Marine Corps veteran Marquis Cheatham and his mistress Dominique Atkinson pleaded guilty and were sentenced to life-in-prison on Thursday for killing Cheatham’s wife.
“The state hasn’t asserted a motive, but from my review and study of this case it appears life insurance was a factor,” said Montgomery County Circuit Judge Johnny Hardwick.
The defendant’s attorneys disagreed. Cheathan’s attorney, Virgil Ford, relayed that life insurance was absolutely not a factor.
“My client (Cheatham) was making $43,000 a year. He had a promising life ahead of him,” Ford said.
Ford indicated that the murder likely escalated from Cheathan’s wife continually calling his commanders resulting in him being disciplined by his higher ups on base.
Prosecutors say the couple plotted the murder and drove more than nine hours to carry it out. They wanted the victim out of the picture so they could be together, and the 20-year-old died as she begged for mercy in the middle of a Montgomery neighborhood.
Cheatham was an active duty Marine stationed at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina at the time of the crime. Ashley McCarthy, his wife, stayed behind in their hometown of Montgomery and was living with her father as her husband started dating in North Carolina.
When Ashley began to call Cheathams commanders to discuss finances and seek support from her husband, they put pressure on Cheatham to work things out and help take care of her.
On March, 27, 2013, after Ashleys called to speak to members of his chain of command, prosecutors say Cheatham and Atkinson developed a plan to kill her. Ashley had no idea that her husband had a new girlfriend.
Marquis Cheatham and Ashley McCarthy grew up together in Montgomery and had known each other since grade school. They eloped in 2011.
On Easter weekend, Cheatham and Atkinson drove from North Carolina to Montgomery.
Cheatham called his wife and asked her to meet him near the airport on March 31, 2016. After going to eat at the Waffle House, Cheatham told the court he was discussing things with Ashley and they got into an argument. He pulled a gun on her on the drive over to his mother’s house on North Pass Road in North Montgomery. Dominique met them there and they forced Ashley into the trunk of Cheatham’s car.
They left and hid Ashleys car in an abandoned shed on Lower Wetumpka Road. As Cheatham and Atkinson drove off with Ashley in the trunk, the trunk popped open when Ashley pulled the safety release latch from the inside. She jumped out and started running away and Cheatham began to chase her and shoot at her. Residents in the area reported hearing gunshots and a woman pleading for her life. Five shell casings were recovered.
Ashley was shot twice in the back as she was running away and then in the head, which was a contact wound, meaning that the gun was placed directly against her head.
Her body was left on the steps of a home on Lower Wetumpka Road.
Cheatham and Atkinson drove off, went back to his mother’s house to pick up some clothes, stopped in Georgia to get cleaning supplies to clean the car and went back to Camp Lejeune.
They were later arrested and extradited to Alabama to face their murder charges.
Their guilty pleas three years after the crime brought to close a dark chapter for Ashley McCarthys family. Her father, Freddie, thought Marquis Cheatham was someone who loved his daughter.
“I had known him for years and just never expected this. I know she never expected this or thought this would happen to her”, he said.
Ashley liked to volunteer at local nursing homes and traveled to other states to help feed the homeless. Her death has been very hard on her relatives.
McCarthy praised the work of prosecutors and police on the case.
The deadly shooting was the city’s 18th homicide of 2013- a year in which Montgomery had 50 homicides.
“Just another senseless killing. There was no need to do this. If he didn’t want to be with her, get a divorce and move on. But rather they chose this option and murdered a totally innocent woman who loved him. I truly believe that”, said Deputy District Attorney Kenney Gibbs, who handled the case.
Gibbs indicated that did not admit to all of the details that Cheatham laid out in the case.
Cheatham and Atkinson will be sentenced April 28th by Circuit Court Judge Johnny Hardwick. They both face 20 years to life-in-prison. Calls to attorneys for Cheatham and Atkinson were not returned late Thursday.
I just hope that they will be able to give these people enough time where they would never ever get out and have the opportunity to hurt anyone else, Freddie McCarthy said. We don’t need that kind of fear in our community. We don’t need people who are going to harm others in our community anymore.