published Thursday, March 13th, 2014

New details emerge about convenience store clerk's slaying, what led police to the suspect

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    A display with flowers, a collection jar and a photo of Dahyabhai Kalidas Chaudmari, the clerk murdered at Kanku's convenience, sits near the entrance of Kanku's in Dalton, Ga., on Wednesday, March 12, 2014. Skyy Raven Marie Mims is accused of killing Chaudmari.
    Photo by Erin O. Smith.
    enlarge photo

As a judge called for Skyy Raven Marie Mims, the woman in a dyed-blonde Afro shuffled forward, her shackles clinking.

"Is that your name, ma'am?" Whitfield County, Ga., Magistrate Judge Chris Griffin asked.

"Yes," she answered from jail Wednesday afternoon, one day after police arrested her on a charge of murder.

"What's your date of birth, ma'am?" Griffin asked from his court across town.

"March 6, 1993."

"Are you on probation or parole?"

"No."

"Are you currently out on bond on any other charges?"

"No."

That was it. Sixty-four seconds after she showed up on a computer screen for her first court hearing, Mims returned to her cell. The 21-year-old will next appear before a Superior Court judge on Friday for a bond hearing.

Mims' penchant for self-promotion on social media has earned her a high profile in the wake of the murder case. Her modeling pictures and YouTube performances have been featured on local news outlets this week, especially after her arrest Tuesday evening.

On Wednesday, new details about what happened in the minutes before the killing, and what led authorities to Mims emerged through police reports and an interview with one of Dahyabhai Kalidas Chaudhari's customers.

The customer may have been the last person to see Chaudhari alive, except for his killer.

On Tuesday, members of the U.S. Marshals Service Southeast Regional Fugitive Task Force surrounded a house on Springmont Road in Bartow County. They were responding to an anonymous tip that Mims was hiding there. Outside the house, they found a Kia Soul, one that matched the description of a stolen car from Michigan.

Inside, Mims tried to run away, according to a Whitfield County Sheriff's Office release. But marshals soon captured her, ending a two-day manhunt.

On Sunday night, according to police, Mims killed Chaudhari, a 37-year-old clerk at the Hi-Tech Fuel convenience store at 3385 Airport Road in Dalton, Ga. Police have not yet said how Mims killed Chaudhari, or how they identified Mims as the suspect.

Conasauga Circuit District Attorney Bert Poston declined to comment on the investigation Wednesday.

Mims -- an aspiring dancer, fashion designer, model and rapper -- is from Detroit, but her social media profiles suggest she has lived in Atlanta for about a month. Investigators say they still don't know why she stopped at a gas station in Dalton.

"Unfortunately, it's going to remain unanswered," said Greg Ramey, special agent in charge with the Georgia Bureau of Investigation. "She's not talking with us."

Ramey said the GBI received an anonymous tip about Mims' location about 2:30 p.m. Tuesday, after her name and pictures filled local news outlets.

"Within three hours of that call being made to us, she was in custody," Ramey said. "I can't praise the whole system [enough] for working like it was supposed to."

An incident report released after Mims' arrest and interviews with two witnesses shed new light on what happened Sunday night.

Around 11:15 p.m., 32-year-old Charles David Branson went to the convenience store to buy beer. But Chaudhari told him he couldn't sell alcohol on Sundays. Branson said the clerk was smiling, but his eyes were red, as if he had been crying.

Branson walked to another part of the store to use an ATM. With his back to the counter, he heard Chaudhari moaning. By the time he collected his money and turned around, though, Chaudhari had disappeared. He must be in the back room, Branson thought, or playing a trick on me.

He said he waited near the counter for about 10 minutes. Others came in the store, and they talked about how long the wait was. The other customers left, but Branson stayed.

Eventually, Branson went to the bathroom. While he was in there, he heard what he thought was a man and woman arguing. He doesn't know what they were saying; he thought they were speaking another language.

When Branson came out, he found a woman behind the counter. She wore a white sweatshirt with the hood pulled tight and blue sunglasses so big they covered most of her face. All Branson could see was her nose, mouth and chin.

He says she yelled at him. He says she told him that she was Chaudhari's wife, and the two were working through marital problems.

"You have to leave!" she said. "You have to go! We're closing early!"

Branson left.

Less than an hour later, around 12:30 a.m. Monday, Mark Rogers walked into the store and didn't see Chaudhari at the counter. That surprised him.

Rogers and Chaudhari had known each other for about six months. Like most acquaintances, Rogers called the clerk "Dicky." Rogers said he was laid back and polite.

Before Chaudhari moved into a mobile home behind the convenience store three weeks ago, he used to walk more than a mile down Airport Road to his old house. But sometimes, Rogers would give him a ride.

That night, as he walked closer to the counter, Rogers saw the cash register open, change on the floor. He knew his friend was in trouble.

Rogers walked around the counter, to a room in the back of the store. It was dark, but he saw enough.

Chaudhari lay on his back, red tape covering his eyes and mouth. On the floor, a puddle of blood surrounded him, about as big around as a kiddie pool.

"He was a good guy," Rogers said Wednesday, sitting in his living room.

"He didn't deserve that."

Contact staff writer Tyler Jett at 423-757-6476 or at tjett@timesfreepress.com.

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