The night John Ross Shreves was shot and killed, he'd simply planned to have a drink at No Frills Grill & Sports Bar in Arlington with an old high school buddy, Patrick Jardell Brooks. The two had recently reconnected on Facebook. The Kennedale Junior High School year was finally over, and Shreves, a teacher, wanted to cut loose as they'd done back when they attended Kennedale High School in the early 2000s.
They'd been trying to get together for a couple of years, with Shreves suggesting in text messages they could "hola at some ladies" and "get crazy like back in the day." "Isn't it against the law for teachers to get crazy?" Brooks replied.
Shreves' father called him a "bull in a China house" because he was built like a bull. His chest, shoulders and biceps stretched most of his T-shirts. Hair shaved close, red goatee and a Lone Star state tattoo colored red, white and blue on his arm, the 27-year-old country boy spent hours in the gym when he wasn't teaching English to junior high kids. He aspired to look like his powerlifting heroes: Eric Lilliebridge, a world record holder; Brandon Lilly, an elite powerlifter; and Zydrunas Savickas, one of the greatest strongman competitors of all time.
A high school baseball star, Shreves was considered a leader among his peers, someone whom everyone in the small country town of Kennedale seemed to admire and respect, though he was known to be sarcastic. Brooks told his grandfather when detectives left his house a day after Shreves' murder: "He ain't no angel." Similar in height, with dark hair shaved short, Brooks wasn't nearly as muscular as Shreves. The 27-year-old Air Force veteran looked more like a boxer than a powerlifter. Tattoos covered his body. The one scrawled in cursive across his chest in one of his mug shot photos reads "Only God Can Judge Me."
He'd been judged on several occasions by the Texas court system, once for reckless discharge of a firearm, another time for driving while intoxicated. He also got caught with a prohibited weapon. Brooks' grandfather later told Arlington detectives his grandson hadn't been the same since he'd return from his deployment in Afghanistan in early 2012. He'd become quiet and reclusive and mentioned on numerous occasions: "They could put his body in the trunk of a car, drive around, and nobody would think twice about it because they were white," according to police documents.
Brooks' grandfather didn't know who "they" were but hoped his grandson would one day tell him.
Three days after Brooks and Shreves' trip to No Frills Grill in June 2013, Arlington police arrested Brooks for Shreves' murder. Three years later, his charge was reduced to criminal negligent homicide for shooting Shreves three times in the head at point blank range.
Tarrant County District Attorney's Office told local news outlets the case had simply fallen apart, leaving only circumstantial evidence. They failed to mention the case had been handed off multiple times to other prosecutors and landed in a court with a 1,400-case backup, Shreves' family says.
Troy Shreves says his hands were tied as prosecutors arranged the deal with Brooks, who received a two-year sentence in January and finished it in late October because of time served in county lockup before his conviction. The Arlington police's investigation revealed a secret life Shreves had been living and a killer who claims he'd been violated.
"It was almost like my son was on trial," he says.
Brooks and Shreves were from different worlds but similar circumstances in Kennedale, located 13 miles south of Arlington. They both came from broken homes, a bond bringing them closer together as juniors and seniors at Kennedale High. Shreves' father left when Shreves was 8 years old. Shreves stayed with his mother, and his father moved to Dallas, though he'd often return to coach his son's baseball team or watch his daughter cheer. Shreves' sister later told police her father had anger and drinking problems when she was younger.
Brooks' father had been serving time in prison for a sexual assault-related offense since Brooks was 18 months old, police reported. Brooks grew up in his grandfather's house and played basketball at Kennedale High when he met Shreves. He was quiet around Shreves' parents but a good friend to Shreves. He often stayed the night with him at his mother's house.
They kept in touch after they graduated from high school in 2004. Shreves attended a couple of colleges before he settled on the University of North Texas. He worked at an after-school program and sometimes edited papers for Brooks, who briefly attended Texas Wesleyan College.
When Brooks decided to join the military in 2008, he says Shreves was upset, almost as if their friendship had reached another level of connection. It seemed to be an uncomfortable connection for Brooks, who repeatedly told detectives, "I'm not gay."
"He called with the same bullshit crying that we were best friends," he said. "I think he was infatuated with me or something. But this wasn't something he was led on to believe."
Despite being uncomfortable with Shreves, Brooks reconnected with him about six months before the shooting. He'd recently returned from the military and switched apartments a couple of times before he ended up back over at his grandfather's house in south Arlington. He struggled to find a job as he managed his post-traumatic stress disorder at a local VA hospital, his grandfather told detectives.
Their conversation seemed rather casual. A month before the murder, Brooks sent him the message, "I thought we were going to hang out bro?" The day before Shreves' shooting, Brooks texted he was mowing the lawn and Shreves texted he was editing a friend's manuscript. At 10:30 the night of the shooting, Brooks sent him a message to find out what Shreves was doing.
Shreves invited him out for a drink at No Frills Grill, the closest bar to Kennedale and only two miles from where Brooks and Shreves attended high school. Brooks told him he couldn't drive because he'd recently received a DWI, so Shreves offered to give him a ride to the bar.
"I'll pick u up in like twenty minutes then," Shreves texted at 10:45 p.m.
"Text me when ur outside," Brooks replied 10 minutes later.
"Alright. Leavin my house now."
At 11:04 p.m., Shreves sent Brooks a message. "Outside." Brooks replied two minutes later, "alright."
No one heard the gunshots 26 minutes later when Shreves parked his 2008 Toyota Corolla behind the bar, but gunfire flashes appear like lightning strikes in the surveillance video police obtained a few hours later.
No one saw the man in black opening the passenger door 22 seconds after the gunshots or running west in the grassy area south of the parking lot. Surveillance video pulled from two locations was unhelpful.
"From this video you can see a person in the shadows and traveling to the west in the grassy area," Arlington police detective Seth Archer wrote in his June 18, 2013, incident report. "No specific physical features of the suspect can be seen."
Archer was sleeping at 2:30 a.m. on June 10, 2013, when he received a phone call from his lieutenant to go to the parking lot behind No Frills Grill. It was the fourth homicide in a week in Arlington, and two days before the Arlington police department would battle an internal scandal over steroid use that would lead to one officer's suspension, two others' arrest and a police officer's suicide a few days later.
Shreves' Corolla was still running with headlights, taillights and brake lights illuminating the darkness. Shattered glass covered the parking lot outside driver's side door. Shreves was facing the grassy area where the killer escaped. His foot still rested on the brake, and his head tilted slightly and rested on the headrest of the seat.
Shreves was still wearing his tan cap, a black T-shirt, blue jeans and sandals. The air conditioner was still blowing, and the radio playing. He was a country music fan who planned to take his ex-girlfriend Tina Adams to watch a local country act the following weekend.
Archer met up with another detective, Bryan Stewart. They headed over to the home of Shreves' mother, Kristi Klinger, a retired school teacher, to tell her that her son was dead.
"She told us he goes by the name 'Ross,'" Archer wrote in his June 18, 2013, investigator notes. "She reacted with shock and disbelief that her son was deceased."
Shreves was taken to the hospital and pronounced dead early in the morning of June 10, 2013. It was his younger sister's 25th birthday, and she'd driven past the crime scene early that morning on her way to a cheer competition in San Antonio for her students.
"I didn't know it was my brother," she says.
Family and friends gathered at Klinger's house when Archer and Stewart returned a couple of hours later. Bryan Barrett, a close friend and workout partner of Shreves, said he didn't know who would want to kill his friend. He mentioned Shreves had been texting Patrick Brooks, or "P.J.," and planned to hang out with him on the night of the murder. Shreves' ex-girlfriend Adams reaffirmed Barrett's claim to detectives at Klinger's house.
Archer requested the Arlington tactical intelligence unit to conduct research on Brooks. Besides discovering Brooks' criminal record, the unit also found Brooks' Facebook page listed Shreves as a friend. Later that afternoon on June 10, Archer learned that Brooks' social media page had disappeared from Facebook.
The next morning Archer received a message from Shreves' younger sister Sarah, who said Shreves' ex-girlfriend told her that her older brother may have led a secret life that involved meeting up with other men. She also told him that her older brother's mood has always been up and down, and he'd been suicidal in the past.
"She felt like there was always something bothering the victim, but she was unable to understand what it was," Archer wrote. "I asked if she thought it was possible for the victim and Brooks to have a secret sexual relationship, but she didn't think that it occurred or was occurring."
Shoulder-length hair pulled into a ponytail, Adams had left her family business in the early afternoon of June 11, 2013, to meet with detectives at the police department. She'd known Shreves since fifth grade and began dating him four years after they graduated in 2004.
He worked as a substitute teacher for a time before he was hired on as a full-time English teacher at the junior high in Kennedale. She attended college in Austin but later returned to North Texas to finish school. They moved in together in March 2011, and a couple of months later she began to notice what she called unusual behavior.
The first signs appeared when he told her he wanted a separate bedroom. She told detectives she thought it was strange. He also "had a very close relationship with his computer," she said in her June 11, 2013, video interview with detectives. It was a relationship that led his ex-girlfriend to start searching Shreves' computer history.
"I started going through his computer and finding that he was looking at weird porn, like just stuff ... not normal stuff," she said.
"Now when you say weird porn, I mean, there is some very weird stuff out there," Archer said.
"Just guys, guys ... guy on guy ... a lot of anal stuff," she said. The discovery led her to leave the apartment to stay with a friend for a week.
She also learned he had a fetish for wearing women's panties, a claim his father later disputed. "He weighed 275 pounds, deadlifted 675 pounds and benched 550 pounds," he says.
Adams moved out of the apartment in the summer of 2011. She figured Shreves would be relieved. Instead he cried and begged her to come home. She did, but never told him why she moved out. He blamed his steroid use and threw them away "because he knew I didn't support that," she said. "I knew he was doing it, and I knew he was keeping it from me."
In November 2011, Shreves bought a house in Fort Worth. They were happy for a while, but forgetting what she'd uncovered was hard for her to do. She continued to search Shreves' computer history and noticed he was searching Craigslist advertisements.
Then she found a Craigslist advertisement he had posted in March 2012.
"When you say he posted the thing, what was the ad about?" Archer asked.
"It was an ad to get guys to meet up with him," she answered, explaining she found it on a computer he kept in his closet. "The one in the closet is the one with all the bad stuff on it because the other one is his work computer, and he couldn't do anything bad on that."
Adams eventually confronted him about it. "You can tell me," she recalled to the detectives. "It's me. Whatever it is I don't care." She began to cry. "He denied it."
Archer wrote in his investigator notes, "[She] asked him if he was gay, and she stated it was the angriest she has ever seen him. She was able to look at an email account the victim used to communicate with other men and noticed he had exchanged phone numbers (and pictures) with several other men, and there were emails that discussed the victim meeting some of the men he met online."
She moved out of the house after the summer of 2012 but continued to return to take care of Shreves. She wanted to spend the rest of her life with him but only if he could quit keeping secrets. He told her a month before his death they should spend more time apart. "He told me that it wasn't good for me to linger around when he couldn't give me what I wanted," she said.
She told detectives some people suspected Shreves was gay over the years, but neither he nor anyone else would openly admit he was gay. She then mentioned Brooks had basically lived with Shreves for a while when they were attending Kennedale High.
"But even with P.J., I don't think Ross would have made a pass [at him]," she told the Observer in a recent interview. "People would have known, and it would have gotten back to his school. Unless P.J. knew something, something that was eating him up inside."
Patrick Brooks sat handcuffed in the small bare white conference room, awaiting detectives Archer and Stewart's arrival. The former soldier's head was bowed, and his green inmate sleeveless "skirt" revealed tribal art tattoos on his arms. He'd been arrested earlier that morning on June 13, 2013, at his grandfather's house in south Arlington.
At first he denied knowing Shreves, then said he hadn't seen him in about five years. He said he hadn't communicated with him either and refused to provide details about their friendship. He also denied deleting his Facebook account because he was friends with Shreves.
Brooks' grandfather told detectives his grandson had been receiving treatment for PTSD at the local veterans hospital since his return from Afghanistan in early 2012, that he'd kept to himself and spent time alone in his room. Brooks' friend Aaron Broderick said he tried to get him to leave the house, but he wouldn't. Arlington police noted in their reports that he appeared to be "defeated and depressed" when they took him to jail.
The detectives walked into the room, asked him a few preliminary questions about Brooks' family and his military record. He said he hadn't spoken to his mother in years, that he'd been honorably discharged from the military in early 2012, but hadn't held a steady job since his discharge.
Stewart laid out the facts they'd uncovered since discovering Shreves dead behind No Frills Grill. They said there was no question he rode with Shreves over to the sports bar. Stewart agreed everyone was making Shreves out to look like a saint. The Kennedale community had even come together to support the family, and wristbands and keychains with "Ross Strong" written in bold lettering began to appear.
"But I can tell you there is a side of Ross that the school doesn't know, the students don't know and, to be honest with you, the family doesn't know," Stewart told Brooks. "There is a girlfriend who knows because she just happened to find out, and if you look at me, you can understand where I'm coming from and what I'm talking about."
Brooks looked at him, shook his head in agreement and whispered, "Yeah."
Stewart reassured him he didn't need to be embarrassed to discuss what may have happened to him on the car ride to No Frills Grill. He said he wasn't trying to pin the murder on him because he already believed Brooks pulled the trigger. He simply wanted to know why Brooks shot and killed his friend.
"What do you know about him?" Stewart asked.
"What do I know about him?" Brooks replied. "I know that he's a ... I don't know. I can't explain it. I know him and his dad are racist, and he has no business teaching kids. I can assure you of that."
He bowed his head and fell silent.
Archer asked, "Is there something that makes you draw that conclusion?"
"I don't know, man. I can't explain it."
It took detectives several minutes to get Brooks to open up. Stewart had to reassure him that he wasn't questioning Brooks' manhood, that he believed Shreves was either gay or bisexual and that he wasn't saying Brooks was gay, to which Brooks promptly replied, "I'm not gay."
"First off, I didn't commit that crime," he said. "Second off, I can tell you Ross, his dad and his uncle drugged me and raped me. And I'm not gay."
"I know you're not," Stewart said. "I know you're not."
Brooks told detectives the alleged rape occurred in the winter of 2007 before he left for the military. He also said it wasn't the first time he believed Shreves had raped him. He claimed the week before the alleged rape with Shreves' father and uncle, Shreves and other "faggots" tried to drug him with a spiked drink at a friend's house.
He said he began feeling weird and asked Shreves to take him home. Instead Shreves took him to his mother's house. Brooks woke up the next morning and noticed his belt buckle was undone. He asked Shreves what happened, but he simply wrote it off as Brooks' out of control partying.
Then he told detectives that in late 2007, before he left for the military, Shreves asked him to join him in a game of flag football in Denton. After they finished the game, he claimed Shreves told him he needed to go to his dad's house in Plano, but Brooks told him he didn't want to go because he thought his father was racist.
Brooks said he waited in the car in front of Shreves' father's house for about an hour. He called his grandmother and told her what was happening, but he wasn't sure where he was. She told him to go in the house and just don't fall asleep.
They were watching a movie called Boondock Saints when he claimed Shreves offered him a beer. He said he drank about half of it, but it tasted funny so he quit drinking it. Then a scene that might have been pulled from Quentin Tarantino's Pulp Fiction occurred, involving Shreves, his father and his uncle.
Brooks began to cry as he told detectives they put a towel over his face, forced him to do oral sex and filmed it. He said Shreves' father had a swastika tattoo on his shoulder and forced him to kiss it. The next morning he said Shreves' father forced him to dig his own grave in the backyard, then forced him into the car because he was still drugged and said, "Listen nigger, we're white and we can drive around with a dead body in the back of the car. If you don't wake up, we're going to kill you."
Brooks said he saw the video again when he hung out with Shreves over at a friend's house in Weatherford. He claimed Shreves tried to drug him again, but he was able to escape.
The claims were extraordinary. The question is whether they were a fantasy concocted by a mentally disturbed veteran with history of alcohol and drug abuse or whether the claims were a self-serving fabrication. No videotape of the purported assaults was ever found and police examined the father's shoulder. There was no swastika tattoo.
Chris Powers, the friend from Weatherford, says the video didn't exist. He claimed he hosted the party, with many guests. Brooks and Shreves arrived together, Powers says, and Powers assumes they left together. Brooks told detectives he drove alone in a drugged state to escape.
Brooks never told anyone about the alleged assaults at the time he claimed they happened, and he continued to befriend the man he said drugged and raped him, the man he eventually shot.
Detectives asked Brooks why he kept hanging out with him when he knew the "inside Ross." He claimed Shreves raped Adams and his father was paying her to keep her quiet. The father and Adams both say that is not true.
Brooks claimed he didn't remember the incidents until after he returned from his deployment overseas and received a DWI in late 2012. He said he quit drinking and drugging, and slowly began to recall what he said Shreves had tried to do to him that night at his mother's house.
Two months before he shot and killed Reeves, Brooks told his friend Broderick and a cousin about the purported rape. Broderick told detectives he didn't want to pry too much, but he asked a few questions and eventually "unfriended" Shreves on Facebook.
"It seems like you have a lot of suppressed anger when it comes to Ross, would that be fair to say?" Stewart asked.
"No, I'm not angry," Brooks said.
They asked him about discharging his .40 caliber handgun at his apartment in 2012. He claimed he'd thought about killing himself with the gun. He began to cry again.
"Man, you've been through a lot," Stewart said. "What you're saying even if someone were to deny it, even if Ross' dad or Ross himself were to deny this, it is your truth. You know your truth. You don't have to lie to Patrick. You know Patrick knows the truth. This is your truth."
Stewart told him that it sounded as if he'd been bullied to the point where people were questioning his manhood. "You're suppressing a lot of shit," he said. "I'm telling you. You are.
"The bottom line here is if this is your truth, if this stuff really happened to you — look at me when I say this — if this stuff really happened to you, and you did get in a car with him, and something happened, then you need to be able to explain your full truth," Stewart added. "That you're not a monster. That you wouldn't just get in the car and shoot him. There has to be a reason why something happened because you've been living with this stuff a long time."
Stewart did his best to persuade Brooks to confess to the killing. He told him that a person could understand if he snapped if Shreves tried something. He brought up his grandfather, who broke down and cried to detectives. "He wants you to talk to him, but you keep saying, 'I'll talk to you about it later, Grandpa. I'll talk to you about it later,'" Stewart says.
"When people know this entire story, they will know why something happened," Stewart said. "If all of this is true, Patrick. Is it all true?"
"It's all true," Brooks replied.
Archer asked him if the three gunshots had a symbolic meaning.
"I'm not sure," he said, crying.
When the detectives pressed him to directly admit to pulling the trigger, however, Brooks balked and asked for an attorney. There would be no confession.
Tarrant County prosecutor Jim Hudson had been expecting to take Brooks to trial for murder in March 2015. He planned to call 18 witnesses and estimated it would take five days to reach a conviction, according to Jan. 26, 2015, report in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.
But then the murder case began to unravel as the Shreves family says it passed to two other prosecutors, one of whom quit, before it returned to Hudson. Trials were postponed at the last minute, the family says, and Brooks' bond was reduced from $100,000 to $60,000, allowing him to bond out of jail with an ankle monitor for a short time before he violated his bond agreement and returned to jail.
In addition to Brooks' and witnesses' testimony, detectives also gathered cell phone evidence, revealing the text message exchange with Brooks and Shreves discussing No Frills Grill. They didn't find DNA evidence or fingerprints placing Brooks in Shreves' car, but they did collect cell phone tower pings suggesting Brooks had walked away from the murder scene instead of his grandfather's house where he said he remained all night.
Then the Shreves family says an FBI expert informed Hudson that he couldn't verify its cell ping technology as 100 percent reliable.
Hudson didn't want to discuss this case out of respect for the family, but the Tarrant County District Attorney's Office spokesperson Samantha Jordan did offer some insight.
"The original testimony by the FBI expert was integral in establishing the defendant's whereabouts on the night of the murder," she says. "Without access to that testimony, the remaining evidence was circumstantial and prosecutors did not believe it reached the level of convincing a jury without reasonable doubt."
Jordan says the family's feelings are always considered, but the ultimate decision on whether to prosecute or offer a plea agreement relies solely on the evidence.
Shreves' father says he told prosecutors he didn't want to take the deal, that he'd rather take the chance and allow a jury to decide. His ex-wife, Kristi Klinger, says she also didn't agree with the prosecutor's choice. "We weren't given a choice," she says. "They did it behind our backs. We were very upset. No, we were furious."
The DA's Office didn't reply to questions about Klinger's claims.
The plea agreement required Brooks to stand before the district court judge and admit that he did kill Shreves. Shreves' mother was allowed to read a victim impact statement in court. "To me, you are a murderer, a coward and a liar," she said. "To know we will never see his face with his beautiful blue eyes, mischievous smile, or to hear his voice and laughter, is pain without measure or end. Part of me and his father died that day."
Troy Shreves sits in his silver Mercedes in the parking lot of Infinity 13 tattoo shop in Denton. He looks toward the tattoo shop, tears in his eyes, as he recalls their last trip together to a weightlifting competition in Asheville, North Carolina. It's early November, a week after Brooks walked out of the Tarrant County jail a free man after serving the rest of his two-year sentence he received in early January for shooting Shreves three times in the head.
He says he learned two days before Brooks admitted to his son's killing that Hudson planned to offer a deal. They wanted to offer him negligent homicide. He wouldn't receive much time for the conviction but would forever be known as a felon.
"How do you get offered criminal negligent homicide for shooting someone three times in the head?" he asks. "There is nothing criminally negligent about that." It's a question his ex-wife also asked in her victim impact statement in January.
Detectives asked him if he remembered Brooks when he stayed over at his house in Plano with his son. "To be honest with you, I told you before if I had saw the kid on the street, I wouldn't have known who he was because it's like periodically in college you know how guys are. I got a big house. I've got a 4,100-square-feet house. It's basically me, my wife and Ross."
He told the Observer: "I woke up in the family room, and he brought him back there and said, 'Hey, this is P.J.,' and that's the only time I remember him."
Kennedale is also a small town. Shreves' mother and sister say Brooks, like Shreves' other friends, hung out at the house when he was a junior and senior in high school. It was known as the neighborhood hangout because his mother was a teacher.
"I'd go hang out over there at the house because her and I have always remained friends," Troy Shreves told detectives, though he said he quit hanging out when his son became junior in high school because he bought him a car.
They asked him about his son's porn addiction, Brooks' racism and rape claims, but he denied them, took off his shirt to prove he didn't have a swastika tattooed on his shoulder, then pointed out all the races he and his son had interacted with among family and friends over the years.
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He says he doesn't think his son was bisexual or gay, though he told detectives he may have experimented "because a lot of kids experiment."
The Shreves family say they plan to get licenses to carry guns and arm themselves. They're worried because Brooks may be staying with his grandfather, who doesn't live far from Shreves' mother and sister.
Tears well up in Troy Shreves' eyes as he finishes telling the story of his son winning the competition in Asheville, North Carolina. He benched 540 pounds, deadlifted 675 pounds and squatted 675 pounds. But it doesn't take long for the conversation to revert to his feeling about the Tarrant County District Attorney's Office handling of his son's murder case. He can't understand why it took them three years to convict Brooks.
"Every time we talked with the prosecutors, the case was always relying on the cell phone pings," he says. "When I read the reports, they were planning to call 18 witnesses. Who were these witnesses? I wish I had recorded my conversations with the prosecutors. You think the police and the district attorney will do their jobs. I feel that the justice system let my son down."