment reporter and covers the Walker-Catoosa County area. He has been a reporter since 2009. He can be reached at The Catoosa County News office at 706-935-2621 and by email at acook@npco.com.