A Georgia man is accused of killing another man who officials originally said died by suicide in 2016, news outlets report.
Marshall Ralph Payne, 50, was arrested and faces a charge of malice murder in the 2016 death of Donald Fickey Jr., according to the Walker County Messenger.
In 2016, “DJ” Fickey, who was 28 at the time, was found dead with a gunshot wound in his Walker County home, WRBL reported.
A Georgia Bureau of Investigation medical examiner ruled the death a suicide, WRBL reported, but Fickey’s family felt strongly that this conclusion was wrong.
Fickey was a father of three, and his sister, Amanda Shirley, told WSB-TV that his family told officials he “loved his kids too much, loved his family too much,” and that they believed his roommate, Payne, had killed him because the two men were in a “love triangle” with Fickey’s wife, Brandy.
“I tried to get the gun and it went off,” Payne told the emergency dispatcher when he called 911 to report Fickey had been shot, WSB-TV reported.
For four years, Fickey’s family tried to convince the Georgia Bureau of Investigation to reopen his case In 2020 officials took a second look at his autopsy report and updated Fickey’s cause of death to “undetermined,” the Walker County Messenger reported.
His family decided they needed to take the investigation into their own hands and hired private investigator Eric Echols, known for his work on the Tonya Craft case more than a decade ago, WRBL reported.
Shirley ran a “Justice for DJ” Twitter page and regularly spoke to news outlets and true crime podcasts about her brother’s death, hoping to bring enough attention that investigators would take a closer look.
Echols told WRBL in 2020 he believed law enforcement had gone about the investigation poorly and there was enough evidence to secure Payne’s involvement in Fickey’s death.
“They talked to all of the ‘witnesses’ together, they didn’t separate them. They didn’t take them to the police department and interview them properly. Those types of things — they didn’t take enough crime scene photos,” Echols told the outlet. “There’s enough evidence to secure an indictment. Not to reopen the case, to get a conviction, there’s enough.”
At the time Echols was looking into the case in 2020, Walker County Sheriff Steve Wilson was asked whether his office would reopen the case now that Fickey’s cause of death had been updated.
“The case will not be reopened simply because the medical examiner changed the manner of death from suicide to undetermined. Should new evidence be discovered the sheriff’s office will evaluate the evidence and proceed accordingly,” he told WRBL.
Despite this statement, the department did eventually reopen the investigation, and as “a result of new evidence” arrested Payne, WSB-TV reported.
“7 long and hard years later my fight was not in (vain),” Shirley said in a June 7 Facebook post. “All my hard work and never giving up paid off and I upheld my promise to my brother that I wouldn’t stop.”
McClatchy News reached out to the Walker County Sheriff’s Office for a statement and the indictment and is waiting for a response.
Walker County is in the northwest corner of the state, about 100 miles northwest of Atlanta.