08/30/05 — Jury gets murder case

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Jury gets murder case

By Turner Walston
Published in News on August 30, 2005 1:51 PM

Jurors were expected to begin deliberations today in the first-degree murder trial of Leandren Andre Wilson.

Wilson, 28, of North Kornegay Street, is charged with shooting to death Corey Lavon Grantham July 11, 2004, outside a Goldsboro nightclub. Closing arguments were heard Monday in Wayne County Superior Court.

Early Monday, with the jury absent, prosecutors extended a plea-bargain offer in which Wilson would have pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in exchange for a sentence of 15-23 years. After conferring with his mother and his attorney, Louis Jordan, Wilson rejected the offer.

After the jury entered the courtroom, Assistant District Attorney Jan Kroboth rested for the prosecution. Calling no witnesses and entering no evidence, Jordan did the same for the defense. The jury was then excused until closing arguments were heard at 2 p.m.

With the jury out of the courtroom, Jordan objected to the admission of and method of publication of photographs of Grantham, calling the presentation inflammatory. Specifically, he objected to "the same person being shown repeated times which did not show any significant difference to the person's features."

When Judge Jay D. Hockenbury denied the motions, Jordan renewed his motion for a mistrial based on the testimony of Antoinette Saul, the victim's aunt. Mrs. Saul identified Wilson as the shooter on Tuesday, but Hockenbury ordered the jury to disregard that part of her testimony, saying she could not make an independent verification. Jordan said her testimony still "unduly prejudiced" the jury, and said the judge's order "could not purge it from the jurors' minds."

Hockenbury disagreed.

"There is substantial evidence presented to the case from various sources that the defendant was the shooter," he said. "I'm not going to change my ruling on the mistrial."

Jordan then moved for a dismissal, which also was denied.

Hockenbury then explained to Wilson his right to take the stand, which he waived.

Mrs. Kroboth began her closing arguments by painting Grantham as a peacemaker.

"I've heard it said that being a peacemaker is one of the best things a person can do," she told the jury. "Corey Grantham was being a peacemaker. ... And this is what he got for it: A bullet through the head."

Mrs. Kroboth explained differences in testimonies from witnesses by saying people don't often remember the same details of traumatic events.

"When we see a traumatic event," she said, " ... Every one of us may see it differently."

She compared the situation to seeing objects in a cloud. "Everybody's looking at the same cloud, but they see it differently."

She referred to testimony from Tory Thompson and Mitchell Percell, state witnesses with criminal records themselves. She admitted to jurors the witnesses had "checkered pasts."

"The witnesses that the state gets are the people who are out there at three in the morning. The state just brings you the people that were there and then lets you decide," Mrs. Kroboth said.

"Just use your common sense, ladies and gentlemen. This is a turf battle, and it gives you an example of how cheap life is on the streets."

Although the defendant waived his right to testify, Mrs. Kroboth used his statements to police officers as part of the state's case against him.

"If I'd had a problem with Corey Grantham, I'd have killed him,'" she said, quoting Wilson. "'But yo, I didn't have a problem with him.'"

"That's how cheap life is on the streets," Mrs. Kroboth said. "That's how cheap life is to him."

After a brief recess between closing arguments, the defendant waved at his parents as he walked back into the court room.

Jordan then began closing arguments for the defense.

"A verdict of guilty means that Mr. Wilson spends the rest of his life in prison. He dies there," Jordan said.

"This case involves a death which has a lot of emotions in it," Jordan continued, saying people want justice to be done. "Justice can be done just as well by finding one not guilty who's not guilty as well as finding one guilty who's guilty," he said.

Jordan also questioned the testimony from some of the prosecution's witnesses.

"Some of those persons' testimony may not be as believable as someone else's testimony because of their background. Twenty-seven convictions. Is that person believable?"

Jordan also questioned Wilson's ability to fire the bullet that killed Grantham. Wilson, who is between 5 foot 4 inches and 5 foot 6 inches, would have had a hard time shooting Grantham in the head from a distance, Jordan said. Grantham was about 5 foot 9 inches, and the bullet entered and exited at a slightly downward angle.

"If Corey Grantham is standing face to face with Dre, it's really face to chest," Jordan said. "Tory Thompson has them standing in the grass. I suggest to you that Tory Thompson didn't see a thing."

Jordan implicated Thompson as the shooter by noting the location of bullet shells found by police.

"Every shell was on the Quality Inn side of Clingman Street. Who ran to the Quality Inn side of Clingman Street? Tory Thompson," Jordan said.

"There's a lot that's missing. There's much to this case that needs to be shown that has not. I say to you there should be reasonable doubt. There should be total doubt. The shooter is only identified by one person: Tory Thompson. I say to you that Tory Thompson has interest in this case," Jordan added. "We must consider whether or not the state or Mrs. Kroboth has shown to you that Leandren Andre Wilson is the one who pulled the trigger."

Jordan asked the jurors to consider Wilson's quality of life just as they would Grantham's loss.

"The verdict needs to speak the truth. Corey Grantham or Andre Wilson. It's still a life."