PHOTOS AND STORY BY COLIN KRIEGER
Columbus Police charged a West Point man with murder after a late night shooting left a Columbus man with a troubled past dead. James Marquis Newsom is being held in the Lowndes County Adult Detention Center on a $250,000 bond after authorities alleged he shot and killed 47-year old John Douglas “Cong-Cong” Easley during a fight early Sunday morning.
Officers Joseph Strevel and Rebecca Lomax of the Columbus Police Department were dispatched to the area of McDonald’s restaurant in the 1800 block of Highway 45 North around 3:30 a.m. Sunday in response to an automobile accident. The initial witness told E-911 operators that she had seen a Southbound sedan driving out of control, going against traffic and striking the eastern curb of Highway 45 right in front of McDonald’s.
The witness then said the car, later identified as 2004 maroon Chevy Malibu, kept heading south, striking a light pole near the Rite Aid parking lot before crossing the intersection at 18th Avenue. The Malibu then crashed through a 35 MPH Speed Limit/Trucks Use Right Lane sign posted at the southeast corner of the intersection before finally coming to rest against a curb on the Western Shoulder of Highway 45 in front of Goose Hollow Furniture.
Lomax and Strevel immediately radioed there was a suspect on scene with a possible gunshot wound and that he was unresponsive. As CPD personnel from the 400 shift arrived on scene from all over the city, Officer Brian Jenkins went to McDonald’s to talk with witnesses. Within seconds of his arrival at the popular fast food restaurant, Jenkins radioed out that the witnesses had seen a black male run from the car just after it came to rest. He advised that the subject had fled west into the nearby Windchase Center, and then north toward Lincoln Road by way of the Kroger Plaza.
Just as paramedics from Baptist Memorial Hospital —Golden Triangle were confirming Easley was deceased, Officer Christina Benton and rookie Officer Johnny Branch noticed a black male wearing a red striped shirt walking on Waverly Ferry Road just south of the Lincoln Road intersection (Both WCBI and The Commercial Dispatch erroneously reported that he was arrested on Lincoln Road itself, which runs East/West alongside WalMart. I assume that information was provided by the Columbus Police Department, as I did not notice either outlet on scene that morning-CK)
According to a witness who lives at a nearby home, Newsom had just knocked on his door begging for help seconds before the officers arrived. The witness said Newsom claimed to have been in a car accident. After the resident refused Newsom entry, the suspect walked back onto Waverly Ferry Road where the officers, riding in a single police cruiser as part of Branch’s training, immediately pulled up and ordered the suspect to the ground.
“I didn’t shoot him! I didn’t!” Newsom screamed.
Columbus Police swarmed to the area and blocked off the road in both directions as they took Newsom into custody. Paramedics came to the scene to check on a wound on his temple, but quickly bandaged it up and he was handcuffed and taken to the investigations office of the Columbus Police Department for questioning. Columbus Police Chief Selvain McQueen arrived at police headquarters shortly after 4:20 a.m.
During the initial moments of the shooting, another call came in to E-911 from 1425 Schoolhouse Avenue (off Military Road) regarding shots fired. After the scene on Highway 45 was secured, officers traveled to the home to investigate. Several bullet casing were recovered on the street in front of the home, but investigators felt confident that the two incidents were unrelated.
Lowndes County Coroner Greg Merchant arrived on scene shortly before 5 a.m, quite longer than is typical for most murders. Radio traffic indicated that he was not called to the scene until around 4:45 a.m., nearly an hour and a half after paramedics acknowledged Easley had passed (even the Tow Truck had been dispatched before Merchant). Merchant was visibly perturbed upon his arrival, and sources close to the situation said that policy changes have been made within the BMH-GT ambulance service to prevent the same thing from happening again. (I was told that paramedics are now not allowed to leave the scene of a fatality until cleared by the Coroner’s office. In my experience over the last few years, the police usually radio in immediately after a paramedic of fireman believes a victim is deceased. From my recollection, the police were, at the time when they would typically call in the Coroner, under the assumption that they had two active suspects that had fled the scene. That particular shift, at the time known as the 400 shift, is possibly the most disciplined shift on the force, and I would think that many on scene assumed Greg Merchant had been called. I have heard from multiple sources that Merchant and Mcqueen met early this week and amicably discussed the issue-CK.)
According to Merchant, Easley died from multiple gunshot wounds. Easley’s shirt had two visible blood stains near his chest, and at least one shell casing could be seen on the front driver’s seat (Sources said it was a .22, but I could not confirm this with officials-CK.)
Newsom told authorities that he was struggling with Easley when the gun went off. After two hours of questioning, Newsom, who has a long criminal record and was identified that evening as a convicted felon, agreed to lead investigators to where he thought he dropped the gun when he fled. Newsom was placed into Officer Bobby Webber’s patrol car and transported to Lincoln Road, where he was brought out to lead officers to the gun.
Assistant Police Chief Joe Johnson joined Investigators L.C. Cockrell and Tommy Watkins as they followed Newsom as he walked down a road that runs parallel along side Merle Norman Cosmetics as it turned into a residential street with a couple of trailers on it. Newsom led the team down the road, West past a cell phone tower, and then Northwest into a wooded area. After about 30 minutes, it had become apparent that Newsome could not recall exactly where he threw the weapon.
“I don’t know. I don’t know. I’m sorry, I was scared” Newsom told police during the search. (Newsom repeated that phrase several times that morning and again just prior to his bail hearing. His fear might have been well-founded, as readers will discover later in this article. The only other insight to his mindset I witnesses was during the search for the gun, he told Investigator Cockrell, “I dunno, he was my friend, but he just had this power over me”-CK)
Newsom was later charged with murder and brought to the Lowndes County Adult Detention Center. A bond hearing was held Monday afternoon with Judge Marc Amos presiding. Amos set Newsom’s bail at $250,000. He is still incarcerated as of press time.
The Victim’s Storied Life
John “Cong Cong” Easley was a fixture in the tight-nit Southside Columbus community. Easley spent well over half of his 47 years incarcerated for various crimes, with his longest sentence resulting from a burglary conviction. Easley was a well-known and active member of the Gangster Disciples, a nationwide street gang with a significant presence in Columbus. Although Easley was very active in gang and criminal activity throughout his life, his family notes that he had just started to turn his life around.
“He’s done a lot. He was trying to do some good, help folks learn from his example. He did some bad stuff, but- at the end, he was doin’ good” said Marcie Easley, John’s sister.
Easley was most recently released from prison in January of 2009, and shortly after he secured a publishing deal for several stories he had written while incarcerated. Master Minds Productions, Easley’s publishing company, has his first work scheduled to be released August 2nd. Cedric Langston, a representative for the company, said that he had befriended Cong Cong in prison and encouraged his company to talk with Easley about his writings. Langston told The Packet that they have three of Easley’s works in the pipeline, with most of the subject matter falling under the category of “Urban Fiction.”
“His first book, “Thick as Thieves”, is focused on three sisters who are living the street life. Hustlin’, playin’, pimpin’. That’s the life John led. That’s what he knew” Langston said.
The two friends had recently been on a book tour promoting the work, visiting Boston, New York, Chicago and Philadelphia before returning last April. Plans were in the works for a West Coast tour later this summer.
When asked about Easley’s gang affiliations and checkered past, Langston said his friend was doing all he could to make a change in his life.
“It’s common knowledge what Cong Cong did, how he lived. You can sit down and try to be calm, but theses streets can chop you up. People don’t want to see you change.” Langston said.”The streets just took him. That’s all.”
Easley’s last reported brush with the law was in August of 2011, when he was struck three times by an unidentified shooter in front of a home in the 2200 block of 5th Ave. S. Easley was hit in his right thigh, arm and lower abs, but was able to go with a friend to the hospital and quickly recover. The same morning, a little less than an hour later, a man was shot while sitting in his SUV at Medical Arts Pharmacy on Military Road. Columbus Police never publicly announced any connection between the shootings. Both men recovered fromm their wounds relatively quickly.
Easley was highly regarded in the urban community of Columbus for having never “ratted out” anybody, and was respected by the leadership within the Gangster Disciples even after he got out of prison and began to turn his life around.
“He was highly respected. He was a good influence to many young men” said an influential leader in the gang who spoke to The Packet. (Multiple family and friends of Easley confirmed the man’s position within the Gangster Disciples.)
Well-known Southside leader Hilda Hill-Fox echoed others statements that Easley had turned his life around, “He would talk to everybody. he was working with little kids, keeping them out of trouble. He will be missed, I don’t know why someone would do that to him now- at this stage of his life.”
Fox went on, “I’ve been talking with him a lot lately, he was so close to makin’ it. His life was a tragedy.”
Langston said that he doesn’t want Easley’s story to end with his death.
“His dream will go on,” Langston said. “We will pave the way, we will help his family. That’s where we come in.”
Columbus Police sources said the department is expecting a large gang presence at Easley’s funeral as evidenced by the large crowd that gathered around Easley’s family home the afternoon of the murder. Easley’s popularity in the Gangster Disciples may lead to trouble for Newsom if he is found guilty and goes to prison. Sources said Newsom is aware of the possible dangers he may face, as are authorities.
John Douglas “Cong Cong” Easley’s service will be held Saturday morning at 11 a.m. at Northside Baptist Church and will be presided over by Pastor Mickey Watson. He will be buried at Union Baptist Cemetery later that afternoon. Easley is survived by his father, Floyd and seven children. He was preceded in death by his mother Minnie and his daughter Shannika.
Easley’s book is available on Amazon.com, barnesandnoble.com and on his publisher’s website.