03/25/14 — 'He was still alive'

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'He was still alive'

By John Joyce and Kenneth Fine
Published in News on March 25, 2014 1:46 PM

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Jerome Butts is sworn in during the Leonard Joyner murder trial Monday at the Wayne County Courthouse. Butts is one of three men who have already pleaded guilty in connection with the alleged Sept. 9, 2012, murder of Kennedy McLaurin Jr.

The witnesses agreed that Kennedy McLaurin Jr. was still alive after a gunshot rang out on Bain Street Sept. 9, 2012 -- that the 16-year-old continued to struggle with both the driver and a passenger of the car he was wounded in long after the vehicle drove off; that he cursed at and threatened his alleged captors while being driven to the place he was beaten, burned and buried.

But the stories Curtis Ethridge, Kevin Smith and Jerome Butts -- the three men who have already entered guilty pleas for their roles in the alleged murder and kidnapping of the late Goldsboro High School student -- told a Wayne County jury Monday afternoon differed slightly.

All three witnesses recounted their version of the events that took place the day McLaurin died.

When he met them for a drug deal that day, they said he asked how much they wanted and how much money they had.

They said he pulled out a gun rather than a bag of marijuana, and all three of them quoted McLaurin as saying, "This is what I've got for y'all."

The three also testified that McLaurin spoke when Smith, who was picked up by defendant Leonard Eugene Joyner after the initial shooting and abduction, asked why he tried to rob them.

"(Expletive) y'all," Smith said, when asked how the young man responded to his question. "My homeboys are going to find me."

But unlike Ethridge and Butts, Smith said those were not McLaurin's last words.

He testified that after they arrived at the first burial site -- a field located in Seven Springs off Carmack Road -- he and Butts dragged the young man out of the car.

"He was still breathing," Smith said, adding that he decided to kill McLaurin using a shovel -- that before he struck him, the 16-year-old said, "Tell my mother I love her."

Then, moments later, he and Joyner beat McLaurin to death.

"After I hit him the last time, he laid down," Smith said.

Ethridge and Butts did not testify that McLaurin spoke at the grave site.

But they agreed that he was still alive when he was dragged from the car -- and detailed, for the court, who dug the hole, who covered the body with gasoline and who lit the fire.

And Butts told the court that after Smith beat McLaurin with the shovel and threw him into a shallow grave, that he "lifted up," prompting Smith to hit him again.

Another man also testified about the burial site.

Josh Carter, who testified that Joyner asked him after McLaurin's death to corroborate his alibi, said he was present when the teenager's body was moved from one grave off Carmack Road to another.

Carter said he was testifying as part of an agreement with the District Attorney's Office that keeps him from being charged as an accessory as long as he tells the truth -- and that he went with Butts and Smith to "supervise" the moving of the body.

Butts, though, would later testify that Carter took a more active role, including picking the final burial site and digging part of the hole.

At one point during his testimony, Janice Robinson, McLaurin's grandmother, had to excuse herself from the courtroom as tears streamed down her face.

Kim Best, the victim's mother, spoke outside the courtroom after Senior Resident Superior Court Judge Arnold Jones called a recess for the day.

"I'm just angry," she said. "These are some evil people."

And while she admitted that she can sleep well at night knowing the men she had spent the day listening to are off the street, hearing their testimony wasn't easy.

"It is hard to listen to," she said.