03/18/14 — Trial moves forward

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Trial moves forward

By John Joyce
Published in News on March 18, 2014 1:46 PM

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Wayne County Superior Court Judge Arnold Jones listens as defense attorney Charles Gurley argues for a change of venue in the murder trial of Leonard Eugene Joyner. Joyner is accused of being one of the men who killed Kennedy McLaurin in September 2012. Gurley has said press coverage of the case has made it impossible for his client to receive a fair trial in Wayne County.

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Leonard Eugene Joyner, 23, is seen on the witness stand in Wayne County Superior Court on Monday. Joyner faces life in prison if convicted.

Jury selection began today in Wayne County Superior Court for the first-degree murder trial of Leonard Eugene Joyner, 23.

Joyner is charged in the 2012 murder of Kennedy Fitzgerald McLaurin Jr., 16 -- a crime to which three other men have already pleaded guilty.

Joyner's defense attorney, Charles Gurley, renewed his motion for a change of venue Monday. The motion seeking to move the trial to another county -- which was previously denied, according to court documents -- had been left open to be heard again.

Senior Resident Superior Court Judge Arnold O. Jones again denied the motion, but said he would allow it to be addressed again today during jury selection.

Gurley fears his client will not get a fair trial in Wayne County due to the extensive media coverage that has surrounded the case since McLaurin first went missing Sept. 9, 2012.

Jones said during the jury selection process he and attorneys for both sides will have the opportunity to question potential jurors to see just how biased, if at all, the local citizenry might be.

There also lies the possibility of busing jurors in from other counties rather than relocating the trial.

Gurley cited what he called inaccurate reporting in recent media coverage as the reason for his motion, and said it was the intent of such reporting to inflame the community against his client.

Gurley discussed the use of the word "suspect," as it referred to his client versus his three former co-defendants who will likely testify against Joyner as part of their plea agreements with the state.

Curtis Ethridge, 19, Kevin Smith, 20, and Jerome Butts, 20, have each pleaded guilty to charges of second-degree murder and first-degree kidnapping.

In statements read aloud in court during some of the earlier plea proceedings, details surrounding the murder emerged for the first time.

Those new details were, contrary to Gurley's assertions in court Monday, consistent with the medical examiner's report released in Sept. 25, 2012.

The report states McLaurin suffered two gunshot wounds to the chest fired from a 9mm pistol. The first shot was reportedly self-inflicted; the second shot was not.

The victim then suffered blunt force trauma to the head. The weapon described in the report was a shovel.

The report further states McLaurin's body was burned using about $1 worth of gasoline. His body was buried, dug up and then buried again.

The autopsy report, released in February 2013, backs up the medical examiner's earlier report. It confirms the cause of death as two gunshot wounds to the chest, but lists further damage to the body, describing charring consistent with the burning of the body. Facial and skull fractures are also mentioned.

Gurley abandoned all other motions in the trial except those related to the change of venue and the potential busing in of jurors.

One motion readily allowed by Jones was for the trial to be recorded.

Another motion for the exclusion of photographs -- meaning those that would be introduced into evidence -- will be dealt with during the trial, Jones said.

Jury selection is expected to last no longer than a day-and-a-half, barring the unforeseen, he said.

The trial will commence once the jury is impaneled.