MISSISSIPPI COUNTY, MO (KFVS) - Four women from Memphis, Tennessee have pleaded not guilty to the charges against them in connection to the shooting death of a Wilson City, Missouri man.
During their initial court appearance on Wednesday, Aug. 9, 28-year-old Brittany Curry, 23-year-old Ponesha Taylor, 19-year-old Johniesha Simmons and 23-year-old Lauteshia Dotson pleaded not guilty to charges of murder first degree, armed criminal action and unlawful use of a weapon.
They all waived arraignment and the case will continue.
Curry, Taylor, Simmons, and Dotson are all due back in court on Oct. 16 for a preliminary hearing.
According to Acting Mississippi Sheriff Branden Caid, Curry shot and killed Ralph Edward Cross, 55. His body was found inside his Wilson City home on Tuesday, August 1. Cross died of a gunshot wound to the back.
Investigators learned that all four women were in southeast Missouri after advertising escort services online.
Witnesses told investigators that Cross was seen with four women on Monday night, July 31.
They reportedly had a flat tire and Cross offered to help them. Investigators believe he bought them a new tire and invited them back to his home where they stayed until Cross' body was discovered on Tuesday morning.
According to court documents, Cross was last seen in his house around 6:30 to 6:45 a.m. on Aug. 1, the day he died. The witness said when he left Cross' house, Cross was arguing with three of the women while the fourth woman sat in a white car parked in front of the house. That witness told investigators that as he was walking "a little ways" down the street toward his own home, he heard a noise and saw the three women hurry out of the house and get into the car.
The man said that the car stopped next to him on the street and one of the women reportedly said that Cross was "tripping and do not go back down there."
During the investigation, officers learned that one of the women had been in Cross' personal car before he was killed. Crime Scene Investigators lifted a fingerprint from that car that came back to Lauteshia Dotson. The witness confirmed that she was one of the women inside the house arguing with Cross shortly before he was shot and killed.
Caid said that it appears robbery was a motive in the crime. Multiple witnesses said they had seen the victim with a large sum of money and that money has not been recovered. Investigators noted that couch cushions were askew and pockets had been turned out of pants along with other signs that indicated the home had been searched.
Authorities said a 9mm shell casing was found at the scene of the crime. They said the handgun has not been recovered.
Family and friends of the women saw media coverage of the case, including the surveillance photos, and called law enforcement. Several agencies were able to work together and convince the women to come back to Missouri to be interviewed by police to give their side of the story. They turned themselves in at the Mississippi County Sheriff's Office on Aug. 3.
Court documents show that all four women admitted to being at Cross' house on July 31 and Aug. 1, but none of them would admit to the murder or identify what role they played in it.
Two women from Memphis were interviewed by a Captain with the Mississippi County Sheriff's Department about the homicide. Both witnesses told the investigator during separate interviews that Brittany Curry shot and killed Cross inside his home. The women also said that they knew Ponesha Taylor witnessed it.
Curry, Taylor, Simmons and Dotson are all being held in separate facilities without bond.
The community of Wilson City is tight knit, one where everybody looks out for each other.
Neighbors said Ralph Cross was well-known for the way he treated the kids in town.
They said he would toss them a few bucks here and there to buy things like snacks. He even helped some of them with their back-to-school supplies.
We caught up with one teen who benefited from his generosity.
"Ralph was a cool person, he'd give you money if you didn't have it. It touches my heart in many ways, you know, but I gotta stay strong."
Neighbors said violence like this doesn't happen here and everyone we talked to said this hurts a lot. They said they will always remember Ralph Cross for the good he did for the community and said this place will never be the same.