Ashanti Billie (19) disappeared during the early morning hours of September 18th, 2017. On that morning, Ashanti left her Virginia Beach apartment at 4am to head to work at a Blimpie’s restaurant located on a naval base in Norfolk, Virginia. Surveillance footage shows Ashanti’s ID being checked by a guard as her car enters through one of the base’s security gates at 4:56am. Roughly 30 minutes later, the footage shows Ashanti’s car exiting the base through the same gate. Ashanti never showed up for her 6am shift, where she was expected to open up the shop. Co-worker Andrew Estrada called Ashanti’s phone at 9am looking for her. The phone was answered by a construction worker who tells Andrew that he found the phone in a construction dumpster in a nearby location off base. Ashanti was reported missing shortly after.
On September 23rd, 2017, Ashanti’s car was found under a street lamp at the end of a cul du sac in Norfolk. The windows were rolled halfway down and the car was reportedly “carelessly parked.” Additionally, Ashanti’s pants were found inside the car, and they were covered with dirt and debris; consistent with them being removed while on the ground. Massive searches in the areas where Ashanti’s phone and car were found turned up no clues to whereabouts.
On September 29th, 2017, Ashanti’s body was found behind a church in Charlotte, North Carolina—over 300 miles (an estimated 5+ hour drive) away from where she disappeared in Virginia. The discovery of her body left more questions than answers. To name just a few: if her car and other belongings were found in Norfolk, how did she end up in Charlotte? Who brought her there? Was she dead or alive when she was transported there?
Over a month later on November 8th, 2017, some of these questions were answered when investigators announced that they had arrested retired Navy veteran Eric Brian Brown (45) for kidnapping and murdering Ashanti. Investigators said that they believed Brown had kidnapped Ashanti as she arrived for work on the morning of September 18th and killed her shortly after. Witnesses reported seeing Ashanti’s vehicle on September 18th near the location where her phone was found. Witnesses in Charlotte also report seeing Ashanti’s vehicle on September 18th, near the church were her body was found over a week later. Brown apparently had ties to this church; he attended vacation Bible school there while growing up.
|Eric Brian Brown|
In June 2018, a court found Brown to be incompetent to stand trial. Brown was diagnosed with schizophrenia in January 2018, and court documents cite that he requires treatment in order for the case to move forward. According to the documents, the schizophrenia diagnosis raises questions as to “whether Brown is able to understand the nature and consequences of the proceedings against him, and if he is capable of assisting his attorneys with his defense.”
Brown had previously not been taking medication to treat the schizophrenia, but now his doctors have stated that he needs to be involuntarily medicated because he is a danger to himself and others. This ruling comes after an incident in which Brown swung his chain restraints at a prison guard inside his cell.
Brown’s defense attorneys are fighting the court’s decision to involuntarily medicate him. His team is arguing that they do not know what type of drugs the prison doctors would use to medicate Brown, and that certain psychotropic drugs can have serious, life-threatening side effects. Additionally, Brown’s defense team argues that the prison officials have not been clear about their decision to medicate him. While the court documents state that the decision came after the incident with the prison guard, Brown’s defense team said that they were informally told by prison guards that they want to involuntarily medicate Brown for “for the express purpose of restoring him to competency.”
Until Brown is deemed competent, the case will remain pending. Ashanti Billie’s family members have released a statement following the incompetency ruling: “Although this development is disappointing, we are confident that all parties responsible for Ashanti’s death will be held accountable.“
UPDATE (October 2020): A judge has yet again ruled that Eric Brown is unfit to stand trial. The judge also believes that it is very unlikely that his competency will be restored. Despite this, the indictment has not been dropped. If Brown is ever found competent, the prosecution will move forward with the case. At this time, they are seeking to have him committed to another mental health facility.