03/20/14 — Live from the courtroom - Joyner on trial

View Archive

Live from the courtroom - Joyner on trial

By Kenneth Fine
Published in News on March 20, 2014 9:32 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 2:

9:31 a.m. -- Senior Resident Superior Court Judge Arnold Jones walked into the courtroom and court is back in session.

9:32 a.m. -- Judge Jones informs the court that one of the jurors is having car trouble and will likely not be able to make it to the courthouse until 10 a.m. He and the lawyers are trying to determine whether to move forward using an alternate or wait for the juror.

9:33 a.m. -- Court is at ease. A Wayne County Sheriff's Office deputy has gone to pick up the juror. Court will resume in about 15 minutes.

9:49 a.m. -- The missing juror has arrived and away we go.

9:51 a.m. -- Goldsboro Police Department Cpl. Steven Powers, a crime scene specialist, is back on the stand and Assistant District Attorney Matthew Delbridge is resuming his line of questioning.

Powers said that he and his team arrived at a crime scene off Carmack Road at around 6 p.m. He started taking pictures of the scene from different views and angles. He and his fellow officers got a metal detector and starting sweeping the area.

Powers, using a long wooden stick, is pointing out, on an over-sized copy of an aerial photograph of the crime scene, where he and the other officers were using the metal detector. He is telling the jury how a metal detector works.

Powers said he had "some hits" with the metal detector and that GPD Det. Dwayne Bevell pointed out several "visible" pieces of evidence.

Powers is now looking at photographs he took at the crime scene of the area he and the other officers focused on. He is telling the jury about the photos -- how, for the most part, they are landscape shots of the location and that they accurately depict the crime scene as he saw it.

10:00 a.m. -- The jury is now passing around the photos.

10:07 a.m. -- Testimony resumes and Powers continues to describe the crime scene to the jury. Delbridge is asking the officer to provides details about several more photographs he took that day -- a picture of a field and a path, the tree line and close-up shots of the landscape.

10:11 a.m. -- The jury is now passing around the photos.

10:18 a.m. -- Testimony resumes and Powers is detailing more photographs -- these shots, more detailed images of the ground and the "disturbed dirt" at the "burial site." "These were taken before anybody walked near," he said.

Powers is describing a "close-up image of an indention in the dirt," where it "appeared something had been dug up," and another shot of some debris located at the "burial site."

Many of the photographs, he said, are of the same thing -- just shot from different places.

Powers said he took all the photos and that they are a "fair and accurate depiction" of what he "saw with his own eyes."

10:27 a.m. -- The jury is now reviewing the photographs.

10:40 a.m. -- Testimony resumes and Powers said that eventually, the call was made to "unearth" the "burial site."

10:41 a.m. -- Delbridge is asking Powers to detail, using an over-sized copy of one of the photographs he took of the "burial site," what investigators found there and has given the officer another stack of photographs to review and explain to the jury -- several angles of the "indention in the ground," a shot of "charred remains of a burnt piece of wood," a picture of "debris" and one of an officer digging.

Powers said he was the one who took those photographs and that they "fairly and accurately depict" what unfolded at the "burial site."

10:45 a.m. -- The jury is now reviewing the photographs.

10:52 a.m. -- Testimony resumes and Powers is identifying more photographs -- a few shots of debris and several of the "hole."

"There appeared to be something in the hole, so I kept taking pictures," Powers said. "As we kept (digging) down lower and lower, I kept taking pictures."

He took a photograph of what "appeared to be half of the sole of a shoe" and another of a "partial shoe."

The rest of the those items, he said, appeared to have been burned.

The final photograph was of a piece of cardboard Powers said was "covering the area" when officers arrived.

10:56 a.m. -- The jury is now reviewing the photographs.

11:06 a.m. -- Testimony resumes and Delbridge is, yet again, handing a stack of photographs to Powers.

Powers describes them as "an overview of the hole," "when they unearthed a piece of clothing -- a piece of jeans," "the shovel being used to unearth the pair of jeans," "a picture of the shovel," "a closer image of the label on the back of the jeans," "the agent pulling the jeans out of the dirt," "another angle of them pulling the jeans out," "a pair of jeans with a belt through the loop," "a closer shot showing the burned off portion of the leg and remaining part of the jeans" and "the lower portion of one of the legs."

Delbridge is now showing Powers an enlarged copy of one of those images and Powers confirmed he took the photograph.

11:11 a.m. -- The jury is not reviewing the photographs.

11:21 a.m. -- Morning break. Court will resume at 11:45 a.m.

11:45 a.m. -- Senior Resident Superior Court Judge Arnold Jones is back in the courtroom and has called for the jury. When court resumes, GPD Cpl. Steven Powers will, again, take the stand.

11:47 a.m. -- Powers is back on the stand and testifying about the burnt blue jeans that were found in the hole at the "burial site."

He is identifying more photographs -- several different pictures of the jeans and some of the "hole itself."

11:49 a.m. -- The jury is now reviewing the photos.

11:53 a.m. -- Testimony resumes and Powers is talking about how the car he helped process at a previous crime scene was seized and said he went to its new location and helped looked through the vehicle. He talked about how they "scoured" the vehicle and found "nothing at all."

Delbridge is now showing Powers another series of photographs and the officer is detailing them for the court. They include an interior shot of the vehicle, the back seat, "where the passenger seat should be," "a shot ... taken looking down toward the floor board," "looking up at the roof of the vehicle," "the front windshield and everything stripped," "where the seats should have been," "the floorboard, just behind the driver seat," "the trunk area" and "the inside of the trunk."

Powers said he took those photos and "fairly and accurately" capture what the car looked like at the time.

11:59 a.m. -- The jury is now reviewing the photographs.

12:08 p.m. -- Testimony resumes.

12:09 p.m. -- Cross-examination has begun and Gurley asked if there would be bullet holes in the car, given the fact that the bullets were recovered from McLaurin's body. Powers said there would not be.

Powers said he did not participate in video recording of suspect interviews and said he had "no idea" about the self-defense claims made by the defendant. He said he never spoke with any of the suspects.

Gurley is asking Powers to compare the handwriting on pieces of evidence prepared by him to DVDs with writing on them. He wants to know if Powers had any part of the DVD production.

Powers said in this case, he prepared DVDs relating to business security cameras, but denied that he produced videos of the suspects being interviewed.

Gurley is asking Powers if he put him name on particular DVDs. Powers said, 'No' -- that his name likely appears on the DVD because he is the one who downloaded the footage. The one with his name on it, is it is his copy.

"The media on it was furnished by me," Powers said. 

"Everything in my case file ... was turned over to the investigator," he said. 

Gurley keeps asking -- and Powers keeps denying -- that he produced the DVDs.

Gurley is now questioning the officer about his use of a metal detector at the "burial site." He said he used the device for approximately 30 minutes.

"The only notes that I reviewed were my own notes," Powers said, in response to questions from Gurley about whether he was aware of statements made by the other suspects.

"Can you explain to the jury why your report goes from Sept. 20 and then nothing else is mentioned until Sept. 25?" Gurley just asked.

"Yes sir," Powers replied, explaining that he was out of town at a conference.

Powers confirmed that no body was found at "the first grave site."

12:22 p.m. -- State calls its eleventh witness, State Bureau of Investigation Agent Justin Godwin

Godwin said he first became involved in the case when assistance was requested by the Goldsboro Police Department.

He reported to Wayne County when the GPD was at the "first burial site."

He came to town from the Wilson area.

"If I have the address, I throw it on my GPS and hope I get there," Godwin said. 

Using an over-sized photograph of the crime scene, Delbridge asked if Godwin was familiar with that area.

He said he was.

Members of the Wayne County Sheriff's Office and Goldsboro Police Department were at the scene when he arrived there.

He parked his car and was briefed on "information I don't know yet," he said.

He said they knew they would limited because daylight was fading.

They started putting down markers next to potential pieces of evidence and looked for more.

GPD Cpl. Steven Powers, he said, was taking photographs all the while.

"Everybody kind of comes together to figure out how you want to approach this," Godwin said.

They identified an area of interest -- the hole Powers talked about earlier.

"You want to be very careful," he said. "For one, you don't know what might be in there. And you don't want to disturb any evidence."

He smelled something he "thought was gas."

He believed that burning had been done to get rid of or hide evidence that might be important, so it made him even more cautious.

They used their hands -- with gloves on -- a shovel and a sifter very carefully, Godwin said.

They collected a soil sample to test for gasoline.

They decided, once darkness fell, that they would "shut down" the crime scene for the evening.

Lawmen guarded the property overnight.

"We came back the next day," Godwin said. "Resumed our search."

They focused on the "burn pit," but also expanded their search area.

The located a "comb" and a "pair of socks."

"I did not believe there was (a body) there," Godwin said, adding that he asked for another opinion.

Once they reached the point where the "pit didn't go any deeper," they abandoned a search for a body, he said.

"When you remove dirt, you sift through that dirt," he said.

During daylight, they found more blue jean fabric and a shell casing.

"That shell casing would be a 9 mm," Godwin said. "It was close to 10 feet from the center of that burn pit."

Other items that were collected before he arrived -- away from the burn pit -- included a 9 mm live round, a cigar wrapper, a lighter and a cigar tip.

They decided to bring in a canine unit.

"The victim had not been found as of yet," Godwin said.

The dog did not locate "any other area of interest to us."

12:40 p.m. -- Lunch break. Court will resume at 2 p.m.

2:06 p.m. -- Senior Resident Superior Court Judge Arnold Jones is back in the courtroom and has called for the jury. When court resumes, SBI Agent Justin Godwin will, again, take the stand.

2:07 p.m. -- Testimony resumes and Delbridge reminds Godwin of where they when court was recessed.

"We decided to call a K-9 for a couple reasons," he said, adding that they were primarily trying to find a body.

"The K-9 started at the burn pit," Godwin said, adding that the dog could have picked up a scent from the pieces of clothing, the comb and other items.

"The dog did go into the wooded area where the body was (later) found," he said. 

At the time, they did not know where the body was so, at that point, "our search stopped."

They had collected some evidence the night he got there (Thursday) and finished up at the "burn pit" scene the following day.

Godwin felt that the only way they would have another crime scene was if somebody with knowledge of McLaurin's whereabouts started to cooperate.

"We had done all we could do at that point at that area -- in and around the burn pit," he said.

Later on Friday evening, he received a call that investigators had "another area" of interest -- the presumed location of McLaurin's body.

The next morning -- they did not search the location at night because it was a "wooded area" with "tough" lighting conditions -- he traveled to the scene.

"I was shown the exact location where ... the grave was going to be," he said.

The location was just more than 500 feet away from the "burn pit" he had investigated the day before.

Godwin, using a long wooden stick, is pointing to an over-sized photograph of the crime scene to show the jury where they were doing their analysis.

He was briefed that the body was believed to be some 60 feet within the "wooded area."

"It would hard to know what you were looking at if someone didn't show you," he said, adding that it did not appear, to the naked eye, to be a grave. "not to me it didn't."

2:20 p.m. -- Delbridge is showing Godwin an over-sized photograph of the "grave." 

2:21 p.m. -- Testimony resumes and Godwin said "If you're walking through," you probably would have no idea it was a grave, but after a second look with a trained eye, "You could tell the area had been disturbed."

He and other crime scene workers "slowly" moved debris and soil.

He chose what area to dig in based on what earth looked disturbed vs. what did not.

They "slowly and methodically" started removing the soil -- sifting through it as they went to try to find evidence.

"At some point, I smelled a strong odor of decomposition," he said. "The more we dig, the stronger it gets. I know ... yes, we have a body here."

But they still moved slowly, to ensure they were not doing damage to potential evidence on the body.

He was in contact with the Medical Examiner's Office to let them know they had found a body and sought authorization to remove it from "the grave."

He received permission to remove it and they decided to do it "ourselves" instead of using a machine.

"The victim was kind of positioned on his side," Godwin said. "Decomposition had severely kicked in."

He said they had to stop several times because the odor was so foul.

When they finally had the body revealed, they had a "very difficult" time lifting it out because they didn't want "body parts to start falling off."

As Godwin's testimony continues, members of the McLaurin family wear somber expressions.

"We were very, very careful," he said, adding that they were doing their best not to inflict any trauma on the body.

The process lasted roughly three-and-a-half hours.

Kim Best, McLaurin's mother, keeps closing her eyes as the testimony continues.

In Godwin's opinion, the grave was 1 foot, 7 inches deep; 2 feet wide and 5 feet, 8 inches long

Once the body was removed from the scene, he continued to search around the area. They sifted more of the dirt from the grave. Locating nothing else, they called it a day.

"We cleared up around 4:20 that afternoon," he said.

2:34 p.m. -- Cross-examination just began and defense attorney Charles Gurley is questioning Godwin about his report. He handed Gurley a diagram of the first site.

Godwin, in response to questions from Gurley, said he did not find three bullets at the first or second site.

Gurley is asking Godwin about the diagram, but Godwin did not create it.

"Were you the one who located the fired shell casing?" Gurley asked.

Godwin said he did.

Godwin said the burned clothes, the shoe part and other items were not visible to the naked eye, as they were in the burn pit.

"How many feet would you say you dug into the ground?" Gurley asked about the burn pit.

"It was fairly shallow," Godwin said.

Gurley then asked if the hole was big enough for a body and Godwin said he could not answer the question.

2:41 p.m. -- State calls its twelfth witness, Goldsboro Police Department crime scene investigator Cpl. Trevor Albaugh

Delbridge asked Albaugh to explain his job and he told the court what a crime scene investigator does.

He said he first became involved with the McLaurin case Sept. 20, 2012 -- a Thursday.

That was the same day Agent Godwin responded to the scene on Deluxe Drive where the car McLaurin allegedly died in was found.

When he arrived at the scene, there were already lawmen there. He helped establish a perimeter.

He conducted a visual examination of the interior of the vehicle.

There was nothing evident to indicate a shooting had happened inside.

He was at that scene for roughly four hours.

Albaugh was also present at the "burn pit" crime scene off Carmack Road.

"I believe we went from one scene to the next," he said.

He told the court that several pieces of evidence were pointed out to him by Det. Dwayne Bevell -- among them, a 9 mm bullet, cigar wrapper and lighter.

He is detailing a diagram he created at that scene.

The location of evidence found there is marked on the diagram, Albaugh said.

2:53 p.m. -- Each of the jurors is being given a copy of the diagram Albaugh is describing.

Among the items represented on the diagram were a comb, a pair of socks, a 9 mm bullet, a cigar wrapper, a lighter and a cigar tip, he said.

3:00 p.m. -- The jury is looking at a photograph from the "burn pit" crime scene.

3:02 p.m. -- Testimony continues and Albaugh is identifying more items on the diagram, including a 9 mm cartridge. It was closer, he said, to the "burn pit" than the other items.

3:05 p.m. -- The jury is looking at more photographs from the "burn pit" crime scene.

3:11 p.m. -- Testimony resumes and Albaugh says that Cpl. Powers was taking photographs the entire time he was on the scene and that when they left for the evening, the scene was secured. When they returned the next morning, the scene was still secure, he said.

Albaugh is detailing several photographs for the court, upon Delbridge's request -- among them, a shot of the "burn site," one of the location he found a 9 mm shell casing, "by sheer luck," a "close-up of burnt fabric," an "overall view of the three pieces of burnt fabric," and a photograph of the "SBI flags" used to mark evidence.

Albaugh said the photographs were accurate representations of the scene as he saw it that day.

3:21 p.m. -- The jury is reviewing the photographs.

3:31 p.m. -- Afternoon break. Court will resume at 3:50 p.m.

3:50 p.m. -- Senior Resident Superior Court Judge Arnold Jones is back in the courtroom and has called for the jury. When they return, GPD Cpl. Trevor Albaugh will be back on the stand.

3:51 p.m. -- Albaugh, at the request of Delbridge, is looking through another stack of photographs of "the burial site" -- a "close-up" of "pieces of fabric," a shot of "the burn hole," a "close-up of the burn hole," "a shot of a sock that was discovered by Agent Godwin," "two socks" that were found in the hole and two photographs of "a blue comb."

Albaugh said a total of three socks were found the the scene and said he took all of those photographs -- that they were an accurate depiction of what he saw at the crime scene.

3:56 p.m. -- The jury is reviewing the photos.

4:05 p.m. -- Testimony continues and Delbridge asked Albaugh if he was responsible for sending some of the evidence off for testing. He said it was his duty. He also attended the autopsy and recovered evidence from the body. 

Albaugh said he did not change or alter the evidence in any way. All he did was place them in an evidence bag.

The state introduced those items into evidence -- a 9 mm shell casing found at the "burn pit" site and a 9 mm cartridge found at the "burn pit" site.

4:14 p.m. -- The jury is passing around those two items.

4:22 p.m. -- Testimony continues and Delbridge is asking Albaugh if those items were, indeed, 9 mm. He said they were. He also said he had no idea that there were 9 mm bullets in McLaurin's body -- that the body, at the time they collected that evidence, had not even been found.

Delbridge took another stack of photos to the witness -- aerial shots of the crime scene and other landscape photos. Albaugh is describing them to the jury.

4:27 p.m. -- The jury is reviewing the photos.

4:36 p.m. -- Testimony resumes and Delbridge asks Albaugh about a laboratory report referencing soil samples, a piece of blue jeans and a piece of fabric recovered from the "burn pit" at "the first burial site." They took the samples, Albaugh said, because they smelled a "faint odor" and wanted to see what was causing it.

The officer pulled two metal canisters out of a box and the state is introduces them into evidence. The boxes contain the soil sample and "blue jean fragment" tested by the State Bureau of Investigation.

Albaugh is now telling the court about his experience at the site where McLaurin's body was found.

"I'm gonna start showing you some of the pictures you took," Delbridge said.

"OK," Albaugh replied.

The officer is now detailing those shots -- one of a tree line, several of the forest as he gets closer and closer to the "suspected burial site," the "suspected burial site," itself, a shot of Agent Godwin beginning the excavation of the body, several photos of Godwin digging deeper and deeper, one of Godwin sifting soil.

"We're getting closer to the remains," Albaugh said, looking at another photo.

"You can start to see some remains start to show up," he said about the next photo.

4:46 p.m. -- Court has been adjourned for the day. Judge Jones said the jury may review the photographs when court resumes at 9:30 a.m. Friday.