03/25/14 — The witnesses

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The witnesses

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

State witness No. 13: Goldsboro Police Department Det. Dwayne Bevell (continued from Friday) -- Bevell, by answering the questions posed by Assistant District Attorney Matthew Delbridge, reminded the jury that when his testimony was halted Friday afternoon, he was talking about his initial interview with the defendant, Leonard Eugene Joyner -- how the young man told him he had been at a tattoo parlor with his friend, Josh Carter, Sept. 9, 2012, the day Kennedy McLaurin Jr. went missing.

But a few days later, Carter told him Joyner was not with him that day and provided the detective with additional information about the case.

"He stated it was Jerome (Butts') car that was used," Bevell told the court. "That the interior of the car had been stripped."

Based on that information, the detective went to Butts' residence.

"We converged on the area," he said, adding that there was a helicopter nearby and a CSI team on standby.

And he testified that when Butts arrived home, he walked up to his car.

"I stated, 'It's over. We're done. You need to tell the truth,'" Bevell said.

From there, Butts led the police to Deluxe Drive -- the location where the car McLaurin was allegedly shot in had been stripped of its interior.

Butts would later take him to a "dirt path off Carmack Road" to show them "the first burial site" and "burial site two" -- the place where McLaurin's remains were ultimately unearthed.

Bevell then named, for the jury, all four men who were charged with murder in connection with McLaurin's death -- Joyner, Butts, Kevin Smith and Curtis Ethridge.

During cross-examination, defense attorney Charles Gurley asked Bevell if, when he initially interviewed Diamond Sampson and Antonio King about the incident, they told him anything about a "robbery." Bevell said they did not.

Gurley then asked if on Sept. 15, 2012, Bevell became aware of a possible self-defense issue in the case. The detective said no. Bevell also told the court that Curtis Ethridge's mother never provided him with a statement. Bevell corrected Gurley and said it was Ethridge's grandmother, not his mother, that he spoke with.

The detective also said he did not read Joyner his rights the day he came in for his initial interview -- that he "did not place him in handcuffs" and his understanding was the Wayne County Sheriff's office did so to adhere to policy, despite the fact the Joyner was not placed under arrest.

Bevell testified he took the handcuffs off the young man in the parking lot of the Goldsboro Police Department headquarters and told him he was free to leave at any time.

The detective also told the court that he received many untrue statements from Carter -- and that he took the statements at his residence.

Gurley also focused on the number of times Bevell contacted the Chief Medical Examiner's Office in Chapel Hill while he was waiting for the McLaurin autopsy to be completed.

"How many times did you call the medical examiner before they finalized their report?" Gurley asked.

"I called quite often," Bevell replied.

The detective testified that Joyner was "very much in custody" when he was read his rights.

During redirect, Delbridge asked Bevell to explain Miranda Rights. The detective told the court that, "if they're in custody and not free to leave, you read them their Miranda Rights." Joyner, though, "was told he was free to leave" and not under arrest, so there was no need to read him his rights.

State witness No. 14: Josh Carter -- Carter told the court he has known Joyner for "a couple years" -- that they were close enough friends where Joyner would stay the night at his house from time to time.

They would play cards, hang out and "smoke marijuana," he said.

Carter testified that he knew Jerome Butts "through Mr. Joyner," and also knew Curtis Ethridge and Kevin Smith.

Carter said that Sept. 10, 2012, Joyner asked him to corroborate his alibi -- that the two men were together at a tattoo parlor all day. He testified that he told Joyner he would back him up.

In reality, Carter told the court, Joyner and Smith told him Sept. 9, 2012, that they "snatched (McLaurin) up." They also told him how McLaurin had died and that "they set him on fire," he said.

"(Joyner) said he was gonna keep it real," Carter said. "That's when he told me the story."

Carter said that after he corroborated Joyner's alibi, he started to get worried that the story alibi was, in Delbridge's words, "falling apart." So he "told Mr. Bevell that Leonard was not with me."

"He asked me the truth," Carter said.

But he testified he only told Bevell "part truths."

He told the court he knew, generally, where McLaurin had been buried but "was not exactly sure the exact spot."

He also said that he had heard many discussions between Joyner and the other men about the case. They told him that they had "burned the body and most of the evidence," Carter said.

"This was at your house?" Delbridge asked.

"Yes, sir," the witness replied.

And "they came up with a plan to go out there and move the body," Carter said.

"They already had shovels and gloves in the car."

He testified that he rode to the first burial site with Smith and Butts -- that Joyner sent him along to "supervise" the moving of the body.

Carter told the court the two men dug up the body while he "walked around" and smoked cigarettes. After they had dug up the body, Carter said he told the men he wanted to go home.

"Once we got to my house, Mr. Joyner asked them if they were done," he said. "They said, 'No,' and he told them to hurry up."

Carter said Smith and Butts then left his house and when they returned, they burned their clothes -- and that he was "pretty sure" they moved McLaurin's body from one grave to the other with a tarp he and Joyner had purchased earlier that day.

Delbridge then asked Carter to confirm that he pledged not to charge him if he showed up and "told the truth."

During cross-examination, Gurley asked Carter how many times he had spoken with Bevell. He said, "a few."

Carter also said that Bevell had mentioned the potential of charging him with a crime.

Gurley then asked him to recount much of what he just testified to -- the story of what happened Sept. 9, 2012.

Carter told the court he did not recall saying that "Ken was dead or lying unconscious in the car."

And he also testified that it was he, Butts and Smith who went to the burial site when the body was moved -- but denied that he helped them do it.

"So you just went out there just to go?" Gurley asked.

"Yes, sir," Carter replied.

The young man then listed his prior charges to the jury -- possession of drug paraphernalia, possession of stolen goods and communicating threats.

Carter then told the court he told the men it would be a good idea to strip the interior of the car that McLaurin was shot in, but denied that he detailed how to accomplish it.

State witness No. 15: Curtis Ethridge -- Ethridge told the court that he is currently 19, but when McLaurin disappeared, he was only 17.

He testified that he and Kevin Smith, "grew up together," and that he knew Jerome Butts "through Kevin."

He said he also knows Joyner.

Ethridge told the court that he and the other men got together nearly daily -- a lot of times at Carter's house -- to "sit around, chill and smoke weed."

He said all of them smoked a lot of marijuana every day.

Butts, he said, had a car, but he, Smith and Joyner did not -- so he would drive them around a lot.

Ethridge testified that Sept. 9, 2012, "me, Leonard and Jerome was goin' to get some weed" -- that when they arrived on Bain Street, Joyner called McLaurin.

But when McLaurin got into the car, he pulled a gun, the witness said.

"Leonard and Ken were fighting for the gun," Ethridge told the court. "The gun went off."

Then, when they picked up Smith later, he flashed a gun.

"Leonard said, 'Put that gun away. We don't need no gun. We got a shovel,'" Ethridge said.

He told the court that Butts was "sitting on top of Ken" -- that when they arrived at the first burial site, Smith hit the wounded 16-year-old "three or four times" with a shovel.

A few minutes later, Smith poured gasoline on McLaurin and lit a fire, Ethridge said.

He testified that after the murder, he moved to South Carolina and only came back when his grandmother told him the police were looking for him.

Delbridge then turned his focus back to Bain Street.

He asked Ethridge where everyone was sitting before McLaurin got into the car and the young man testified that Butts was driving and he was in the back seat. Butts, he said, was in the passenger seat up front.

"We were facing WAGES," he told the court.

When McLaurin came into view, Joyner had $200 to exchange for marijuana.

"He asked us what we wanted. We told him. He asked us how much we had. We told him," Ethridge said. "Then he pulled out the gun."

"Jerome hopped out ... then I got out," he continued. "While I was out, the gun went off."

Moments later, Joyner told them to get in the car so they did.

Ethridge told the court Butts "got on top of Ken" and Joyner drove away.

As they drove, Joyner made a phone call to Smith, Ethridge said.

"He said, 'Get ready. Somebody tried to rob us,'" he said.

He testified that roughly 10 minutes later, they picked up Smith.

"I heard Ken say, '(Expletive) y'all,'" Ethridge said, adding that McLaurin was "struggling a little bit" and was "folded up" along the floorboard.

He testified that when they picked up Smith, Joyner told him to "get a shovel" -- that, at the time, Butts' "whole body" was still pinning McLaurin down.

"(Smith) asked Ken why he tried to rob us," Ethridge told the court. "Ken kept saying (expletive) y'all."

They drove, he said, to Seven Springs and ended up on a path off Carmack Road -- a place he had been before to "smoke weed" and shoot guns with the others.

After they parked the car, Ethridge said they got out and started digging a hole.

He testified that Smith "dragged him out of the car" and Joyner "hit him with a shovel."

He and Smith then went to buy some gasoline, came back and lit a fire over McLaurin's body and watched it burn "about five minutes."

Ethridge then confirmed for Delbridge that he agreed to testify as part of his a guilty plea to second-degree murder.

During cross-examination, defense attorney Charles Gurley asked Ethridge if he was ever read his rights.

"Not that I can remember," he replied.

Ethridge told the court he remembers telling the police, during his first interview, that "the boy shot himself."

And when Gurley asked if McLaurin was moving when he was ultimately removed from the car off Carmack Road, he said no.

Gurley asked why the young man kept lying to police.

"I tried to get myself out of trouble," he said.

During redirect, Delbridge asked Ethridge if McLaurin was still alive when he was dragged out of the car and hit with the shovel.

"He was alive?" Delbridge asked.

"Yes, sir," he replied.

State witness No. 16: Kevin Smith -- Smith told the court he is 20 years old, but was only 18 years old the day McLaurin disappeared.

He testified that he and Ethridge grew up together and were good friends.

Smith also said that he smoked marijuana with his friends "just about every day" -- that he knows Butts, Carter and Joyner "from the neighborhood."

Delbridge then asked him about Sept. 9, 2012.

"Do you remember them going into town to get some dope?" Delbridge asked.

"Yes, sir," Smith replied.

He testified that Joyner, Butts and Ethridge went together to "get some weed," but that he chose not to go.

Later that day, he "got a phone call from Joyner.

"He said somebody tried to rob him and to be ready," Smith said.

He testified that he grabbed a bag of guns, but when he showed it to Joyner, he "told me to get a shovel."

Smith told the court that when he got into the car and asked who tried to rob them, Butts said, "We got him."

At that point, he realized that somebody else was in the car.

So he asked McLaurin, "Why you try to rob my boys?"

He told the court McLaurin responded, "My homeboys are gonna find me."

Smith said he knew they were going to Seven Springs because "that's where (Joyner) said we were gonna take him."

"He said, 'We're going to Seven Springs to bury him,'" Smith said.

They ended up off of Carmack Road -- a place they used to "smoke weed and chill," he said.

"We pulled up ... and parked. Me and Leonard got out and started digging," Smith said, adding that he hit McLaurin with the shovel.

"After I hit him the last time, he laid down," he told the court, adding that Joyner also hit the 16-year-old.

They then covered the body with leaves and set it on fire," Smith said.

"We poured some gas on him," he told the court. "He won't breathing. He won't making no noise."

Smith testified that a few days later, he went back to the site of the first burial with Butts and Carter and moved the body.

"You gave a statement to the police before you were ever arrested, right?" Delbridge asked.

"Yes, sir" Smith said, adding that in that statement, he said Joyner told him to get the shovel and that McLaurin was still alive when they pulled him out of the car.

During cross-examination, defense attorney Charles Gurley asked him if he was only testifying as part of his plea arrangement.

Smith said yes.

He told the court that he remembers the first time he was at the GPD, Sept. 21, 2012, and that he told Bevell that McLaurin tried to rob his friends -- that the boy shot himself twice.

Smith also testified that he knew he was free to leave that interview at any time and was not read his rights.

Smith identified, for Gurley, a statement he signed Sept. 21, 2012, that said he wasn't sure if McLaurin was dead or alive when they arrived at the site off Carmack Road.

Smith told the court he did not remember saying that.

"It was a year-and-a-half ago," he said.

"How did Ken ... get out of the car?" Gurley then asked.

"Me and (Butts) pulled him out," Smith told the court. "He was still breathing."

He also testified that before he hit McLaurin with the shovel, the boy said, "Tell my mother I love her."

Editor's note: The state also called witness No. 17, Jerome Butts, to the stand Monday, but the he did not complete his testimony. For a detailed recap of what he told the court, see Wednesday's News-Argus or go to www.NewsArgus.com and click on our "Live from the courtroom" coverage from Monday and today.