TACOMA, Wash. — The Stryker soldier accused of stabbing Spc. Tevin Geike in the heart and leaving him for dead on a Lakewood street after a confrontation between two groups of troops last weekend pleaded not guilty to murder charges Tuesday in Pierce County Superior Court.
Pvt. Jeremiah Hill, 23, will remain in Pierce County Jail in lieu of $2 million in bail, a court commissioner ordered.
Charging documents say he had a visible wound to his hand when investigators arrested him, and that Hill told a medic he got it when he “stabbed someone to death.” He did not speak in court except to say he understood the charges.
Hill’s confinement brought a sense of relief to several of Geike’s friends who attended an arraignment for Hill and two alleged accomplices.
Geike “deserves to know his killer is behind bars or on death row,” said Amy Johnson, who is engaged to marry one of the soldiers who accompanied Geike the night of his death.
One of Hill’s alleged accomplices, Spc. Ajoni Runnion-Bareford of Islesboro, Maine, remained confined in lieu of $250,000 bail. The other, Pfc. Cedarium Johnson, was released on his own recognizance but must remain at Joint Base Lewis-McChord except for his court appearances.
Johnson’s attorney argued the charge of rendering criminal assistance was unwarranted because Johnson had tried to defuse the confrontation and did not help murder Geike. Charging documents allege Johnson directed Hill to throw away the knife Hill reportedly used to stab Geike.
Runnion-Bareford allegedly drove the car from the murder scene and later used bleach to clean up blood stains inside the vehicle.
All of the suspects serve in the 3rd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division at Lewis-McChord. Two more soldiers who were with them in a car on the night of the killing are cooperating with the investigation and won’t face criminal charges.
Hill, 23, of Chicago, was new to the brigade and had not deployed. He joined the Army this year. Runnion-Bareford, 21, and Johnson, 21, of Tyler, Texas, deployed to Afghanistan with 3rd Brigade last year.
Geike, 20, served in the 16th Combat Aviation Brigade at the base. The Summerville, S.C., native joined the Army in October 2010 and came to Lewis-McChord in April 2011.
The two friends who were walking with him late Friday and early Saturday belonged to other units under the umbrella of the base’s 7th Infantry Division, which also commands the 3rd Brigade.
Those relationships stung Geike’s friends, who said they couldn’t understand how a fellow soldier would murder one of his own.
“Every one of those five men swore a sacred oath to this country,” said Kimberly Turnipseed, a friend of Geike, referring to the men in the car with Hill. “And they became the enemy.”
The three suspects are due in court later this month and could go to trial as early as December. Their arraignment drew a courtroom packed with local and national reporters, as well as Geike’s friends and Johnson’s family.
Johnson’s mother, Rona Taylor, flew from Texas to attend. She bowed her head and clutched a banister while Court Commissioner Meagan Foley considered Johnson’s attorney’s request to release him. She said “thank you” when Foley agreed.
Turnipseed at the some moment exclaimed, “What!” in disbelief that any suspects would be allowed out of jail.
Charging documents allege Hill was among a group of five soldiers in a car who shouted something at Geike and his two friends while they were walking in the 12500 block of Pacific Avenue Southwest early Saturday.
Someone in Geike’s group shouted back, and the car pulled up. The men reportedly exchanged words but things appeared to end without a fight once the two groups realized they were all active-duty soldiers, according to witness statements.
That’s when Hill allegedly grabbed Geike and knifed him in the chest, plunging the blade into the soldier’s heart.
Lakewood police initially said the incident was a possible hate crime carried out by black men against white soldiers because the group in the car might have shouted something at Geike and his friends regarding their race.
The charging documents back away from that assertion.
Pierce County Prosecuting Attorney Mark Lindquist said he would charge a hate crime if facts in witness statements warranted it. They do not, he said.
Distributed by MCT Information Services