April 12, 2013

Murder suspect claims self-defense

Rachel Brown

— When Jonathan Colby Durden was arrested for stabbing to death Ricky C. Grice Jr. Tuesday morning, he told authorities it was self-defense, officials said.

Authorities aren’t buying Durden’s story.

The 22-year-old remains without bond in the Whitfield County jail facing a murder charge.

Whitfield County Sheriff’s Office deputies responded to Durden’s rural home at 279 Quinn Drive in Rocky Face when Durden’s girlfriend, Alexa Blubaugh, 22, called 911 at about 2:30 a.m. The woman reported the stabbing after Grice, a 28-year-old Walker County resident, tried to drive her away in his pickup truck.

When deputies arrived, Durden still had the knife with a five-inch blade in his hand and had to be told twice to drop it, officials said. After he was handcuffed, he told officials Grice pulled a gun on him, sheriff’s office Capt. Rick Swiney said.

Swiney said investigators found a gun but Durden’s story didn’t seem to add up. Swiney declined to identify the type of gun.

“A firearm was found in the truck behind the seat, but the driver would have had to get out of the vehicle and tilt the seat forward to be able to get it, and he was sitting in the front seat, so he couldn’t have got it from where he was at,” Swiney said.

On the 911 call recording, Blubaugh tells the operator Durden stabbed Grice while he was still in his Dodge pickup truck. Grice came to the home to give Blubaugh a ride because she wanted to leave.

Maj. John Gibson said investigators discovered through later interviews that Durden was Blubaugh’s current boyfriend and Grice appeared to be a former boyfriend. The details of their relationship aren’t clear. Blubaugh tells the 911 operator she doesn’t know Grice’s last name because they met only a few days ago.

Blubaugh tells the operator Grice tried to drive away after he was stabbed multiple times in the face and stomach area, but he crashed his truck into a tree and slumped over. Early in the call, Blubaugh says she is moving Grice out of the driver’s seat, but even when she takes the wheel, she can’t get the truck back on the road.

Then, in a panic, Blubaugh says Durden is coming back. The operator tells her to lock the doors, which she does, and she explains he’s “just standing there” in front of her. Later, she says Durden walks away, but she grows frantic again when she sees him again smoking a cigarette in the distance.

Meanwhile, the operator instructs Blubaugh to try to slow the bleeding, and Blubaugh, who said she is from Utah, struggles to explain exactly where she is. Shortly before responders arrive, Blubaugh tells the operator Grice stopped breathing.

Toward the end of the call, Blubaugh tells someone on the scene, Grice “has a gun, but it wasn’t for him. He lives on a farm. He showed it to him. He showed it to him because he asked to see it.”

To the 911 operator seconds later, she says, “Jonathan’s trying to tell the cops that he pulled his gun out on Jonathan — but it’s not true!”


Records in the Whitfield County Clerk of Court’s office show both Grice and Durden have been arrested here before.

Grice in a negotiated plea late last year was sentenced to serve 24 months in jail for stealing a cart of items from Food Lion in Rocky Face, but his sentence specified he could get out of jail after 180 days as long as he stayed out of Whitfield and Murray counties. The sentence did not specify how long he would be banished from the two counties.

In 2008, Durden and a co-defendant were charged with stealing two bicycles from someone, but the theft by taking charge was dismissed as part of a negotiated plea after Durden paid court costs, records show. Later that year, Durden and another co-defendant were charged with aggravated assault when authorities say Durden pulled a knife on someone and threatened to cut his throat. When he was tested at the jail, Durden’s blood alcohol content was .039, according to an arrest report in his file, and police found bags of illegal drugs on the co-defendant.

In a negotiated plea, Durden was sentenced to 12 months on probation for underage consumption and 12 months on probation for simple assault. He failed to report to his probation supervisor as required at least twice, records show.

Blubaugh has a $3,000 bond but as of late Thursday was still in jail on charges of possession of meth and possession of tools for the commission of crime after authorities found drugs on her when they responded to the stabbing, officials said.