3rd suspect in Massengill murder case headed for trial

Published 5:10 pm Thursday, February 23, 2023

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On a frigid February evening in 2021, Aaron Massengill climbed into his pickup for the last known time and drove away into the night. He was on a mission to help someone in need. The 28-year-old was found deceased six days later in a ditch along Ferguson Ridge Road in the Cave Springs community of Claiborne County.

During those six long days and nights, frantic family and friends – even strangers – searched in vain. Walking grids of volunteers moving shoulder to shoulder with law enforcement searched as helicopters, airplanes and even a drone took to the air.

Two years later, the third suspect in the murder case now has a trial date set. The other two have taken plea agreements.

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Courtney Gilpin, who admitted to being the ringleader of sorts and who fired the fatal gunshot, has 50 years to sit behind prison cell bars to reflect. Gilpin will serve those decades without possibility of parole.

The second plea agreement was sealed on Sept. 19 as Patrick Smith agreed to serve 45 years at 100 percent in custody of the Tennessee Department of Corrections.

Jimmy Riffe will be facing the judge on June 27 as the alleged third co-conspirator in the murder case, according to the Office of Attorney General for the 8th Judicial District. Riffe has passed his mental competency tests and is deemed ready for trial, according to the District Attorney.

During those six days of exhausting search efforts, a Facebook page was created that drew some 6,000 members – individuals who just wanted to find Aaron safe and bring him home. Members posted updates daily to the page to keep everyone informed of the hunt.

Massengill’s mother, Sharon, posted a comment about the nature of her son during plans to honor him on what would have been his 29th birthday. The “Paying it Forward” day encouraged whosoever to commemorate March 30 by performing random acts of kindness.

“Anyone who knew Aaron knew he would always show up to help. Things he considered just normal acts were unseen because he didn’t consider them out of the normal. Whether he was helping someone broke down on the side of the road, helping work on a house or vehicle, offering to pay the person in front of him remainder of a bill because they were a little short…no one knew these things because to him it was just another day and it was normal…,” reads the post, in part.

Sandy Clark, who spearheaded the search during those first days following Massengill’s disappearance, spoke in an interview about living in Claiborne County.

“People choose to live here instead of a city to feel safe and I feel like our community has lost that now.”

Clark said at the time that everyone who loved Aaron will “never be the same.”

“This tragedy has changed all of us and it’ll never ever be ok. Who we are as a small town community has changed forever. But the good in this is how much this community came together in a time of need for one of our own.”