04/20/05 — Cousins get life in prison for murder

View Archive

Cousins get life in prison for murder

By Jack Stephens
Published in News on April 20, 2005 1:48 PM

Two young cousins were sentenced Tuesday afternoon to life in prison without parole after a Wayne County Superior Court jury convicted them of the first-degree murder of a Goldsboro man.

Dwight Eugene Sloan, 23, of Decoy Drive, Pikeville, and Kolanda Kay Wooten, 19, of Courtyard Circle, stared straight ahead when the jury's guilty verdicts were announced.

The two defendants were convicted of the drive-by shooting of 19-year-old Jamaal Rashaud Pearsall of Maple Street on Aug. 24, 2003. They had contended that Pearsall had stolen Sloan's $300 car stereo.

Judge John W. Smith of Wilmington polled the seven women and five men of the jury. All agreed that guilty was their verdict in the two cases.

"The law compels me to enter this judgment," Smith said. The defendants "will spend the rest of their natural lives in prison."

Until that time, the courtroom audience had been quiet. But at the judge's pronouncement, the defendants' relatives and Pearsall's mother began to cry.

The jurors needed 2 hours and 17 minutes to reach the twin verdicts. During their deliberation, they asked the judge one question: Could Ms. Wooten be convicted of a lesser offense? The judge instructed them to treat each case separately. They returned a few minutes later.

Sloan and Ms. Wooten were led away by bailiffs to the Wayne County Jail before being taken to state-run prisons.

Motions by defense lawyers Geoff Hulse of Goldsboro and Michael Reece of Smithfield to set aside the verdicts were denied. Both lawyers then appealed the verdicts to the state Supreme Court.

The jurors left the courtroom without comment. The two alternate jurors said they agreed with the verdicts.

Before the jury deliberated, the four lawyers made their closing arguments.

Assistant District Attorney Matt Delbridge argued that Sloan should be convicted under the felony first-degree murder rule. If a murder is committed during the perpetration of another serious crime, then the defendant can be convicted of first-degree murder. The other serious crime for which Wooten was charged was the discharge of a weapon into occupied property -- the blue car that Pearsall was driving that Sunday afternoon.

Delbridge also argued that Ms. Wooten should be convicted of first-degree murder because "her actions contributed to the commission of the crime. ... She served him up to Sloan." He said that she had aided and abetted Sloan and had acted in concert with him.

Ms. Wooten had driven the white Pontiac that chased Pearsall on Maple, Taylor and Edgerton streets and then came alongside the blue car. She could have turned away, Delbridge argued, but "she couldn't let go."

At that point, Sloan admitted that he had fired a round into the car. The shot struck Pearsall in the heart, and he died as the blue Honda crashed into a parked car.

But Hulse argued later that Sloan had said the shooting was not intentional.

"His remorse, his sobbing and his help with the police in finding the gun fly in the face of someone trying to hide something," the lawyer said.

Hulse contended that Sloan's lack of intent did not fit a first-degree or second-degree murder case.

Reece argued that Ms. Wooten had nothing to do with the shooting. He said that she had asked Sloan "'Why did you do that?' Are those the words of someone whose common purpose was to have Jamaal Pearsall killed?"

Reece said Ms. Wooten had to have actively encouraged the crime. He said another cousin, not his client, had pointed Pearsall out to Sloan.

Assistant District Claud Ferguson said Sloan had shed crocodile tears on the stand. He said the defendant was crying not for the victim, but because he realized that he could spend the rest of his life in prison. Ferguson said the only person who showed genuine sorrow was the victim's mother.

Ferguson said that when the shot was fired, Sloan's hand was only about three feet away from Pearsall.

The assistant prosecutor said that under the law Ms. Wooten was just as guilty of the crime as Sloan because she knowingly instigated him to commit the crime and that her actions contributed to its commission.