08/09/06 — Murder trial begins in Duplin

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Murder trial begins in Duplin

By Bonnie Edwards
Published in News on August 9, 2006 1:53 PM

KENANSVILLE -- Jury selection began Tuesday in the murder trial of Antonio Jenkins.

Jenkins is accused of stabbing 86-year-old Mary Beach Fulford to death in October 2003, when he was 13 years old. He is now 15.

The victim was a neighbor, living near Jenkins on N.C. 24 between Kenansville and Warsaw.

Jenkins does not face a possible death sentence. Because of his age, if he is found guilty, the maximum sentence would be life in prison.

According to prosecutors, Jenkins confessed to investigators. He said he walked into Ms. Fulford's house without knocking while she was having lunch. He said he told her to give him all of her money, and when she didn't, he went next door where he lived with his grandmother, grabbed a kitchen knife and returned.

He said he stabbed her repeatedly, estimating in his confession statement that he stabbed her between nine and 13 times. He said he stopped only when he cut his own finger.

On Monday, Judge Kenneth Crowe ruled that he would allow that and several other statements by Jenkins "that were tantamount to a confession" to be entered as testimony.

Jenkins' defense lawyer, Fredrick Hall, filed motions Monday to suppress evidence based on what he called his client's diminished capacity, conflicting testimony and violation of Jenkins' Miranda rights. Hall said Jenkins was too young to speak for himself and was not represented by his legal guardian during his interrogation by Duplin Sheriff's Office officers.

During Monday's hearing on Hall's motions, some of the prosecution's case was brought to light.

Jenkins' legal guardians were his mother, Cheryl Jenkins Smith, and his 90-year-old grandmother, Celestine Nicholson.

Ms. Smith was not present at the scene, according to prosecutors, and officers asked Mrs. Nicholson to go to the Sheriff's Office with her grandson. She said she was not able to go because she was confined to a wheelchair. She sent her 32-year-old daughter, Angela Nicholson, to represent her.

Assistant District Attorney Ernie Lee said Angela Nicholson was the guardian because Celestine Nicholson was infirm.

"Law enforcement made a good faith effort to determine the guardian, and she said take the aunt down," Lee told the judge.

This was Jenkins' aunt, he said, "not some person off the street."

Two detectives, Lt. Bill Humphrey and Rita Wood, and Ms. Nicholson were the only people present during Jenkins' interview at the Sheriff's Office. The judge had their testimony sequestered, and each was not allowed to hear what the others said.

"I explained to him that we had to read him his rights," Humphrey said. "He was very angry, making faces. He said he was glad he'd done it, and he wanted to kill them all, and he just did not care anymore."

Nobody had a chance to read him his rights before he made outbursts "and kept going on and on," Humphrey said.

He said they calmed Jenkins down enough that Ms. Wood was able to read him his juvenile rights and he read the waiver of the Miranda rights. It took them 30 minutes to get that done, he said.

He said he asked Jenkins if he understood his rights.

Jenkins answered yes, he said, and he had the youth write out "yes" and initial it.

He said the only question he and Ms. Wood asked Jenkins was to describe what happened.

"A lot of times I had to stop him because he was talking too fast," Humphrey said.

Jenkins would ramble on so long he would get tired, Ms. Wood said. She said they sat and waited until he started up again.

Humphrey said Jenkins did not ask for a lawyer until the end of the interview.

The difference in their testimony was Humphrey said he heard the youth say he didn't want to talk anymore, and Ms. Wood said she did not hear him say that.

Humphrey said Jenkins would say he didn't want to talk anymore, take a rest and keep on talking.

Ms. Wood said she never heard Jenkins ask for a lawyer.

Angela Nicholson's testimony Monday differed from both detectives' accounts of the interview. But she agreed that Jenkins was in a rage when he was brought into the interrogation room.

"We had a hard time trying to calm him down," Ms. Nicholson said.

She said her nephew told the detectives he didn't want to talk without a lawyer, and as far as she could remember, "they gave (the Miranda rights) to me to read."

Crowe ruled the evidence was admissible, saying Ms. Nicholson had acted in the capacity of Jenkins' guardian. She was the only adult in the house who had a driver's license and a car, the judge noted, and she picked Jenkins up at school when he was suspended. She cared for her mother and the children in the house, shopping and cooking for them.

"Ms. Celestine might have been the legal custodian, but she was unable to be mobile at the time," Crowe said. "I believe by all counts it was difficult for this lady to transport from one place to another. Angela was the de facto provider for the house."

Crowe said he believed Jenkins was aware of the gravity of the situation and said testimony suggested he was not impaired at the time.

Crowe also noted that a psychologist with Duplin General Hospital had been unable to finish an evaluation of his mental capacity to stand trial because he assaulted her during the interview. And although Jenkins tested at below average intelligence, he said agreed with the psychologist's assertion that Jenkins possessed the mental capacity to appreciate the consequences of his actions.

He said Jenkins made a voluntary, intelligent waiver of his rights and "I am satisfied with his capacity to proceed."

The trial was to continue today in Duplin Superior Court.