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03/16/14 — Murder trial set to start Monday

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Murder trial set to start Monday

By From staff reports
Published in News on March 16, 2014 1:50 AM

Leonard Joyner

A man accused of being part of the plot to kill Kennedy McLaurin in September 2012 will go on trial for first-degree murder Monday in Wayne County Superior Court.

A last-minute effort by the defense lawyer for Leonard Joyner to move the trial to another city was denied last week. So was a motion to bring in a jury from another county because of the attention the case received.

Joyner, 19, is accused of being one of four men who killed McLaurin and tried to bury his body in a wooded area near Seven Springs.

The other three defendants -- Jerome Jilah Butts, 21, Kevin Smith, 19, and Curtis Etheridge, 20 -- turned state's evidence and are expected to testify against Joyner. Each pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and first-degree kidnapping in exchange for his testimony.

McLaurin was 16 when he was reported missing by his mother. Investigators soon said he had been picked up by and involved in a scuffle with several young men in a car on Bain Street.

Marches were held in the city calling for his safe return and public pleas were made by his family.

Authorities searched for nearly two weeks before finding his body. It was later revealed that he had been shot, beaten and burned before being buried and then reburied in another site.

The four suspects were soon identified and arrested.

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.

As part of the plea bargain, the three defendants who have agreed to testify against Joyner have agreed to be sentenced after his trial. The maximum sentence faced by each of the three defendants-turned-witness is more than 59 years in prison.

Joyner faces life behind bars.

Senior Resident Superior Court Judge Arnold O. Jones will hear the case. The defense attorney is Charles Gaylor.