10/31/13 — Tensions high at murder trial

View Archive

Tensions high at murder trial

By John Joyce
Published in News on October 31, 2013 1:46 PM

Security officers had to be called in to prevent an altercation outside the Wayne County Courthouse on Wednesday afternoon between a witness and supporters of Antonio Seaberry, who is on trial for first-degree murder.

Seaberry is accused of shooting to death Laquan Devon Pearsall, 20, in September 2011.

Near the end of the second day of testimony, a subpoenaed witness for the defense and a group of Seaberry's supporters on their way back into the courthouse from an afternoon break got into an argument and had to be separated.

The tension outside the courthouse was mirrored by that inside the courtroom, as defense lawyers argued that the police interrogation of Seaberry that led to his confession was unlawful.

A motion to suppress the confession had already been denied by Superior Court Judge John E. Nobles.

Seaberry, according to court documents and testimony, and by his own statements on a videotaped interview with police, was not the one who fired the gun that killed Pearsall.

The alleged shooter, identified by investigators as Timothy Jerome Midgette, 20, has never been charged.

It was Midgette with whom Seaberry supporters tangled after he approached one of the men and accused them of "looking at (him) wrong all day" during testimony.

Seaberry first denied having anything to do with shooting during three voluntary interviews with investigators.

But in a later interrogation, in December 2011, Seaberry divulged that he had taken part in arranging a drug deal that eventually turned into a robbery and shooting.

It was during that interrogation that the lead detective in the case, Investigator Doug Bethea, invited Seaberry to pray with him in an effort to get him to talk, Bethea testified.

"He was having trouble with his conscience," Bethea testified.

Defense attorney George Kelly hammered Bethea while he was on the witness stand, questioning whether prayer was an investigation tactic he was taught in police training, or if it was in a manual.

Bethea said it was not.

Kelly read from the North Carolina Constitution, which said that "no authority whatsoever" may infringe for any reason on a person's religious freedom or right to conscience.

Bethea said he had never heard of the statute.

Under further questioning and outside the presence of the jury, Bethea said that although it was not a standard practice of the Goldsboro Police Department to use prayer in interrogation to solicit a confession, that he had seen a supervisor do it several times. He said that he had seen this within the last five years. He also said that he had decided before even walking into the interview room he was going to get a confession out of Seaberry and would do so by any means necessary.

One of the last questions Kelly asked Bethea was if he knew who Timothy Midgette was. Bethea replied that he did.

He asked if Midgette was the man that Seaberry had identified as the shooter. Bethea said yes.

The state rested its case after Bethea's testimony. The defense was expected to call its first witness today.