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03/19/14 — Live from the courtroom - Joyner on trial

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Live from the courtroom - Joyner on trial

By Kenneth Fine
Published in News on March 19, 2014 9:51 AM

Follow all the action unfolding in Courtroom No. 1, as the state attempts to convince a Wayne County jury that Leonard Eugene Joyner is guilty of first-degree murder and first-degree kidnapping in connection with the 2012 death of 16-year-old Kennedy McLaurin Jr.

Joyner on trial, Day 1:

9:50 a.m. -- Leonard Joyner, one of the men charged with first-degree murder in connection with the 2012 death of 16-year-old Kennedy McLaurin, is in the courtroom and seated next to his attorney, Charles Gurley. Opening statements are scheduled to begin shortly after 10 a.m.

9:57 a.m. -- Assistant District Attorney Matthew Delbridge, the lead prosecutor in the case, has entered the courtroom and is talking with McLaurin's grandmother.

10:03 a.m. -- "Everybody stand." Senior Resident Superior Court Judge Arnold Jones has entered the courtroom and called for the jurors. Opening statements should begin moments after the jury has arrived.

10:05 a.m. -- McLaurin's mother, Kim Best, has entered the courtroom. The jurors are right behind her.

10:09 a.m. -- Senior Resident Superior Court Judge Arnold Jones is giving instructions to the jury.

10:10 a.m. -- Assistant District Attorney Matthew Delbridge has the floor. Highlights from his opening argument to come.

"(McLaurin) knew he was going to die," Delbridge said. "The only uncertainty was where, when and how he was going to die. He was helpless in the hands of strangers."

"We know how he died," Delbridge said. "The bullets, the beatings, the burning."

Joyner, Delbridge said, was "the leader" -- the one who "made the decision that Kennedy was going to die."

"With the victim in the car listening, do you know what (Joyner) said? 'Get a shovel.'"

10:13 a.m. -- Defense attorney Charles Gurley has the floor. Highlights from his opening argument to come.

"This case has never been a murder case," he said. "(McLaurin) ended up dying with his own gun."

McLaurin, Gurley said, was in the car to sell marijuana and rob Joyner at gunpoint.

"He wasn't helpless with strangers," he said. 

"There was no lighting on fire -- beating," Gurley said. "All that evidence was exaggerated."

"He was the only one, Mr. McLaurin, who had a gun," Gurley said. "He basically ended up shooting himself."

"He basically killed himself," Gurley said. "That's what (another suspect) Jermone Butts said."

"He got shot at Bain Street. That's where the drug transaction was supposed to go down," Gurley said. "The evidence will show it was self-defense."

Gurley characterized McLaurin as "the drug dealer with the 9 mm."

"He was never alive when he was lit on fire," Gurley said. "He was never alive when he was burnt."

The state, he added, was going to try to make Joyner look like "some kind of a gang leader."

But it was McLaurin, Gurley said, who pulled the gun as part of a "gang initiation."

10:24 a.m. -- State calls its first witness, a black woman named Tonya Prior

She said on the afternoon of the murder, she was at home with her mother and two kids when she heard a loud gunshot outside. She said she walked to the door and looked outside and saw a car with one of the doors open and heard someone yell to "Call 911." She called 911 and told the operator she heard gunshots.

10:28 a.m. -- Assistant District Attorney Matthew Delbridge is playing the 911 call.

"I need an ambulance," Ms. Prior can be heard saying.

"Someone got shot?" the operator asks.

"Yes," Ms. Prior responds.

She tells the operator she has "no idea" who the people in the car were and that they "took off."

10:32 a.m. -- The recording is done being played and Delbridge is asking about the car she saw that day. It was an "old model" car, she said. He then asked Ms. Prior to, using a large map, explain where she lives and where she saw the car.

10:37 a.m. -- Cross-examination has begun and defense attorney Charles Gurley is asking her questions about the day of the shooting -- where the car was and whether she could "exactly see" everything that unfolded. "I don't know if they was fighting or what," she said.

10:40 a.m. -- State calls its second witness, Antoino "Mel" King

"I got a phone call from the defendant about where to find some marijuana," he said.

He knew "I had somebody coming to buy marijuana."

He said he went to find McLaurin when, several minutes after he left to make the drug deal, he did not return.

He could hear fighting inside the car and the car took off, he said. 

He said he now lives in Greensboro, but back then, he was dealing drugs.

He reiterated that on the day of the shooting, he got a call from Joyner who, he says, wanted to buy a small quantity of marijuana.

They picked a "meeting spot."

After McLaurin disappeared, he called Joyner.

Joyner, he said, told him that he didn't know what happened to McLaurin.

He told Delbridge he is currently on probation for marijuana charges.

King is detailing for Delbridge, using a large map, how and where the drug deal was supposed to unfold.

He was waiting in the car with McLaurin and another person for buyers to arrive, he said. 

"We called each other 'brothers,'" he said of McLaurin.

McLaurin left to make the deal because "he had the weed," King said.

Knowing that McLaurin had the drugs is what led him to set up the deal with Joyner in the first place, he said.

They waited for McLaurin in the car -- "with the doors open, listening to music."

They went after him several minutes later because King noticed McLaurin had left his phone in the car, he said.

As the other person he was with, "Diamond" approached the car on foot, the car the deal was going down in sped off toward Royall Avenue, King said.

Joyner, King said, told him he had last seen McLaurin with "Charlie Brown."

King said he saw McLaurin nearly every day and encouraged him to go to school.

10:59 a.m. -- Cross-examination has begun.

"What's 'Roll call' mean?" Gurley asked.

Gurley is asking King about gangs and whether initiation is required.

He asked him, "How did you get in Folk?"

King denied being in that gang.

"Did you know he was going to try to rob these guys?" Gurley asked.

"Nah," King responded. "That wasn't the plan."

He told the court he was on probation for possession with intent to sell and distribute marijuana.

"I never told nobody to rob nobody," King said. "It was a drug deal."

11:03 a.m. -- State calls its third witness, McLaurin's mother, Kim Best

She confirmed that she was the birth mother of the victim and that Kennedy was born in Goldsboro.

She is talking about the teen's family -- his brother and sisters.

In 2012, Kennedy was living with his father, Ms. Best said. 

She said she saw him every day -- for the last time, the day before he was killed.

"When he was coming through the neighborhood, he stopped by," she said. "He gave me a hug -- told me he loved me."

Ms. Best testified that she told her son often that she didn't like the crowd he was hanging around with.

The day he died, she received a text message from him.

About 9 that night, she found out that he was missing.

At first, she wasn't worried.

"I kept calling my son's cellphone," she said. "No answer."

After two or three hours of calling with no answer, she heard that "somebody snatched him."

Monday afternoon, somebody answered his cellphone and told her where she could go get it.

She got the phone, she said, from Diamond Sampson.

Then, the days went by and he never turned up.

By Tuesday, two days after he disappeared, the Goldsboro Police Department had gotten involved, she said.

"A little over a week" later, they asked her for her son's toothbrush to use for DNA testing.

"How did you find out that they had found your son's body?" Delbridge asked.

GPD Detective Dwayne Bevell came by the house and told her, she said.

She said it took several months to get his body back for burial.

Defense attorney Charles Gurley declined to cross-examine Ms. Best.

11:18 a.m. -- State calls its fourth witness, Sgt. Michael Sweet, a crime scene specialist

After being asked by Delbridge to explain his involvement in the case, he said he was asked, by Detective Dwayne Bevell, to get involved in a missing-persons case that he believed could turn into a homicide.

He was there during the search of one of the suspects, Jerome Butts', residence.

They investigated the car believed to have been where McLaurin died, also, he said.

The interior of the car, he said, had been stripped out and someone had altered the exterior of the car too, he said.

He is talking about arriving at the location where investigators believed McLaurin's body was buried.

A cigar wrapper and a 9 mm cartridge were found there, he said -- but no body.

He responded to the "second burial site" also -- a location only a few hundred yards away from the first one, he said.

They used a shovel and a sifter to try to find traces of McLaurin's body.

As they dug deeper, they were exposed to a "very foul" smell.

They finally found the body.

"(The body) was in bad decay at that time," he said.

Once the remains were unearthed, they were transported by EMS away from the scene.

11:28 a.m. -- Morning break: Court will resume at 11:45 a.m. and defense attorney Charles Gurley will have the opportunity to cross-examine Sgt. Sweet.

11:50 a.m. -- Court is back in session. Judge Jones has asked for the jury to be brought back into the courtroom.

11:51 a.m. -- Defense attorney Charles Gurley begins his cross-examination of Sgt. Sweet

Sweet said the distance from the Goldsboro Police Department to the "grave site" was roughly 20 miles -- approximately half-an-hour.

"The first grave site ... was an open area," he said. "The second was inside a wooded area."

He said the car that was located and searched belonged to Jermone Butts, but said he did not know if anyone checked the registration.

11:54 a.m. -- State calls its fifth witness, GPD Cpl. Steven Powers, a crime scene officer

Powers is explaining what his job entails and said he was involved in the McLaurin case.

Det. Bevell, he said, gave him the telephone of the victim during the investigation.

The first scene he responded to, he said, was a location off of Highway 111 -- Jerome Butts' residence. Butts is one of the men who has already pleaded guilty in connection with McLaurin's death.

When they arrived, Bevell knocked on the door and spoke with the man who answered the door -- asking him "where his son was at."

They left shortly after and went to another location -- a residence located on Deluxe Drive.

They arrived there and found a vehicle parked behind a trailer.

They searched the vehicle.

"It was in the backyard," Powers said.

Powers is identifying, upon Delbridge's request, the trailer on over-sized copies of photographs he took at the scene.

He and his peers put up crime scene tape around the trailer, Powers said.

Powers is now identifying, upon Delbridge's request, more photographs he took at the crime scene.

They shows that the vehicle was "obscured from view," Powers said.

12:06 p.m. -- Jury now looking at the photos.

12:19 p.m. -- Testimony resumes.

Powers said he found an insurance card located in the glove box with Jerome Butts' name on it and is now identifying more photographs he took at the crime scene -- photos of the vehicle McLaurin allegedly died in.

12:22 p.m. -- Jury now looking at those photos.

12:27 p.m. -- Testimony resumes.

Powers is looking at more over-sized copies of photos he said he took at the crime scene. One of them is a picture of the insurance card that links suspect Jerome Butts to the vehicle in question.

12:28 p.m. -- Jury now looking at a reduced-size copy of that photo.

12:32 p.m. -- Lunch break. Court will resume at 2 p.m.

2:09 p.m. -- Superior Court Judge Arnold Jones is back in the courtroom. Here comes the jury. Court is back in session. When proceedings resume, Cpl. Steven Powers will return to the witness stand.

2:11 p.m. -- Powers has returned to the witness stand and Assistant District Attorney Matthew Delbridge is ready to resume his line of questioning.

Delbridge is reminding Powers that when testimony was halted earlier this afternoon, he was discussing the processing of the car McLaurin allegedly died in.

Powers is, again, looking at over-sized copies of photographs he took at the crime scene. "The condition of the car ... the inside of the car ... everything was taken out. It was in disarray."

He is now describing a "burn pile" that was located near the vehicle.

"We sifted through the burn area and actually collected items," he said. 

Delbridge handed Powers a stack of photographs that Powers took at the crime scene and he is looking through them and describing them to the court.

2:15 p.m. -- The jury is now looking at the photos.

2:24 p.m. -- Testimony resumes and Delbridge has another stack of photographs for Powers to review. Among them is a photo of the interior of the car. It is completely stripped, other than the driver seat, steering wheel and dashboard.

2:25 p.m. -- The jury is now looking at those photos.

2:33 p.m. -- Testimony resumes and Delbridge has handed Powers yet another stack of photographs for him to review and detail to the court. The shots, Powers said, are some of the items recovered from the "burn pile" -- a metal clip, a piece of plastic speaker wire, some insulation and a glove. There is also a photo of the "burn pile," itself.

2:38 p.m. -- A young woman sitting in the courtroom was removed, briefly, after her cellphone went off.

2:39 p.m. -- The jury is now looking at the latest stack of photos.

2:49 p.m. -- Testimony resumes and Powers is discussing how the items were removed from the burn pile. Delbridge is now showing Powers a photo that he took at the crime scene of the burn pile and several close-up shots of the items that were removed from it. Powers told the court that he did, in fact, take those photographs. He identified them as a photo of a tarp and shots of various items that he believed were removed from the car -- metal, speakers, a full seat, seat frames, the "remains" of the hood ornament and other misc. car parts.

2:53 p.m. -- The jury is now looking at those photos.

3:01 p.m. -- Testimony resumes and Delbridge tells the court he is done, for the time being, with Cpl. Powers. Gurley declines the opportunity to cross-examine Powers at this time and said he will do so when Powers is recalled to the stand.

3:03 p.m. -- State calls its sixth witness, DNA analyst Sharon Hinton

She describes to the court what her work involves. She testified that she worked on the McLaurin case and got involved in October 2012. "They had found a body," she said, adding that her office was asked to help identify it. She said she had a toothbrush that belonged to McLaurin, tissue samples and teeth. "From what I understood, they assumed the tissues and bone samples came from the same person." She said that as evidence comes in, they extract DNA from that evidence. Once they had the DNA profile from the evidence -- the tissue sample and teeth -- they compared it to the DNA profile found on the toothbrush. "What we'll do is we'll swab the toothbrush ... and get DNA swabs from there."

She said the DNA profile found on one of the teeth matched the DNA profile found on the tissue extracted from the toothbrush.

3:13 p.m. -- Cross-examination begins and Gurley is asking if it is true that there is only a 1 percent difference between his DNA and everybody's else's. He questioned the state's practices and why they use certain statistics.

3:16 p.m. -- State calls its seventh witness, forensic scientist Jessica Courdriet

Delbridge asked her to explain what her job is and she testified that they deal with "fire-related" evidence. She said she has been accepted as an expert in her field and has documentation to back it up. She said she received three pieces of evidence from the Goldsboro Police Department related to the McLaurin case -- a 9 mm cartridge case and two 9 mm bullets. She held and described three pieces of evidence -- two fired bullets and a cartridge case. She said that she compared the bullets to the cartridge case and that both bullets were 9 mm and so was the case. Therefore, she said, "it is possible" that those pieces of evidence are connected.

3:28 p.m. -- Afternoon break.

3:47 p.m. -- Court is back in session. Jury on the way. When testimony resumes, forensic scientist Jessica Courdriet will be back on the stand.

3:49 p.m. -- Judge Jones recognizes Ms. Courdriet as an expert witness. Delbridge asked her to look at a cartridge and she identified it as coming from the same kind of gun that fired the bullets and produced the cartridge case. "They are both 9 mm."

3:52 p.m. -- Cross-examination begins and Gurley is asking questions about the bullets. He is asking how many bullets come in a box from a particular manufacturer and how many bullets particular companies produce in a month. Ms. Courdriet testified that bullets are mass-produced and said that microscopic details from gun barrels help her identified which guns fired which bullets. "The individual detail in each barrel is different." Gurley pressed her on that fact, but she did not waver. 

3:58 p.m. -- State calls its eighth witness, North Carolina State Crime Lab official Michelle Hannon

Ms. Hannan said she reviews the work of the many analysts employed at the crime lab. She generated the DNA report for the McLaurin case once the analysis was completed. She testified that she developed DNA profiles of Leonard Joyner and the other three suspects in the case. She also had 35 pieces of evidence that she was charged with extracting DNA from -- a glove, a pair of socks, a piece of black tape, a burnt T-shirt, several items of clothing, a bullet, a cigar wrapper, a lighter, two blunts and two cigarettes and other items. She was unable to develop a DNA profile from most of those items, but said there were many reasons why DNA might not have transferred onto those items. Of the 35 items, they got some DNA off of a cigarette butt and assorted tools. In her opinion, the DNA from the cigarette butt came from Jerome Butts.

4:08 p.m. -- Cross-examination begins and Ms. Hannon confirmed that she found Jerome Butts' DNA on the cigarette butt. She said that a bullet sitting out in a field for 12 days could impact her ability to find DNA on it.

4:11 p.m. -- Delbridge asks that Ms. Hannon's report be admitted into evidence and Judge Jones does so.

4:12 p.m. -- State calls its ninth witness, North Carolina State Crime Lab arson expert Amy Brewer

She told Delbridge that she received five pieces of evidence associated with the McLaurin case -- a piece of clothing and debris -- to examine to determine the presence of "things that will burn" on them. She said when a fire burns, it could consume what started it. She performed her analysis and found the presence of "residual gasoline." On the form she received, it was stated that the items she examined were recovered from "the burial pit."

Judge Jones accepted her, upon Delbridge's request, as an expert witness.

4:18 p.m. -- Cross-examination begins and Gurley asked her how she ran her test. Ms. Brewer said she did a visual test, an odor analysis and a vapor test to determine what was used to start the fire.

4:22 p.m. -- State calls its tenth witness, GPD Cpl. Steven Powers, a crime scene officer

Powers said that after he finished at the Dudley crime scene, he and his team went to a third crime scene -- this one in Seven Springs. Delbridge pulled out of over-sized map and asked Powers to identify on it where that scene was located. He pointed it out on that map and agreed with Delbridge that it's "about as far south in Wayne County as you can get without running out of real estate."

They arrived there, Powers said, around 6 p.m and they did not have much daylight left. He put markers down and started taking photographs. In the field, they found a cigar, a bullet and a lighter.

"It's in the county -- way in the county," Powers said. "You have to get off on a dirt road and into a field."

Powers is now looking at an over-sized photograph of the field that Delbridge is holding up. Powers said it an accurate depiction of how the area looked when he and his fellow officers arrived.

Powers is now identifying aerial photographs of the crime scene.

4:37 p.m. -- Jury is looking at the photos.

4:43 p.m. -- Testimony resumes and Powers described the crime scene and where in the field his team focused its attention. Delbridge introduced more photographs of the crime scene and Powers showed them to the jury.

4:47 p.m. -- The jury is looking at the photos.

4:55 p.m. -- Judge Jones adjourns court for the day. The trial will resume Thursday at 9:30 a.m.