12/04/13 — Suspect tells story; pleads

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Suspect tells story; pleads

By John Joyce
Published in News on December 4, 2013 1:46 PM

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Kim Best, right, the mother of Kennedy McLaurin Jr., cries on the shoulder of a loved one while defendant Kevin Smith's statement to police is read inside a Wayne County court room this morning.

Kevin Smith

One of the four men charged with the murder of a Goldsboro teenager pleaded guilty this morning to his role in the crime -- and agreed to testify against the remaining three defendants when the case goes to trial.

Kevin Smith, 19, pleaded guilty to charges of second-degree murder and first-degree kidnapping in connection with the 2012 murder of 16-year-old Kennedy McLaurin Jr. -- a case that began with a missing persons report and culminated in a gruesome discovery in a wooded area 20 miles away from the last place the Goldsboro High School student  was seen alive.

McLaurin's mother, Kim Best, broke down when Smith's statement was read inside the courtroom -- when Assistant District Attorney Matthew Delbridge read the Smith's account of how her son allegedly died and how the suspects disposed of his body.

Smith, in his statement to police, said when he got in the car Sept. 9, 2012, the boy's body was already inside.

The defendant saw blood and, at that point, did not know whether McLaurin was dead or alive.

The car was then driven to the place where McLaurin was initially buried, the statement read -- and once the car stopped, the 16-year-old was removed from the vehicle and placed on the ground.

"He lay face down," Smith said in the statement. "The boy wasn't talking at all."

Then, using two shovels that had been picked up from two of the defendants' homes, McLaurin was buried.

That night, the four defendatnts allegedly discussed how to get away with murder and decided to move the body and to dispose of the vehicle.

The three remaining defendants, Leonard Eugene Joyner, 23, Jerome Jilah Butts, 21, and Curtis Omar Ethridge, 20, each pleaded not guilty to first-degree kidnapping and first-degree murder charges.

McLaurin, of Rose Street, was first reported missing to Goldsboro police by his mother Sept. 9, 2012.

He was reportedly abducted by several men on Bain Street in the Woodcrest Housing Community and forced into the car they were driving, prompting a statewide Amber Alert.

After nearly two weeks, McLaurin's body was found in a shallow grave on farmland off Carmack Road near Seven Springs.

His remains were positively identified using DNA technology on Nov. 7, 2012.

According to an autopsy report obtained from the Chief Medical Examiner's Office in Chapel Hill, he had been shot and beaten before his body was burned and buried. Investigators later disclosed that the body had been previously buried in another spot and then relocated to the location where police ultimately discovered it.

Joyner was the first to be arrested, having turned himself in after police broadcast his image on television.

Butts and Smith's arrests followed later that evening. Ethridge was arrested the next day.

The four were indicted by a Wayne County grand jury in October.

Each of the men has since been held in Wayne County Jail without bond awaiting trial.

For more on what transpired inside Courtroom No. 5 this morning, see Thursday's News-Argus and follow www.NewsArgus.com