10/20/13 — 4 indicted in McLaurin murder

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4 indicted in McLaurin murder

By John Joyce
Published in News on October 20, 2013 1:50 AM

The four men Goldsboro police allege are responsible for the September 2012 murder of a 16-year-old Goldsboro High School student were indicted this week by a Wayne County grand jury.

Leonard Eugene Joyner, 22, Jerome Jilah Butts, 20, Kevin Smith, 18, and Curtis Omar Ethridge, 19, face first-degree murder charges in the death of Kennedy Fitzgerald McLaurin Jr. -- a case that began with a missing persons report and culminated in the discovery of the teenager's body in a wooded area 20 miles away from the last place he was seen.

McLaurin disappeared Sept. 9, 2012, and according to law enforcement testimony and documents recovered from the Wayne County Courthouse, the young man was killed not long after he was thrown into the back of a 1990s model Oldsmobile.

An autopsy report stated that McLaurin was shot, beaten with a shovel and burned.

Lawmen say his killers then buried him, returned to the site to dig up his body, moved it and buried it again off of Carmack Road near Seven Springs.

But before the body was exhumed from that wooded area -- before police even knew where it was -- investigators believed they had enough evidence to charge the four who were indicted this week.

Joyner turned himself in Sept. 21 after police released his image to the media and named him a suspect.

By that evening, Butts and Smith also had been charged.

The following day, Ethridge turned himself in.

McLaurin's remains were exhumed less than 24 hours later.

According to court documents, Butts, Smith and Ethridge have all confessed.

Joyner, though, says he is innocent.

And since their arrest, each of the suspects has appeared in court.

During the last hearing, which took place in October 2012, McLaurin's family members were told they would have to wait to bury him after a defense lawyer for one of the defendants argued that the body itself is evidence in the trial.

To date, the young man's body has yet to be released.