SMITHFIELD, N.C. — The charges four men faced in the disappearance of Live Oak’s Cole Thomas have been dropped.
Susan Doyle, the Johnston County District Attorney, dropped the charges Wednesday against Julian Valles Jr., Anthony Ridell James Jr., Rudolfo DeLeon Jr., and Jeremy Carpenter.
“The investigation into the death of Cole Thomas is ongoing,” Doyle said. “The North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation continues to follow up on all new information.
“After a thorough review of the case as it stands today, I made the decision to dismiss the current charges in order to avoid compromising any potential future homicide prosecutions.”
Valles, of Dudley, N.C., was charged with three counts of felony obstruction of justice and one count of felony concealment of a death.
James, of Mt. Olive, N.C., was charged with one count of felony obstruction of justice and one count of felony concealment of a death.
DeLeon, of Mt. Olive, was charged with the one count of felony concealment of a death.
Those three were arrested July 17, 2017, in North Carolina.
Carpenter, of Taylor Falls, Minnesota, was arrested July 18, 2017, in Minnesota and charged with four counts of felony obstruction of justice and one count of felony concealment of death.
“We are very disappointed in where we stand in Cole‘s case today,” Cole’s father Chris Thomas wrote on Facebook about the charges being dropped. “It has been a long journey that we will continue to live through every day.
“Unfortunately this is how the justice system works. For it to move forward from Cole missing to what it really is, and what it was from the beginning, a homicide. I guess the charges have to be dropped, but we feel it doesn’t have to be that way nor did we agree with it.”
Thomas, a Live Oak native and Suwannee High graduate, was reported missing on Nov. 25, 2016, by two acquaintances — Valles and Carpenter — that he had traveled to North Carolina with from Minnesota, where he was working.
They told police they were traveling on Interstate 40, heading to Durham, and got off the interstate in Benson.
As they were driving through a residential area, the driver, Thomas, suddenly stopped his vehicle, jumped out and ran away, the report states.
The passengers tried to find him, but were unable to. At 3 a.m. they reported Thomas missing, the report states.
According to WRAL-TV in North Carolina, the prosecutor alleged in court following the arrests that Valles hatched a plan to tell authorities that Thomas had run off after a drug deal with the men.
WRAL-TV also reported that Doyle alleged that after calling DeLeon and James to meet them in Benson, when they arrived "decisions were made" that led to Thomas' death.
He was 22 years old when he disappeared.
A body has not yet been found.
All four men were released from jail in 2018 — DeLeon and Valles in January, and Carpenter and James in March — after their bonds were reduced.