Massengill murder trial set; Riffe denied change of venue

Published 2:34 pm Tuesday, September 12, 2023

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James ‘Jimmy’ Lee Riffe will face a Claiborne County judge and jury despite holding out for a change of venue for his alleged part in the murder of Aaron Massengill in February 2021. Riffe is allegedly the third member of the murder trio to have his case adjudicated – the other two have taken plea agreements.

Courtney Gilpin, the ‘ringleader’ of sorts, took a plea on felony murder and robbery charges. Gilpin was sentenced to 50 years in the penitentiary.

Patrick Smith pleaded to second-degree murder and was sentenced to 45 years in prison.

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Massengill’s body was found nearly a week after he had gone missing, in a ditch along Ferguson Ridge Road in the Cave Springs community of Claiborne County. An all-out search and rescue mission brought law enforcement and the public shoulder-to-shoulder in a massive effort to find the 28-year-old. By the end of those long six days, some 800 miles had been thoroughly combed with no luck.

Some of the details were brought to light during Gilpin’s plea hearing. Attorney General Jared Effler said during the proceeding that Gilpin had lured Massengill to a home on the pretext of having him drive her to a local fast-food restaurant. Instead, Massengill was met with the trio’s plans to steal his truck, a 1991 Nissan pickup, and any money and belongings on him.

According to Effler, Massengill was engaged in a brief struggle between Smith and Riffe in which a cylindrical object was used to hit him twice on the head. Effler said that, according to the evidence, Smith grabbed Massengill from behind in a type of bear hug/choke hold. The struggle ended abruptly when Gilpin delivered the killing blow as she grabbed a gun and shot Massengill in the chest.

Massengill’s body was then wrapped in a green blanket and transported to the drop off site on Ferguson Ridge Road.

Riffe is facing a conviction on charges of first-degree murder, aggravated robbery and conspiracy to commit robbery. His trial is tentatively set for Dec. 12-15, according to Graham Wilson, Assistant Attorney General for the 8th Judicial District.

Riffe is currently being held in the Grainger County jail.