Joyner on trial -- Friday's testimony
By Kenneth Fine
Published in News on March 22, 2014 11:27 PM
Goldsboro Police Department Det. Dwayne Bevell looks to Leonard Joyner's attorney, Charles Gurley, as Bevell testifies during the third day of the Kennedy McLaurin murder trial at the Wayne County Courthouse on Friday.
State witness No. 12: Goldsboro Police Department crime scene investigator Cpl. Trevor Albaugh -- Albaugh told the court that he first became involved in the McLaurin case Sept. 20, 2012, when he was called on to assist at a crime scene on Deluxe Drive.
He testified that when he arrived, lawmen were already there -- that he helped "set up a perimeter" and conducted a visual examination of the interior of a vehicle. He said that there was no evidence, based on his examination of the car, that a shooting had occurred inside it.
Later that day, he also responded to a crime scene off Carmack Road -- the site where investigators focused on a "burn pit." "I believe we went from one scene to the next," Albaugh said. He told the court that several pieces of evidence were pointed out to him by Goldsboro Police Department Det. Dwyane Bevell -- among them, a 9 mm bullet, cigar wrapper and lighter -- and that he drew a diagram of what he saw. Assistant District Attorney Matthew Delbridge asked that members of the jury be given a copy of the diagram as testimony continued and as they looked on, Albaugh detailed other items represented on it -- a comb, pair of socks and cigar tip. The officer also said that he found a shell casing at the site "by sheer luck."
Albaugh told the court that when darkness fell, he and other lawmen left the site and returned the following day to continue their work. To his knowledge, the crime scene was guarded overnight. During his testimony, he detailed several stacks of photographs that were then published to the jury. Among them were shots of "the burial site," "burn pit," "two socks" and a "blue comb" that were recovered from the hole and other pieces of evidence.
Albaugh also told the court that he was present when officials at the Chief Medical Examiner's Office in Chapel Hill performed the autopsy on McLaurin's remains -- that he collected two bullets removed from the body to use as evidence in the case. After Delbridge asked him about a laboratory report referencing soil samples, a piece of blue jeans and a piece of fabric recovered from the "burn pit," the officer testified that they took the soil samples because they smelled a "faint odor" in the "burn pit" and wanted to see what was causing it.
Albaugh said the following day, Sept. 22, 2012, he was among law enforcement officials called to another crime scene -- a wooded area off Carmack Road located some 500 feet from the "first burial site." Delbridge, again, approached him with a stack of pictures. "I'm gonna start showing you some of the pictures you took," he said. "OK," Albaugh replied. The officer then now detailed 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 North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation Agent Justin Godwin beginning the excavation of the body that was found there. "We're getting closer to the remains," Albaugh said, looking at one of the photos. "You can start to see some remains start to show up."
But the photographs that drew the most visible response from members of the jury -- and the victim's family members, came were introduced into evidence -- and described by Albaugh, moments later -- one of "the victim's left shoulder," "one of the hands," "a close-up of the top half of the victim's remains" and the "lower half ... where the legs start to come through." When the shots were passed around the jury, several jurors shed tears.
During cross-examination, defense attorney Charles Gurley asked Albaugh several questions about the diagram he created at "the first burial site." The officer said some of the pieces of evidence depicted on it were not numbered because they were collected by Cpl. Steven Powers the night before -- that he only numbered the evidence that had been marked by SBI numbered markers.
Gurley also questioned why police did not take more photographs at the scene and prompted Albaugh to say 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. And the attorney asked if the cigar tip, cigar wrapper and lighter recovered at the scene were ever presented to the jury. Albaugh said they were not.
The officer also testified, in response to Gurley's questions, that the fact that the bullets recovered from McLaurin's body would not have been able to create bullet holes in the car the 16-year-old allegedly was shot in -- and that only two bullets were given to him by the Chief Medical Examiner's Office in Chapel Hill.
State witness No. 13: Goldsboro Police Department Detective Dwayne Bevell -- Bevell told the court that he was born and raised in Goldsboro and had worked for the GPD for 15 years -- that he was the lead detective assigned to the McLaurin case Sept. 11, 2012, two days after the 16-year-old's mother, Kim Best, reported the young man missing.
He testified that he issued an Amber Alert the next day and began canvassing the Bain Street area in an attempt to locate witnesses and persons of interest. Early in the investigation, he said he heard "rival gangs" might have been involved in McLaurin's disappearance and that an "older, rustic, bluish car" was at the center of the case.
"At this point, rumors were flying," Bevell said. He told the court that it was "hard to describe how much my phone was ringing" and that Ms. Best was a "constant source of information."
He testified that one person of interest he had identified in the early hours of his work was Diamond Sampson -- that every time he tried to locate him he "just missed him." And he said he passed McLaurin's cell phone -- which Ms. Best said she recovered from Sampson the day after her son went missing -- to a GPD team that specializes in extracting information from mobile devices.
He told the court he interviewed Tonya Prior, the woman who made a 911 call after she heard a gunshot along Bain Street moments before the car McLaurin allegedly died in speeded off -- and that he had to tell Ms. Best to go home after he heard she was "investigating the case" and "tracking down leads" on her own.
Bevell also said that he went to Eastern Wayne High School to interview nearly a dozen people who claimed to have information about the case -- but was careful to note what was "fact" and "very, very fictional." "The rumor mill had started and everyone was talking about the case as if they had first-hand knowledge," the detective said. "And the phone was still ringing."
On Sept. 13, 2012, Bevell said he had a meeting and a "command post" was set up -- as well as a 24-hour hotline. "People will talk to a live person before they'll talk to a voicemail," he said. During his testimony, he revealed many leads and important pieces of information that found their way to him via the hotline.
Bevell told the court that the same day, another person of interest, Antonio "Mel" King, showed up at the GPD headquarters to see him, so he interviewed the young man.
Bevell testified that King said he picked up McLaurin and Sampson and drove him to a drug deal. "He talked about (McLaurin) having seven grams of weed on him," Bevell told the court. "He said Ken was joggin' when he left." But when, after he and Sampson had listened to a song on the radio, McLaurin had not returned from the deal, Bevell said King told him they went looking for their friend. And 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. The detective said once the interview ended, he told King to try to get 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 testified that the following day, Sampson reached out to him. "He agreed to speak with me, but he refused to come into the Police Department," Bevell told the court. He testified that he and the young man met in his car and he provided "several pieces of information" and showed Bevell where King's car was parked before McLaurin got out and went to make the drug deal.
The detective also testified that he eliminated, that day, a person of interest as a suspect -- Charlie Atkinson, a.k.a. "Charlie Brown." "At some point, based on the conversation I had with Charlie Atkinson ... he could not be at the place where the abduction occurred," Bevell told the court. Sept. 15, 2012, a Saturday, he came into work to check the hotline. An anonymous caller "stated that ... we needed to pick up a Leonard Joyner."
During his search for Joyner, he ended up at the home of his associate, Curtis Ethridge's grandmother. "When I showed her the photo of Leonard Joyner, she began to cry," Bevell told the court. He testified that she invited him inside and they sat in the living room and had a conversation during which she said that during a conversation she had with her grandson, he allegedly told her "he was there." Curtis Ethridge, Bevell told the court, was now a potential witness/suspect.
The detective said at that point, he believed it was a homicide, so he started checking fields, ditches and wooded areas -- that the following day, he received another anonymous tip about where Leonard Joyner was. Eventually, he found Joyner. "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 Joyner Sept. 16, 2012, at approximately 2:15 p.m. He testified he told Joyner that he was not under arrest and recorded the interview. "Any time you're dealing with a homicide, it is best practice to record the interview," he said. "He said he couldn't tell me (where McLaurin was). He said he couldn't tell me (how he was killed)," Bevell told the court after the jury watched an excerpt from that interview.
The detective said that during their meeting, Joyner produced an alibi -- that he was at a tattoo shop all day with his friend, Josh Carter. But on Sept. 19, 2012, Bevell said he was informed, by Carter, that the tattoo parlor story was a lie -- that Joyner was never there, that Carter and Joyner, while watching an episode of CSI, talked about "how to get rid of a body."