BY HANNAH GOLDFINGER | HGOLDFINGER@OPELIKAOBSERVER.COM
Following the preliminary hearing for Francis Hamblin and Matthew Dillon, Judge Steven Speakman granted bond to one of the two suspects in the alleged murder of Reggie Stokes.
On Oct. 11, both Hamblin and Dillon were arrested following Opelika Police Department (OPD) finding human remains, believed to be Stokes, near properties that Dillon and Hamblin were occupying.
Dillon was granted bond on Wednesday, Nov. 15, at $150,000. Conditions also include an ankle monitor and that Dillon have no contact with any witnesses. Dillon and Hamblin were both previously denied bond at a bond hearing in October.
Here are the details of the case so far:
Stokes’ family last heard from him on Sept. 22 and filed a missing persons report on Oct. 7, according to Opelika Police Department Detective Jacob Yeomans.
“On the 10th, we posted a press release for assistance to find Mr. Stokes,” Yeoman said. “And during this, the family of Stokes was saying that he spends a lot of time at Bay Court which led us to go out to Bay Court. And rumor was, people were saying that Mr. Stokes was buried around the area of Bay Court.”
Stokes was previously familiar with Hamblin and Dillon and would visit them at the residence they were both occupying at 104 Bay Court, Yeoman said. He would also use Dillon’s truck.
“Apparently, Mr. Stokes, by using it, wrecked the vehicle,” Yeoman said. “Not sure how it got back to Mr. Dillon but Mr. Dillion [did] tow it to a scrap yard in Opelika.”
There is photographic evidence of Stokes in the truck. There is also photographic evidence of Dillon and Hamblin towing the truck to the scrap yard.
Yeoman said OPD got permission from the new owner, who purchased the truck from the scap yard, to search the truck on Oct. 11.
There was a cellphone found in the truck belonging to Stokes. There was also a hat that the new owner found in the truck that Stokes has been seen in photos as wearing. The new owner, however, didn’t think anything of it and threw it away.
Following this, Yeoman said OPD approached Hamblin and Dillon. OPD had already made contact with the two the day before, Oct. 10, as well.
“We actually had one witness come and give us a statement that they only knew [Dillon] as Digger, but it turned out that was Mr. Francis Hamblin, [he] trying to ask people for help to get rid of a body,” Yeoman said.
There was also an anonymous tip provided to OPD that said that Hamblin had been removing flooring in his residence.
“We had a lady come forward and wanted us to talk to one of her coworkers due to him having knowledge of an incident,” he said. “He advised that for a little while he would visit Mr. Hamblin at 104 and Mr. Hamblin pointed at two small ‘x’s in the living room and advised that he murdered Reggie Stokes in that room.”
Yeoman confirmed he saw the ‘x’s in the living room at 104 Bay Court and they looked as though they had been drawn with sharpies.
Yeoman said OPD used cadaver dogs on the second day and discovered the body “on a gravel road at the dead end of bay court.” This was about 750 feet away from 104 Bay Court, he said.
The body was decomposed but there were still indicators the body was Stokes, such as hair, the crocs he typically wore and a wristband.
There was also orange wiring found on the body, also found on the side of Hamblin’s house and in the white Ford Ranger, Yeoman said.
“There was also a piece of torn shower curtain by the body,” he said. “And approximately 100 feet up the trail, the majority of the shower curtain was left, which during one of our search warrants of Mr. Hamblin’s house, part of the shower curtain was ripped and had the same pattern.”
Lee County District Attorney Jessica Ventiere asked if there was any evidence of a grave being dug.
“Yes, ma’am,” Yeoman said. “It was a freshly dug spot and it was behind their house, directly between the houses but there was no body in there. But a broken shovel handle was in the dirt and Mr. Dillon said they were going to do a fire pit but he got poison ivy so they put it back in.”
Dillon was also in possession of Stokes’ dog, which [Dillon] said was abandoned by Stokes at his home.
Dillon, prior to the preliminary, provided a written statement in his defense.
“Mr. Stokes came to [Dillon’s] house, which was at 104 Bay Court at the time,” Yeoman read. “Mr. Stokes apologized for wrecking his truck and he would pay for the damage at a later time. And Mr. Stokes just wandered off and that’s the last time he saw Mr. Stokes.”
The cause of death for Stokes is not known at this time.
By the time that OPD got involved, Dillon had moved out of 104 Bay Court and into 102 Bay Court.
Dillon’s lawyer, Harold Scott Patrick, asked if it was true that Hamblin had been clearing out brush near the spot of the alleged fire pit, which Yeoman confirmed.
“There was no evidence obtained from that area that the body found 750 feet away on the trail at one time had been in that area where the hole was at,” Patrick said.
Yeoman confirmed there was no evidence of that.
Lawyer asked that Speakman dismiss the charges against Dillon, stating there is not enough evidence pointing to Dillon.
“It seems like everything that has been told to law enforcement or provided to law enforcement … involves Mr. Hamblin, not Mr. Dillon,” Patrick said.
Lindsay Erwin, Hamblin’s lawyer, confirmed that despite evidence being found at Hamblin’s house, Dillon was also living there at the time of Stokes’ disappearance.
“You had said something about the floor being torn up in 104, do you know that [the landlord] had hired Mr. Hamblin to do repairs on these houses,” Erwin said.
Yeoman said that the landlord, Bill Key, did not know anything about the removal of the floor, according to a statement he gave.
She also confirmed there was no cause of death or any weaponry linked to the murder.
“We took a machete and a pocketknife, but no cause of death yet,” Yeoman said.
She asked if they had been sent off to be tested and Yeoman said the machete is with OPD in evidence and the pocketknife was sent off.
Erwin asked if 102 Bay Court was searched for blood stains and Yeoman said none were found. She also asked for confirmation that Dillon had Stokes ID.
Yeoman said that a witness had reported that Hamblin, not Dillon, had the ID.
Despite both lawyer’s attempts to distance their clients from the case, Speakman found both suspects had probable cause. He did, however, grant Dillon bond. The bond was set at $150,000. He would also be required to wear an ankle monitor and have no contact with any of the witnesses.