03/12/06 — Duplin prosecutor unhappy with decision to cut killer's sentence

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Duplin prosecutor unhappy with decision to cut killer's sentence

By Bonnie Edwards
Published in News on March 12, 2006 2:09 AM

KENANSVILLE -- A jury that sentenced a man to life in prison for murdering his wife was not allowed to hear evidence about his long history of domestic abuse, the prosecutors in the case said.

And because of a change in sentencing laws, Duplin County District Attorney Dewey Hudson said Cornelius Nobles could go free in 2032. Nobles will be 72 when he is eligible for a hearing before the governor to determine if his sentence should be commuted.

Hudson said he believes the evidence of domestic violence was admissible and, had the jury been allowed to hear the evidence, the punishment would have been death -- again.

Nobles shot six times into his wife's truck in August 1996 as she and the couple's three children left their house on Paul Ed Dail Road outside Kenansville. The children were unharmed, but Ronita Nobles died at the scene.

The trial was moved to Sampson County in September 1997 because of pre-trial publicity, and the first jury found Nobles guilty of first degree murder under the felony murder rule and sentenced him to death.

The state Supreme Court remanded the case for a new sentencing hearing in 2000, and the second jury sentenced him to death again.

Again the Supreme Court remanded the case for resentencing in the fall of 2005. Another change of venue sent the case back to Kenansville.

Judge Gary Trawick from Pender County did not allow the jury to hear evidence concerning the domestic violence that occurred for years between the couple, Hudson said.

Assistant District Attorney Davis Wheddle from the Clinton office handled the state's case against Nobles. He said the decision came from the judge, not state statute.

"I don't agree with it," Wheddle said about the judge's decision.

The judge explained that the original jury found Nobles guilty under the felony murder rule, not the premeditated murder rule. The judge said the years of domestic violence before a couple of days preceding the murder were not relevant to the felony murder theory. Because the first jury found the murder was not premeditated, Trawick would not allow the state to present that evidence.

"Under the felony murder rule, if I commit a crime involving a deadly weapon and someone dies, I'm guilty of felony murder," Wheddle said.

Nobles was firing into the truck, a felony. Mrs. Nobles died. Therefore, Wheedles said, the first jury found him guilty of first degree felony murder.

"It did not make sense the entire time," Wheddle said about not being able to mention the previous domestic violence.

The DA's office has no recourse, and Wheddle said Mrs. Nobles' family is ready to put the matter behind them.

"They had to go through this three times," he said. "They're tired. You can't blame the father. He took off eight weeks from work. The grandmother is taking care of the kids. They're 10 and 11 now. I've seen what they've been through."