03/11/14 — Murder trial to begin Monday

View Archive

Murder trial to begin Monday

By John Joyce
Published in News on March 11, 2014 1:46 PM

Leonard Joyner

A motion by the defense attorney for a change of venue in the upcoming murder trial of one of the defendants in the Kennedy McLaurin murder case has been denied.

Defense attorney Charles Gurley filed the motion Monday in Wayne County Superior Court seeking to move Leonard Joyner's trial in connection with the 2012 murder.

Senior Resident Superior Court Judge Arnold O. Jones denied the motion.

The trial is set to begin Monday.

Joyner, 23, is charged in the 2012 murder and kidnapping of Kennedy Fitzgerald McLaurin Jr., 16.

Gurley cited in his motion for a change of venue that extensive media coverage of the case might have biased potential jurors.

Jones was not swayed.

The judge also denied another motion filed by Gurley requesting jurors be brought in from outside the county.

Joyner is the last remaining suspect in the McLaurin murder not to take a plea deal. Three others have already pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and first-degree kidnapping. All three will testify against Joyner as part of their plea agreements.

Goldsboro police arrested Joyner, along with Jerome Jilah Butts, 21, Kevin Smith, 19, and Curtis Etheridge, 20, less than two weeks into a missing persons case that captured the city's attention in September 2012.

Kimberly Best, the mother of the victim, reported her son missing Sept. 10, 2012.

After looking into the matter, investigators learned several witnesses on Bain Street remembered seeing a young man fitting McLaurin's description the previous day.

Witnesses said McLaurin was involved in a scuffle inside a blue car with multiple occupants. That's when the missing persons case became an abduction investigation.

The community rallied over the next few days. Those efforts culminated in a march from Bain Street to police headquarters. Citizens held signs, wore T-shirts bearing the missing teen's image and shouted chants demanding McLaurin's safe return.

It was not to be.

Days into the investigation, the Goldsboro Police Department held a press conference announcing McLaurin was feared dead.

Investigators soon identified Joyner as a suspect and distributed his image to local media. Joyner turned himself in that night and, within 24 hours, each of the three remaining suspects were taken into custody.

Statements from the suspects led police to a wooded area on a secluded farm off of Carmack Road in Seven Springs. After two days of searching and digging, with assistance from The State Bureau of Investigation and the Wayne County Sheriff's Office, crime scene investigators recovered the body of the dead teenager.

In February 2013, autopsy results revealed McLaurin had been shot, beaten with a shovel and burned.

Smith pleaded guilty in December 2013. Butts and Etheridge, who pleaded not guilty at the time, reconsidered their positions in January and joined Smith in lining up to testify against Joyner.

Statements made by the suspects to police during the investigation detailing McLaurin's last moments were read aloud in court.

According to his confessed killers, McLaurin agreed to sell the men a small amount of marijuana. Once inside their car, however, things changed.

He pulled a gun.

Joyner was able to turn the tables on McLaurin, but the gun went off during the tussle inside the car.

Joyner allegedly mocked McLaurin for having shot himself. The men picked up two shovels and drove to the first burial site where McLaurin was shot a second time, beaten and his body burned before being buried.

That night the men discussed how to get away with murder which led them to move the body and destroy the car.