According to indictments released Friday from the Circuit Court of Walker County, Joshua Franklin Hill and Cyrena Cheyenne Styles have been charged with murder in connection with Eric Cates’ death.
The indictments allege Hill and Styles intentionally caused the death of Cates by striking or hitting him with a blunt instrument and/or setting or maintaining a fire which caused his death. Cates, along with his dog Gypsy, were found dead in Cates’ burned-up truck behind the old Empire school on March 21, 2015.
Cates’ mother Tobbie Stover said in March she was told her son’s case could not be solved after trying to get answers from the Walker County Sheriff’s Office. Stover said the autopsy report ruled Cates’ death a homicide but that investigators had a different conclusion.
“Eric had died from an accidental overdose and had dropped a cigarette and caught himself on fire knowing that the autopsy, that they refused to let me see, told a completely different tale,” Stover said. “It was a homicide. An accelerant was used, and Eric was brutally beaten. He was alive in the truck long enough to get the soot in his lungs.”
The Alabama Attorney General’s Office stepped in, and its cold case unit started investigating Cates’ death. Stover said in March it was the first time in over eight years she had confidence the case was getting somewhere.