Live from the courtroom -- Joyner on trial
By Kenneth Fine
Published in News on March 21, 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 3:
9:36 a.m. -- Senior Resident Superior Court Judge Arnold Jones has entered the courtroom and called for the jury. When testimony resumes, Goldsboro Police Department Cpl. Trevor Albaugh will retake the stand.
9:38 a.m. -- Testimony resumes and Assistant District Attorney Matthew Delbridge is refreshing the witness on where he left off Thursday. Using an over-sized copy of a photograph taken of the "second burial site," Albaugh is discussing being present when McLaurin's body was recovered.
Albaugh said a stench was coming from the hole where the remains were later found -- a smell consistent with a decomposing body.
The officer is looking through a stack of photos Delbridge provided to him -- describing a photo of "the burial site" and detailing, for the jury, how "carefully" the digging was completed.
The photos, Albaugh said, were meant to show the depth of the grave.
He is now looking at, and detailing for the jury, photographs of the remains -- "the victim's left shoulder," "one of the hands," "a close-up of the top half of the victim's remains," "a close-up of the midsection," "the lower half ... where the legs start to come through," "an overall photograph" of the body and "the head, shoulders and arms."
Delbridge now has an over-sized photograph in his hands and asked Albaugh to confirm that it was a picture of the body in the burial site. The officer, who said he took the photos, said it was.
9:50 a.m. -- The jury is now reviewing the photos.
The photographs are evoking emotional responses from the jurors and from members of McLaurin's family who, because of the way the bailiff is holding them, can see each picture as it is being handed to the first juror.
10:05 a.m. -- One juror, an elderly black woman, is crying.
10:06 a.m. -- Another juror, a middle-aged white woman, just wiped tears from her eyes.
10:07 a.m. -- A third juror, a middle-aged white woman, just shed tears after looking at one of the photographs of McLaurin's remains.
10:10 a.m. -- Testimony resumes and several of the jurors are sniffling.
10:11 a.m. -- Albaugh is now detailing more photographs for the court -- some that he took and others taken by Cpl. Steven Powers in his presence of pieces of fabric that were removed from the remains during the autopsy.
10:12 a.m. -- The jury is reviewing those photographs.
10:17 a.m. -- More tears are falling in the jury box.
10:18 a.m. -- Cross-examination begins and defense attorney Charles Gurley handed Albaugh a diagram of the "first burial site." The officer said he created the diagram. Gurley wants to know why there are numbers on the diagram representing particular pieces of evidence. Albaugh said some are not numbered because those pieces of evidence were collected by Cpl. Steven Powers the night before. He only numbered the evidence that had been marked by SBI numbered markers, he said.
Gurley is questioning why police did not take more photographs at the scene. Albaugh said he did not clear away debris before he took the photograph of the shell casing because he wanted to depict it as it appeared when he found it.
Gurley asked if the shell casing could have fallen off the body as it was "dragged" from the car to the burn pit. "It's possible, sir," Albaugh replied. The officer is now using a picture of the "first burial site," to show where particular evidence was located in relation to the "burn pit."
Gurley is now asking if the cigar tip, cigar wrapper and lighter recovered at the scene were ever presented to the jury. Albaugh said they were not.
Gurley just handed Albaugh the bullets recovered from McLaurin's body and asked him if the fact that they were recovered from the body would exclude them from causing bullet holes in the car the 16-year-old allegedly was shot in. The officer said it would.
Albaugh said he arrived at the Chief Medical Examiner's Office on Sept. 24, 2012 and the autopsy was being performed and that, according to his notes, those two bullets were the only ones he was given and told were removed from the young man's body.
The officer said a 9 mm, when fired, would project a shell casing for every bullet fired. Albaugh said at the location where the remains were discovered Sept. 22, 2102, no bullets were found.
Gurley is now asking the officer about the day investigators found the vehicle McLaurin was allegedly shot in. Albaugh, using photos, said the interior of the car appeared to have been ripped out -- but said, in the beginning that he was not present at that crime scene.
He is now describing the passenger area of the car -- how it appears that it was, in Gurley's words, "stripped clean."
Gurley is talking about the car being stripped out "intentionally" and asked Albaugh if he was aware that the car belonged to Jerome Butts. The officer said he had no knowledge of that.
Albaugh said he did "not recall" seeing any blood in the car.
10:50 a.m. -- Delbridge begins his redirect. He is asking Albaugh about his use, at the crime scenes, of the metal detectors and how effective the device is. He said "the greater the size of the object, the easier it is" to make a discovery with a detector.
Albaugh said he witnessed Cpl. Steven Powers sweep the first crime scene with a metal detector and he did not find the shell casing.
"There were at least three bullets involved that we knew of from the scene, right?" Delbridge said. "Yes, sir," Albaugh replied.
Albaugh, in response to questions from Delbridge, said the cigar tip, cigar wrapper and lighter were available in the Goldsboro Police Department evidence room for Gurley for use in the trial if he wanted it.
11:18 a.m. -- State calls its thirteenth witness, Goldsboro Police Department Det. Dwayne Bevell
Bevell told the court that he was born and raised in Goldsboro and had been working with the GPD for 15 years.
He said he became involved in the case several days after McLaurin disappeared when the 16-year-old's mother, Kim Best, reported him missing.
The next day, he issued an amber alert and, using information from Ms. Best about the possible abduction, canvassed the Bain Street area for any eyewitness account of what happened Sept. 9, 2012.
Bevell testified that he heard "rival gangs" might be involved and that an "older, rustic, blueish car" was a player in the case.
He drove around the county looking for the vehicle, but dd not locate it.
"At this point, rumors were flying," he said.
And due to the Amber Alert, information was pouring in about potential sightings and persons of interest.
"It's hard to describe how much my phone was ringing," Bevell said, adding that Ms. Best was a "constant source of information."
He was also trying to find one of the persons of interest, Diamond Sampson -- but every time he tried, he "just missed him." Sampson, he said, was who Ms. Best told him she got McLaurin's cell phone from.
11:22 a.m. -- Morning break. Court will resume at 11:40 a.m.
11:42 a.m. -- Senior Resident Superior Court Judge Arnold Jones is back in the courtroom and has called for the jury.
11:43 a.m. -- Testimony resumes and Bevell said after interviewing several "persons of interest," he continued to work the case. He went to the Wayne County Public Library but they refused to provide surveillance footage to him.
He obtained a court order so he could get access to that video footage and returned to the library. By that time, he had also passed McLaurin's phone to a GPD team that specializes in extracting information from mobile devices -- call records, videos, photos, text messages, etc.
He interviewed Ms. Tonya Prior, the woman who made the 911 call that was played in the courtroom earlier this week.
Bevell testified that he had to tell Ms. Best to go home because he had learned she was "investigating the case" and "tracking down leads" on her own.
Sept. 13, 2012, he came into work early to try to catch Diamond Sampson at home. He was told the young man was not at home.
He had taken DNA swabs from people of interest and turned them over to GPD Cpl. Steven Powers.
"At this point, the rumors are flying and information is coming in and out," he said.
Bevell then said he heard that gangs were a factor in this case and that he went out to Eastern Wayne High School and spent three hours conducting interviews.
Some of the information was "fact" and some was "very, very fictional," he said.
"The rumor mill had started and everyone was talking about the case as if they had first-hand knowledge," Bevell said.
He said he knew the case had to be handled with care, to ensure he was getting all the facts and eliminating the fiction.
McLaurin's sister and Diamond Sampson's "possible girlfriend" were among those students he interviewed.
"The phone was still ringing," he said, admitting that he was "becoming a bit overwhelmed."
He was getting tips from people who said they thought they had seen him in a hotel and from others who said they saw "bloody clothing on the side of the road."
None of that, Bevell said, "panned out."
11:55 a.m. -- Bevell's testimony is interrupted by defense attorney Charles Gurley, who requested a bench conference.
11:58 a.m. -- Testimony resumes and the detective continues to talk about chasing leads.
On Sept. 13, 2012, Bevell said he had a meeting and a "command post" was set up -- as was a 24-hour hotline.
"People will talk to a live person before they'll talk to a voicemail," he said.
That same day, he was notified the next day that Antonio "Mel" King was there to see him and he interviewed him,
Bevell testified that King said he picked up McLaurin and Diamond and drove him to a drug deal.
"He talked about (McLaurin) having seven grams of weed on him," he said.
"He said Ken was joggin' when he left," Bevell said.
After listening song on the radio, he and Diamond decided to go looking for McLaurin.
When they got to the next street to see what was going on, they heard fighting and saw the car speed away with the teenager inside, Bevell said.
At the end of the interview, he said he told King to try to get Diamond Sampson to come in and talk to police.
"Based on what he was saying, something did happen to McLaurin," Bevell said, adding that he had officers go look in wooded areas and tree-lines for a body.
"We looked in ditches," he said, adding that they checked places people could dispose of a body without being seen.
Bevell called Ms. Best and they talked about the case.
The following day, he organized another team meeting to discuss updates.
Diamond Sampson talked to him that day.
"He agreed to speak with me, but he refused to come into the Police Department," Bevell said.
They met in his car and he provided "several pieces of information."
Sampson corroborated much of King's story, but refused to sign a copy of the interview.
He took Bevell over to the street where the car was parked before McLaurin got out and went to make the drug deal -- and showed the detective the last place he saw his friend.
Bevell, after that interview, decided to go see Ms. Best -- to discuss the case with her "face to face."
Then, he went to the Soup Kitchen to try to find a female who had been identified as a person of interest based on his interviews with King and Sampson.
The interview also prompted them to recover video surveillance footage from Madison Meat Market.
He then interviewed a Charlie Atkinson, a.k.a. "Charlie Brown," and the young man gave Bevell an alibi.
"At some point, based on the conversation I had with Charlie Atkinson ... he could not be at the place where the abduction occurred," the officer said.
Bevell said he was able to eliminate "Charlie Brown" as a suspect.
He did not contact Ms. Best that evening because they had already spoken that day.
Bevell said he did come into work Saturday, but he did not have a team because its members were off duty.
He checked the hotline and was given "anonymous" information.
"This anonymous caller stated that ... we needed to pick up a Leonard Joyner," Bevell said.
It was the second time he had heard that name so the information was "very important" to him.
What he heard on that call gave him reason to believe Joyner was involved in the abduction, he said.
Bevell said he located Joyner's record -- and address -- at the PD.
He took a corporal with him and they went to the address.
"No-one answers the door," Bevell said.
There was a pit bull chained up outside the trailer, he added.
He started knocking on neighbors' door and got information that Joyner stays in Hickory Hills -- a close-by area.
"At this point, I started eliminating leads," Bevell said.
He and other officers "converged on Hickory Hills," looking for a particular vehicle and Joyner.
12:21 p.m. -- Bevell, using an over-sized map of the area, is showing the jury where he and the other officers were searching.
12:27 p.m. -- Bevell said that based on conversation he had with members of the Wayne County Sheriff's Office -- it was their jurisdiction -- they tipped him off about possible addresses to check. One of them was a known residence of Curtis Ethridge. When he showed up at the residence, he spoke with Ethridge's grandmother.
"When I showed her the photo of Leonard Joyner, she began to cry," Bevell said.
She invited him inside and they sat in the living room.
She said that during a conversation she had with her grandson, he allegedly told her "he was there."
Bevell testified he then asked for her assistance -- that he wanted to know "his side" of it and that she could help by having her grandson call him.
Curtis Ethridge was now a potential witness/suspect, Bevell said.
After their conversation, Bevell returned to the GPD.
He received a call and went back to "the same residence," but did not find Ethridge there.
At this point, he believed it was a homicide, so he started checking fields, ditches and wooded areas.
12:34 p.m. -- Lunch break. Court will resume at 2 p.m.
2:00 p.m. -- Senior Resident Superior Court Judge Arnold Jones is back in the courtroom and has called for the jury. When court resumes, GPD Det. Dwayne Bevell will resume his testimony.
2:03 p.m. -- Testimony resumes and Assistant District Attorney Matthew Delbridge is reminding Bevell what he was talking about when court recessed for lunch.
Bevell told the court that Sept. 16, 2012 -- a week after McLaurin disappeared -- he received a call while he was in church telling him to check the hotline, so he went home and changed and went into the GPD headquarters.
When he arrived, he returned an anonymous call who said he knew where Leonard Joyner was. Bevell said he picked up the source and the man took him to the address.
"He was confident that he was there based on a conversation he had with Joyner earlier that morning," the officer said.
Bevell called a Wayne County Sheriff's Office deputy -- the address was out of GPD jurisdiction -- and they went to the address.
"We knocked on the door and two white males came outside," Bevell said.
The detective asked for Joyner by name and the man initially told him he was not there.
Eventually, Joyner came out front.
"I spoke briefly to him," Bevell said, adding that he asked the young man to come in for questioning. Joyner, he said, agreed.
Joyner was transported to the station in handcuffs and they were taken off at the GPD.
Bevell said he interviewed his at approximately 2:15 that afternoon.
He then told Joyner that he was not under arrest.
"We just needed to talk," Bevell said.
The detective said he recorded the interview.
"Any time you're dealing with a homicide, it is best practice to record the interview," he said.
The two discussed, Bevell said, the McLaurin disappearance.
Joyner stepped outside of the room several times -- to smoke cigarettes, etc, the detective testified.
After the interview, they drove Joyner back to where they found him.
2:13 p.m. -- Judge Jones allows the interview to be entered into evidence.
2:14 p.m. -- Delbridge is about to play the video for the jury.
Bevell told the court the video was taken at the Goldsboro Police Department Sept. 16, 2012 at 2:15 p.m.
2:15 p.m. -- The video is about to be played. It is sort of obscured from the view of those of us sitting in the courtroom, but we will do our best to tell you what we see.
On the video:
Bevell tells Joyner, "We got to talk."
"I know what the hell happened out there."
"This case is liable to be so damned serious."
"If nobody talks to me ... I am forced to make them out to be completely evil."
"What I'm here to do it help you."
"I see a gray area."
"You're gonna tell me what the hell is going down."
"Good people, great mistakes, make mistakes."
"I need you to tell me what the (expletive) happened in that car."
Joyner tells Bevell that they went to Bain Street to buy some "smoke."
He also said:
"I wasn't in the car."
"I was not in that car. I was not there."
He heard that McLaurin had been "snatched up," but said he had no part of it.
"Don't bull (expletive) me. You need to help yourself."
"Tell me everything."
"Charlie called me."
He said the man was "looking for some smoke."
He said someone called him and said, "We're gonna kill you. We're gonna kill your family."
"They say it was like three or four people (in the car)."
"You understand that ain't the truth as I know it."
"I heard some Eastern Wayne dudes was messin' with him."
"I'll give you the phone so you can cal him?"
"This (expletive) is gonna keep getting worse and worse until I find out where Ken is."
"I wish I could tell you more."
"I swear I was not in that car. I was not there."
"Get this. This is a (expletive) up situation. This was not supposed to (expletive) happen."
"It's a pure (expletive) evil act unless you tell me what (expletive) happened."
"I can respect that you're trying to save your ass. But it's not saving your ass."
"This ain't no movie ... I'm asking for you to help yourself."
"Who was in the (expletive) car?"
2:39 p.m. -- The video is no longer playing and Delbridge is moving the TV away from the jury.
2:40 p.m. -- Testimony resumes and Bevell said, in short, Joyner denied being present at the scene McLaurin disappeared from during that first interview.
"He said he couldn't tell me (where McLaurin was)."
"He said he couldn't tell me (how he was killed)."
When Bevell asked Joyner whether he was stabbed or shot, he said, "I don't know."
After their interview, on the way back to the trailer, Bevell said Joyner told him he would let him see his cell phone when they got back, but he never did.
Joyner said he would give him a list of people he was with the day McLaurin disappeared and wrote down an alibi for Bevell, the detective told the court.
2:47 p.m. -- Bevell is holding the alibi he said Joyner drafted.
"It was very minimal information. He said he was going to give me a list of names and phone numbers, but he did not," Bevell said.
2:48 p.m. -- Each member of the jury was given a copy of that piece of paper.
2:53 p.m. -- Testimony resumes and Bevell told the court that after dropping Joyner off, he went to see McLaurin's mother, Kim Best, to talk to her about the case.
The following day, he tried contacting Leonard Joyner but his calls were going straight to voicemail.
That afternoon, he took part in a press conference in the lobby of the GPD headquarters and stood behind Ms. Best "as she pleaded for her son."
Bevell said he held another "team meeting" and that at 5:30 that evening, an anonymous caller phoned the hotline and said Curtis Ethridge's mother was upset after talking to her son.
The detective went back to see his grandmother and she put Bevell on the phone with the young man.
"We were sitting in her living room at the time," he said.
"I explained to him, 'I need you to come home and tell me what happened,'" Bevell said.
Ethridge told him he would do so and the grandmother said she could have him home in two days.
Bevell said he left the woman's residence and went to see Ethridge's mother.
"She immediately became upset -- visibly upset," he told the court. "Shaking."
He said later that day, he received a map in his e-mail.
It alleged that McLaurin could be found in Willowdale Cemetery.
On Tuesday, Sept. 18, 2012, he did some investigating on social media. He located a photograph of Ethridge on Facebook.
He also obtained a warrant that enabled him to track Leonard Joyner's phone.
"I knew that he was lying to me," Bevell said.
That day, he also confirmed that "Charlie Brown" has a legitimate alibi.
He and his team also followed up on other leads and continued to search for the vehicle.
That afternoon, they went back to the trailer they had originally picked Joyner up at and the man Joyner listed as his alibi said Sept. 9, 2012, Joyner was with him at a tattoo shop all day.
"He becomes nervous," Bevell said. "He continued to ask, 'What's going on.'"
He told the court he left and while he was on his way out to the county to try to find Ethridge, he got a call from the operator of the tip line.
Josh Carter, the guy he had just left, wanted to talk to him.
Bevell said he still "sounded nervous."
3:15 p.m. -- Jury has been sent back to the jury room by Judge Jones.
3:24 p.m. -- Senior Resident Superior Court Judge Arnold Jones is back in the courtroom and has called for the story.
3:25 p.m. -- The jury is back and Det. Dwayne Bevell is back on the stand.
3:27 p.m. -- Testimony continues and Bevell said that Wednesday, Sept. 19, 2012, he is informed, by Josh Carter, that the tattoo parlor story was a lie -- that Joyner was never there.
Bevell said that he heard from the man that he had heard Joyner talking about "how to get rid of a body" and had heard some locations, including a field, mentioned.
He told the court that he had people searching by air and on foot.
"When we would see buzzards in the air, we would get out and walk," Bevell said.
3:35 p.m. -- Court has been adjourned for the day and will resume Monday at 10 a.m.