08/23/05 — Defendant rejects plea bargain

View Archive

Defendant rejects plea bargain

By Jack Stephens
Published in News on August 23, 2005 1:48 PM

A first-degree murder defendant from Goldsboro on Monday rejected a plea bargain in Wayne County Superior Court, passing up a maximum 13-year sentence, and went on trial with a possible life sentence in the balance.

Leandren Andre Wilson, 28, of North Kornegay Street turned down the state's offer of a guilty plea to voluntary manslaughter and habitual felon status.

If convicted of first-degree murder, Wilson would be sentenced automatically to life in prison. During a pretrial hearing earlier this year, a judge ruled that Wilson would not face the death penalty.

Wilson was accused of the fatal shooting of Corey Lavon Grantham on July 11, 2004, outside of a Goldsboro night club. The body of the 26-year-old Grantham, who had lived on Nor-Am Road, was found at about 3 a.m. near Corporate Drive and Clingman Street.

Judge Jay D. Hockenbury Jr. of Wilmington is presiding over the trial that is expected to take more than a week.

Hockenbury said that if Wilson had accepted the state's plea offer, the defendant would have been sentenced between 93 and 121 months to 116 to 149 months in prison. The judge allowed Wilson to meet with his lawyer and his mother for about a half-hour to make a final decision on the plea arrangement.

Hockenbury ruled that witnesses would be sequestered, except for the lead Goldsboro police investigator, W.P. VanWijk, the defendant's mother and the victim's parents.

Jury selection started late Monday afternoon from a panel of about 60.

Two people who were convicted of felonies were not sure if their citizenship had been restored and thus were eligible to serve as jurors.

After the courtroom clerks investigated, Hockenbury told the jurors: "I have good news for you. Your citizenship has been restored."

His comment drew laughter and applause from other jurors and the audience, but it did not sit well with the two possible jurors.

One panelist was excused from the first 12 called to the jury box, because she knew the families of the defendant and the victim.

Another was excused because he had had a run-in with a police officer who was expected to testify. He said that arrest would impact his ability to be fair and impartial. His answer also evoked laughter from the audience.

A hearing-impaired juror was kept, at least temporarily. He said a doctor said he did not qualify for a hearing aid, but he admitted that he could not hear much of the proceedings.

At one point, Hockenbury asked the juror to speak up because the judge could not hear him.

Later Assistant District Attorney Jan Kroboth, the prosecutor, asked the man, "Am I going to have to shout my questions at you and lose my voice?"

Later when the microphone in the witness stand was tested, the juror said he could hear it.

Hockenbury denied the state's motion twice to excuse the juror for cause. The juror said he would raise his hand if he could not he hear a witness.

Witnesses expected to testify include Goldsboro police officers, eyewitnesses, State Bureau of Investigation special agents and forensic experts and a pathologist who performed the autopsy.