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Thursday, April 06, 2006                                                                                       View Comments

Retired pastor charged with wife's 2005 murder

CENTREVILLE, Ala. (AP) — A retired Bibb County pastor charged with murdering his wife six months ago remained jailed on a $1 million bond Tuesday after a judge reduced the amount.

Earnie Stokes, 53, had told police that an intruder struck him in the head with a brick and doused him with gasoline before shooting his wife, Syble Stokes, 53, at their home on Sept. 20. Stokes had dialed 911 on a mobile phone while sitting in his truck outside his home.

He was arrested and charged with murder Friday and initially was held on a $2 million bond, but it was reduced to $1 million at a Tuesday hearing.

"It has been an ongoing investigation since September, and now we have enough evidence to arrest Mr. Stokes," said Cpl. Chris Ellis, a spokesman for the Alabama Department of Public Safety.

Neither Ellis nor Centreville police Chief Mike Nichols would discuss the evidence that led to the arrest. Nichols said investigators have not found the gun that was used in the shooting.

"We're happy with the outcome of the hearing today," said Stokes' attorney, Bryan Winter of Tuscaloosa. "We hope that he'll be able to make this bond."

Bibb County Assistant District Attorney Tracy Roberts said prosecutors wanted to keep the bond high, viewing Stokes as a flight risk.

Nichols said the Centreville community is relieved to have a suspect behind bars, and that he wasn't necessarily surprised it was the retired pastor.

"These days, I'm never surprised," he told The Tuscaloosa News.

For members of Thomas Mill Baptist Church, where Stokes retired as pastor just before his wife's death, the news of his arrest was difficult to take.

"I haven't been able to bring myself to talk about it," said Darlene Jenkins, chief clerk in the Bibb County Circuit Clerk's office and a member of the church. "It's too hard. We were all very close to Earnie and his wife."