09/28/11 — Jury gets first look at case

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Jury gets first look at case

By Gary Popp
Published in News on September 28, 2011 1:46 PM

Jurors in Wayne County Superior Court heard the opening arguments Tuesday in the murder trial of Steven Lynn Barbour, who is charged with killing Jamie Lee Hinson, 35, in December 2009.

Hinson's beaten body was discovered in Evergreen Memorial Cemetery on U.S. 70 West near the Johnston County line.

Barbour, 31, could face the death penalty if found guilty.

Jurors heard the opening arguments by Assistant District Attorney Matt Delbridge and defense attorney Steven Fisher of Greenville Tuesday.

In their statements, the lawyers referred to the three people believed to be involved in the murder. Charged along with Barbour are Joseph Lanier, 23, and Barbour's girlfriend, Tara Sparks, 30. Both are being held in the Wayne County Jail. Ms. Sparks has signed a plea deal with the state that includes her testimony for a reduced sentence.

Lanier and Ms. Sparks took turns at the witness stand Tuesday to give their accounts of what happened during the early morning hours of the day of Hinson's death, Dec. 3, 2009.

Both accounts included Ms. Sparks being at the Lanier family's Goldsboro home, which she and Barbour had moved into months earlier, when Lanier and Barbour were with Hinson in the cemetery.

Lanier had previously told Wayne County Sheriff's Office investigators that Ms. Sparks was in the graveyard during the killing.

Ms. Sparks testified that she woke up early on the morning of Dec. 3 to see Barbour and Lanier in her bedroom doorway with blood on their clothes.

She told the court that she was told to get up and wash the clothes, which she did.

Ms. Sparks said she thought the blood on the men's clothes was from beating up Lanier, not killing him.

Using Ms. Spark's testimony, Delbridge described for jurors what investigators have pieced together -- that Barbour's motivation to kill Hinson stemmed from an incident that occurred weeks earlier, in the parking lot of Dolls Palace, a gentlemen's club in Selma.

Ms. Sparks said Hinson attempted to rape her outside of the establishment after she had accepted his offer to go into the parking lot where he would "give me all the money in his pocket" if she showed him her breasts.

Much of Delbridge's argument is based on that night causing so much distress to Ms. Sparks and Barbour and their relationship that he decided to kill Hinson.

In his opening argument, Delbridge addressed the jurors by letting them know the direction he would take his argument.

"Ladies and gentlemen, strippers have feelings, too," Delbridge said. "And the reason we are here today is because a stripper got her feelings hurt."

Defense attorney Fisher countered by telling jurors that Hinson's attempted rape was actually limited to an unwanted kiss and that the incident did not warrant Hinson's death.

Both lawyers agreed that Hinson, Barbour and Lanier had been at The Clubhouse, a gentlemen's club on William Street in Goldsboro, the night before Hinson's death.

While at the nightclub, Barbour and Lanier, both Saulston Volunteer firefighters, left the club on two occasions to respond to emergency calls, and on both occasions Hinson was left at the club.

While en route, the men were called off of both calls and they returned to the club to retrieve Hinson.

Ms. Sparks and Lanier's testimonies conflict when it comes to what time Barbour and Lanier were at the house earlier in the night, but at some point, the two were at the home and one of the weapons used in the murder, a collapsible metal baton often carried by law enforcement officers, was taken from the home.

While the baton used in the murder has been introduced as evidence, Delbridge asked a sheriff's deputy in the courtroom for his baton, which Delbridge displayed to the jurors.

Ms. Sparks and Lanier both testified that a similar weapon, which belonged to Lanier's brother, was used during the murder.

Ms. Sparks said she was presented with a bag that contained the baton and a pocket knife wrapped in a towel the day after the murder.

She said the towel, baton and knife were covered in blood and that she washed them in the bathroom sink.

Fisher claimed the murder was carried out by Lanier, and that it was he, not Barbour, who swung the metal baton, crushing Hinson's skull.

Delbridge emphasized that Barbour, who he described as "the cool guy," wielded the baton that killed Hinson, while "Little Joey," who was fascinated by the older Barbour, simply followed along.

The trial was expected to resume this morning at 9 a.m.