MOUNT VERNON, Mo. — Lawrence County investigators apparently have revised their theory of who fatally shot 62-year-old Coy Cole in November at a rural Miller residence, filing new documents this week that support a charge of first-degree murder against a man who previously was suggested to have been an accomplice.

Matthew Abney, 36, is charged in Lawrence County Circuit Court with first-degree murder, first-degree robbery, first-degree assault or attempted assault, armed criminal action, abandonment of a corpse, and tampering with evidence.

The victim had last been in touch with his family on Nov. 18, and a missing-person investigation that eventually became a homicide investigation was launched in early December after Cole's sister contacted the Lawrence County Sheriff's Department. According to an initial probable-cause affidavit filed with the case, Abney had told investigators that Ray Fryling, 53, of Verona, had shot Cole as Cole was sitting in his living room in his home near Miller, leading to a first-degree murder charge being filed against Fryling.

But investigators also developed Abney, a former roommate of Cole, as a suspect after finding that he had used Cole's debit card in late November. In court documents filed earlier this week, they now appear to believe that Abney was Cole's shooter, and online court records no longer list a first-degree murder charge against Fryling.

A female witness, identified only by the initials T.M. in the probable-cause affidavit filed with Abney's charges, told investigators that Abney had ordered her and Cole onto their knees in the middle of the living room at a Miller residence early on Nov. 19 before shooting Cole in the arm and shooting at her but missing. Abney took the keys to Cole's vehicles and destroyed their cellphones, she said.

The witness said later that day, Abney returned to the residence. She told investigators that she heard Cole say, "No, Matt," and heard several gunshots. She then found Cole dead in his chair in the living room, she told police, and Abney and Fryling dug the bullet that had been shot into Cole's arm out of the wall.

She said Abney and Fryling wrapped Cole's body in a shower curtain and then loaded it onto a small trailer with two chairs that belonged to the victim. The trailer, body and chairs were taken to a residence in Verona and burned, she said.

The witness said that as the incident unfolded, Fryling told her that if she said anything, he would kill her family and make her watch as he did so before killing her, investigators said.

The witness said Abney then picked her up on Dec. 5 and drove her to the Verona residence, where he physically assaulted her with a revolver and his fist. She sought treatment for facial fractures and a broken hand at a local emergency room, investigators said.

Investigators have suggested that Cole's death might have stemmed from a dispute over a vehicle that he owned.

"(The witness) advised that Abney had wanted the white SUV for himself, and he took the SUV for his personal use from that point," a Lawrence County detective wrote in the affidavit.

Investigators said that when they identified Abney as a suspect, he was driving a white SUV that had belonged to Cole and that a search of the vehicle uncovered a loaded handgun. A search of Fryling's Verona property uncovered a fresh burn pile, human remains and part of a tan chair, investigators said.

Fryling is still charged with first-degree robbery, abandonment of a corpse, tampering with evidence and tampering with a witness, according to a revised probable-cause affidavit filed in his case.

Emily Younker is the assistant metro editor at the Joplin Globe. Contact: eyounker AT joplinglobe DOT com.

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