Live from the courtroom -- Joyner on trial
By Kenneth Fine
Published in News on March 25, 2014 9:26 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 5:
9:28 a.m. -- Defendant Leonard Eugene Joyner is in the courtroom and is seated next to his attorney, Charles Gurley.
9:30 a.m. -- Senior Resident Superior Court Judge Arnold Jones is in the courtroom and has called for the jury. When testimony resumes, Jerome Butts will be back on the stand.
9:31 a.m. -- The jury is back in the courtroom and Butts is making his way back to the witness stand.
9:32 a.m. -- Assistant District Attorney Matthew Delbridge said he wants to "take him back ... to Bain Street."
Butts said he saw the gun -- that it made him "very scared."
That is why he got out of the car, he said.
"Is that where you thought you would be safe?" Debridge asked.
"Yes," Butts replied.
Delbridge asked him why he got back in the car.
Butts said it was because Joyner asked him to.
Before he got back in the car, he looked to see where the gun was.
Butts said he couldn't see it.
"It was under him," he said.
"Under who?" Delbridge asked.
"Under Kennedy," Butts replied.
Delbridge is now asking about Butts' encounter, at his home, with Goldsboro Police Department Det. Dwayne Bevell.
Butts said he "felt sorry" for McLaurin and that contributed to his desire to tell Bevell what had happened.
He said he feared he might be killed by the others involved in the incident.
Butts said he showed Bevell where the car was.
"When did you realize that Leonard planned to kill the boy?" Delbridge said.
Butts said he only knew when they "started digging the hole."
He said he was testifying because he has a plea deal with the state -- that he understands that if he tells the truth, he will only be charged with second-degree murder.
9:41 a.m. -- Cross-examination begins and defense attorney Charles Gurley asked Butts if anybody talked to him last night about his testimony.
Butts said, "No."
Gurley is asking him about whether he said, "When Kennedy pulled out the gun, it was 'survival mode.'"
Butts said yes.
He also said he doesn't remember whether or not he was read his rights.
Gurley is asking about the first statement he gave and Butts said he does not remember much of what he said.
Butts said he did not write out the statement he ultimately signed -- and that he did not read it.
Gurley is asking whether that statement is different than the one he made to Bevell.
Butts said he did not remember.
He said he was 19 years old the day of the incident -- that he told investigators that McLaurin "basically shot himself."
"You jumped out of the car, correct?" Gurley asked.
"Yes," Butts replied.
"Then Curtis jumped out of the car, correct?" Gurley asked.
"Yes," Butts said.
"So who does that leave in the car?" Gurley then asked.
"Leonard and Kennedy," the young man replied.
Butts said he heard McLaurin shout, "Roll call," but did not see anyone running toward the car.
He testified that he remembers signing the statement Sept. 21, 2012, but does not remember when the last time he made a statement was.
Butts said he recalls taking the plea.
9:50 a.m. -- McLaurin's family has just entered the courtroom.
9:51 a.m. -- Butts said he did hear discussion about the death penalty as it relates to this case.
He is looking at the transcript of his plea agreement and read the date, "Jan. 7, 2014."
Butts said he does not remember whether or not he signed a paper waving his rights to an attorney.
He said that after McLaurin shouted, "Roll call," he and Joyner, "started looking around."
"That's when Leonard asked me for my keys," Butts said.
Gurley is reading Butts' second statement aloud and asked if McLaurin was already dead before he was removed from the car.
"I said the he shot himself -- that I wasn't sure if he was dead or alive," he said.
Butts said McLaurin was removed from the car, at the first burial site, by Kevin Smith.
9:58 p.m. -- Delbridge begins his redirect.
He is asking Butts if he remembers coming to court when he first got charged and hearing the state saying they were not pursuing the death penalty.
He said, "Yes."
Delbridge said in the same interview in which he stated McLaurin shot himself, the young man was "talking junk" after the shots were fired.
"Can you tell the jury how you can talk junk if you're dead?" Delbridge asked.
"I don't think you can," Butts replied.
Delbridge asked him why he stripped his car out.
"I was threatened," he said.
"Who threatened you?" Delbridge asked.
"Josh Carter," Butts said.
"And who was Josh Carter friends with?" Delbridge asked.
"Leonard," Butts replied.
10:04 a.m. -- Butts steps down and Jones has called the lawyers to the bench.
10:04 a.m. -- The state calls its eighteenth witness, Goldsboro Police Department Cpl. Trevor Albaugh
Albaugh has already testified and Delbridge told him he wants to talk about some of the evidence collected at the "first burial site" -- located in a field in Seven Springs off Carmack Road.
The officer is identifying a diagram he created at that crime scene.
Using a long, wooden stick, Albaugh is describing the crime scene on a large photograph.
The officer is now identifying one of the pieces of evidence that was collected there -- a cigar wrapper.
10:09 a.m. -- The jury is passing around the wrapper.
10:14 a.m. -- Testimony continues.
Delbridge is now asking Albaugh to identify other pieces of evidence that were collected there -- a Dutchmaster cigar tip and a green lighter -- and to tell the jury, in relation to the "burn pit," where they were found.
10:16 a.m. -- The jury is passing around the cigar tip and the green lighter.
10:22 a.m. -- Testimony resumes and Delbridge says he has no further questions, so Gurley is now cross-examining the witness.
Gurley asked if Albaugh found "three or four spent bullets in that grave."
The officer said no.
During redirect, Albaugh agreed that in order to find the bullets, they would have to go into the hole -- that "it's possible" that the bullets were near the grave site, but not recovered by investigators.
10:24 a.m. -- Albaugh steps down.
10:25 a.m. --The state calls its nineteenth witness, Dr. Lauren Scott
Scott told the court that she is a medical doctor who went to the University of Buffalo, medical school at the University of Buffalo and completed her residency at Dartmouth University.
Her "expertise" is in pathology.
She said she has been involved in "somewhere between 450 and 500" autopsies -- that the purpose of that procedure is determine a cause of death.
Dr. Scott said she has testified as an "expert" before.
She said she was "a little" nervous.
Jones qualified Dr. Scott as an expert "in the area of forensic pathology."
She said her mentors were North Carolina pathologists, including the Chief Medical Examiner.
Dr. Scott said she has been board certified.
She was involved in the McLaurin autopsy back when the office was in Chapel Hill -- it is now in Raleigh.
"The body was very decomposed," she said.
They started, Dr. Scott said, with an external evaluation.
"The skin was absent from most of the front half of the body," she said.
"In this case, the major findings were two gunshot wounds," Dr. Scott said.
One was in the collarbone and tracked to the spinal column -- in the vicinity of the "right chest cavity."
The second bullet was recovered from the heart.
There was "severe fracturing" -- and a "gouge mark" in the head.
"Did you find any jewelery on the body?" Delbridge asked.
"No," Dr. Scott replied.
There were no earrings or a key, she added, after Delbridge asked about those specific items.
Dr. Scott is demonstrating, on Delbridge, where she concluded the bullets entered McLaurin's body.
Using a long, wooden stick, she is doing just that.
The first bullet, she said, was recovered from "behind the right shoulder blade."
The second bullet entered in the same general area, she said -- hitting a rib and moving downward before it was "lodged in the aorta."
She said there was also evidence of a "fire injury."
"There were also several fractures in the skull," Dr. Scott said, adding that there were "divots" on McLaurin's feet and one on his skull.
She testified that photographs were taken during the autopsy and is now identifying a stack of them.
10:48 a.m. -- The jury is reviewing the photographs.
One juror, a young white woman, just shook her head after looking at one of the photos.
Two others, a middle-aged white woman and an elderly black woman, wiped tears from their eyes.
The middle-aged white woman, after looking at one of the photographs, looked over at McLaurin's mother, Kim Best, and turned away to shed more tears.
10:55 a.m. -- Testimony resumes and Delbridge asks Dr. Scott to discuss several more photographs taken during the autopsy.
She said the first image was taken to illustrate where the first bullet entered McLaurin's body.
The second, she added, is a close-up of the previous photo.
Dr. Scott is now looking at a third photo and a fourth and said they illustrate the same thing the first two did.
The fifth and sixth photographs, she added, were taken to illustrate the second bullet's path through McLaurin's body.
Delbridge is focusing on the first four photographs and Dr. Scott told the jury that they were all illustrative of the first gunshot wound she described during her previous testimony.
She is now showing the jury, on one of the images using her finger, how the bullet traveled through the body.
11:06 a.m. -- The jury is now reviewing the photographs.
11:12 a.m. -- Morning break. Court will resume at 11:30 a.m.
11:36 a.m. -- Senior Resident Superior Court Judge Arnold Jones is back in the courtroom and has called for the jury. When testimony resumes, Dr. Lauren Scott will be back on the stand.
11:38 a.m. -- Dr. Scott is back on the stand and Delbridge is reminding her what she was talking about before the break.
She said she was describing photographs for the court and is, again, talking about how the bullets made their way through McLaurin's body.
Delbridge handed Dr. Scott two more photos -- that illustrate the path of the second bullet.
11:39 a.m. -- The jury is reviewing those photographs.
11:44 a.m. -- Testimony continues and Dr. Scott testified that at one point during the autopsy, they only looked at the skeleton.
11:46 a.m. -- Delbridge is putting diagrams of a skeleton on a board that is facing the jury.
11:47 a.m. -- Delbridge walked back to his desk and grabbed a stack of photographs and handed them to Dr. Scott.
The doctor is identifying the images as ones taken during the autopsy of the skeletal remains she examined.
She is now describing a picture of "the left clavicle" and the spot where a bullet "hit" and "fractured" McLaurin's left collarbone.
Dr. Scott looked at another photograph and identified it as an image of "the first rib."
She is describing other photographs associated with the gunshot wounds -- "fractures" in other ribs and another view of the left collarbone.
Dr. Scott said there were also photos taken of the spinal column, because some of the vertebrae were "fractured" by a "projectile."
12:01 p.m. -- The jury is reviewing the photographs.
12:07 p.m. -- Testimony continues and Delbridge has asked the more photographs from the autopsy be published to the jury.
12:08 p.m. -- Jones approves his request and the jury is reviewing those photographs.
12:18 p.m. -- Testimony resumes and Delbridge is asking that another stack of photos from the autopsy be published to the jury. Jones approves his request and the jury is reviewing those images.
12:25 p.m. -- Testimony continues and Delbridge is asking Dr. Scott about the state of McLaurin's hands and feet.
She said there was some damage to those bones.
Delbridge is asking Dr. Scott to detail several photographs taken, during the autopsy, of McLaurin's hands and feet.
She identified, for the court, "gouge marks" and "charring."
12:28 p.m. -- The jury is now reviewing those photographs.
12:35 p.m. -- Lunch break. Court will resume at 2:00 p.m.
2:05 p.m. -- Senior Resident Superior Court Judge Arnold Jones is back in the courtroom and has called for the jury. When testimony resumes, Dr. Lauren Scott will retake the stand.
2:07 p.m. -- Testimony resumes and Delbridge is reminding Dr. Scott where she left off.
She is currently drawing, on one of the diagrams, where the head would be in relation to the spine.
Dr. Scott also marked, on the diagram, where the "defects" on the spinal column were located.
Gurley is objecting to the drawing, characterizing it as "inaccurate."
Jones has asked for the diagram and is reviewing it.
He ruled that he is going to allow it, but noted it was "not a specific, anatomical drawing."
2:12 p.m. -- The jury is now reviewing the diagram.
2:19 p.m. -- Testimony resumes and Delbridge is asking Dr. Scott to, on another diagram, identify where the "defects" along the spinal column were located.
Dr. Scott marked those areas with a pen.
"OK, doctor, let's talk about the head and skull," Delbridge said.
2:20 p.m. -- Delbridge decides, instead, to ask that the jury review several other diagrams and Jones gives the OK.
2:20 p.m. -- The jury is reviewing the diagrams.
2:22 p.m. -- Testimony resumes and Delbridge hands Dr. Scott photographs of McLaurin's skull that were taken during the autopsy.
Jones admits those photos into evidence and Dr. Scott is showing them to the jury from the witness stand.
"This photograph shows two main areas of fracturing on either side of the face," she said. "There are also several small areas of fracturing up around the left eye."
The doctor is detailing a photo she said depicts, "missing bone," near the nose.
On another photo, she pointed to "a fracture area" along the left side of the jaw.
Dr. Scott said the series of photographs accurately depicts what she saw during the autopsy.
2:28 p.m. -- The jury is now reviewing the photos.
2:35 p.m. -- Testimony resumes and is asking about the damage to the skull.
The fractures to the cheeks indicated "two separate blows," Dr. Scott said.
She is now looking at another stack of photographs taken during the autopsy.
The stack includes an "overall view of the left side of the skull" that shows a "semicircular gouge mark" and "several areas of fracturing."
2:40 p.m. -- The jury is reviewing the photographs.
2:47 p.m. -- Testimony continues and Delbridge is asking Dr. Scott is photographs were taken of the top of the skull.
She said there were because there were "fractures" found there.
Delbridge handed Dr. Scott the photographs and she is detailing them for the jury.
The first photo, she said, shows three fractures.
The second is a close-up of the first photo.
The third shows the "continuation" of one of the three fractures.
Dr. Scott is holding the photos up and showing the jury where the fractures are located.
"One blow could have caused all three," she said.
Delbridge asked if at this point, "we are up to five blows."
Dr. Scott said yes.
Delbridge handed her more pictures, which she identified as images of "the right side of the skull."
The fracture shown on those shots, she said, indicate a second blow to the head.
2:54 p.m. -- The jury is reviewing the photographs.
3:01 p.m. -- Testimony continues and Dr. Scott said that when she examined the body, several of McLaurin's teeth were missing.
She said she found two bullets in the body and gave them to GPD Cpl. Trevor Albaugh.
3:02 p.m. -- Delbridge requested that another photograph taken during the autopsy and another diagram be published to the jury. Jones complied.
3:03 p.m. -- The jury is now looking at those items.
While the jury has been reviewing those items, Delbridge has spoken with members of McLaurin's family who are in the courtroom.
3:09 p.m. -- Testimony continues and Delbridge is asking Dr. Scott questions about how they bullets might have entered the body.
She said it is possible that the first bullet caused damage to the spinal cord and might have even caused paralysis of the lower extremities.
"They would still be able to use their arms and hands," Dr. Scott said.
"There was hemorrhage within the fractured portion of the right rib, which would indicate to me he was still alive when he suffered that gunshot wound," she said.
Dr. Scott said that the second bullet -- the one that ended up in his heart -- would have likely killed him within an hour's time.
She said that the first wound would have been survivable.
"Gunshot wound No. 2, I did also see hemorrhage ... which would indicate to me that he was alive at the time that he was shot," she said.
Dr. Scott said she was unable to visualize hemorrhage around the head wounds so it is unclear when they occurred -- although they did occur, in her opinion, "around the time of death."
3:16 p.m. -- Cross-examination has begun and Dr. Scott told the court she did not have soft tissue around the head or a spinal cord to look at during the autopsy and that had an impact on her ability to provide a more definitive conclusion as to the damage the blows to the head and shot to the spinal cord caused.
She is identifying which bullet she removed from McLaurin's heart.
She said it left a hold roughly 1/4 of an inch.
"That's a pretty big hole, isn't it?" Gurley asked.
"Yes," she replied.
Dr. Scott said she did not take the photographs -- that an autopsy technician did.
Gurley asked if anybody took a picture of the bullet hole in the heart.
Dr. Scott said no.
The autopsy, Dr. Scott said, was completed Sept. 24, 2012 -- not Sept. 22 as the report states.
She told Gurley that the cause of death was "two gunshot wounds to the chest" -- that she could not tell which bullet entered McLaurin's body first.
Gurley is asking Dr. Scott how many pints of blood are in the human body.
Dr. Scott confirmed that there are five pints.
She also wrote, on a report dated November 2012, "blunt force trauma to the head" as one of the causes of death.
Dr. Scott, upon Gurley's request, is reading the narrative on the report.
She said she put "blunt force trauma" as a cause of death based on her autopsy.
Gurley is approaching the witness stand with a diagram of the front of a body.
Dr. Scott, using the diagram, is pointing to where, in McLaurin's aorta, she found a bullet.
Gurley is approaching the witness with several one-pint cartons of whipping cream.
"This is approximately how much blood is in the human body. Is that correct?" he asked.
"A little bit less," Dr. Scott replied.
She said how long it would take someone to bleed out and die from a 1/4-inch gunshot wound to the heart would depend on whether or not anything was obstructing the wound.
3:31 p.m. -- Delbridge begins his redirect and asks the doctor if she knows that a gunshot wound was a cause of death. She said yes and that it is possible the blunt force trauma to the head contributed -- but that given the state of the remains, it was hard to definitively say whether the trauma happened before or after death.
3:32 p.m. -- Gurley begins his redirect and says, "You don't know what happened because you weren't there, right?"
Dr. Scott agreed.
3:33 p.m. -- Dr. Scott steps down.
3:34 p.m. -- The state calls its twentieth witness, Kennedy McLaurin Sr.
3:34 p.m. -- Afternoon break. When court resumes at 3:50 p.m., Kennedy McLaurin Sr. will be on the stand for the state.
3:51 p.m. -- Senior Resident Superior Court Judge Arnold Jones is back in the courtroom and has called for the jury.
3:52 p.m. -- The jury is back in the courtroom and McLaurin is on the stand.
He said the young man who was the victim in this case is his son -- that on Sept. 9, 2012, the 16-year-old was living with him.
Kennedy, he said, was a student at Goldsboro High School.
McLaurin confirmed that Ms. Best was Kennedy's mother.
He identified a key chain that he bought his son and said he was wearing it Sept. 9, 2012 -- the last time he saw him.
McLaurin also said that Kennedy wore earrings, "pretty much every day."
He identified his son on a photograph Delbridge handed him.
In the picture, Kennedy is smiling.
3:56 p.m. -- Gurley declines the opportunity to cross-examine the witness and McLaurin steps down.
3:57 p.m. -- Delbridge is asking the judge to allow him to publish those photographs to the jury.
3:58 p.m. -- The jury is reviewing the photographs.
4:01 p.m. -- The state rests its case.
4:02 p.m. -- Jones orders the jury to leave the courtroom and Gurley asks that the court dismiss both charges against his client.
"There has been no evidence that the defendant has killed another human being," he said. "The felony committed in this case was committed by the victim."
He said there is no evidence of first- or second-degree murder or a kidnapping.
"Once he pulled that weapon out, it was survival mode," Gurley said. "That's what Jerome said. And that's what happened. ... A robbery was attempted by this young man ... and this didn't work out for him."
"There is no way there was a kidnapping," he said. "Being scared to die is not a felony in any state."
"The defendant in this case never had a weapon," Gurley said. "The weapon that took the victim's life was his own. That's not an unlawful killing. ... There was no legal duty owed to the victim in this case."
"We just ask the court to strongly take this motion into consideration," he said.
4:13 p.m. -- Gurley is done making his argument for dismissal and Jones is reviewing his notes.
4:21 p.m. -- Delbridge said there is "undoubtedly" evidence to support first-degree murder.
All of the state's witnesses agreed that McLaurin was still alive when the car left Bain Street -- when Joyner called Kevin Smith and told him to "get a shovel."
That, Delbridge said, ends all claims of self-defense.
"When Leonard Joyner made that phone call ... it was preordained that the young man was going to die," he said. "Whether he died along the way, before they got to the grave, makes no difference."
The fact that he died after he was kidnapped makes it first-degree murder, he argued.
And the fact that Joyner kept driving long after McLaurin posed no further threat to his safety, makes it kidnapping.
"All the evidence says he was helpless when they were on the way to Hickory Hills -- when the call was made," Delbridge said.
"The evidence is more than sufficient," he said.
4:29 p.m. -- Delbrigde is done making his argument.
4:30 p.m. -- Jones is speaking.
"The three witnesses who had contact with the defendant and Kennedy McLaurin Jr. on Sept. 9, 2012 ... I think it's fair to say their testimony has been inconsistent," he said.
Jones is recounting Ethridge's testimony -- that he said McLaurin was moving and cursing after he was shot.
Jones is recounting Smith's testimony -- that he also said McLaurin was cursing after he was shot; that McLaurin was alive at the first grave site.
Jones is recounting Butts' testimony -- that he also said McLaurin was "cursing" after the shooting.
With that said, Jones denies the motion to dismiss.
4:40 p.m. -- Court called off for the day and will resume Wednesday at 9:30 a.m.