Suspect claims he threw murder weapon into random passing pickup

FOX 23 Tulsa KOKI
FOX 23 Tulsa KOKI

TAHLEQUAH, Okla. — A man arrested for murder in Cherokee County told sheriff’s investigators he doesn’t know where the shotgun is that he used to kill a man because he threw it into a random pickup truck as it drove by the crime scene after he, and his alleged accomplice, were done cleaning things up.

The Cherokee County Sheriff’s Office arrested Joe Garcia and Michael Clark in connection to the death of Andrew Hopkins.

“This was a brutal murder. He’s trying to make it sound like it wasn’t,” said Cherokee County Sheriff Jason Chennault after Garcia was arrested and confessed to the crime. “What he told us is what we found at the scene, but his story is very self-serving, and it downplays what really happened.”

Hopkins’ body was found under the Welling Bridge southeast of Tahlequah earlier this month by people driving in the area. Chennault told FOX23 it was easy to see that Hopkins had been murdered from the moment investigators arrived on the scene.

Eventually, an informant would come forward and tell investigators that he saw Hopkins’ body inside Garcia’s commercial buildings near the State Highway 51 Spur and West Choctaw Street. That would be enough to bring Garcia in for questioning.

After being brought in for a second time, Garcia confessed to killing Hopkins, and he claimed Hopkins had been stealing from him and that is why he ended up shooting him.

“He says the victim Andrew Hopkins was stealing from him, and he confronted him. Garcia says he blacked out, but he remembers shooting [Hopkins] with a shotgun,” Chennault said.

Eventually, Michael Clark would also be arrested for helping to clean up the crime scene after Hopkins was killed, but it’s what happened during the clean up that remains a mystery to investigators because the murder weapon hasn’t been found yet.

Garcia claimed the 12 gauge pump-action shotgun used to kill Hopkins is gone, and he doesn’t know where it is. According to Chennault, Garcia said he went out to get some fresh air while he was cleaning up the crime up, and when he went outside, he took the shotgun with him. He then walked towards Highway 51 and threw the gun in the back of a random pickup truck passing by. The gun landed in the bed of a pickup, and Garica said whoever was driving the truck didn’t see or hear him throw a gun in the back and drove off with the gun.

“We don’t really buy the story, just because it’s too farfetched in our minds, but if anyone out there finds a 12 gauge shotgun in the back of their vehicle that does not belong to them and shouldn’t be there, we need to know about it,” Chennault said.

It’s possible the gun has also been dumped, like Hopkins’ body, but until it’s recovered, anyone who drove through the westside of Tahlequah earlier this month in a pickup and found a random gun is asked to call Cherokee County Sheriff’s Office because they could unknowingly be in possession of a murder weapon. They are not in trouble for having the gun. Investigators said they are just looking to recover it for the prosecution of Garcia and Clark in the future.

Chennault said Garcia had help dumping the body by the Welling Bridge, but the driver of the vehicle will not be charged because he never saw a body while helping Garcia dump what he assumed to be trash that Garcia needed help disposing.

It appears Garcia and Clark are the only suspects who will be arrested for Hopkins’ murder at this time, according to Chennault.

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