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03/26/14 — The witnesses

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The witnesses

By Kenneth Fine
Published in News on March 26, 2014 1:46 PM

State Witness No. 17: Jerome Butts -- Butts told the court that he is 20 years old, but was only 19 the day Kennedy McLaurin Jr. died. He testified that back then, he was, in Assistant District Attorney Matthew Delbridge's words, "smoking a lot of dope."

He said he owned a Dodge Dynasty -- a car that his parents bought for him. Butts said he knew Kevin Smith "from school," and characterized him as a "smoking buddy." He told the court that Josh Carter, Curtis Ethridge and defendant Leonard Joyner were smoking buddies, too.

Using an aerial photograph provided by Delbridge, he pointed out where he, and each of the other men, lived. He said he was the only one of the suspects with a car and often gave the others rides.

Butts testified that he "wasn't quite sure" when he met Joyner, but that they were introduced to one another "in the neighborhood."

And he told the court that he remembered Sept. 9, 2012.

He went to Hickory Hills that day to "skateboard in the neighborhood." But Joyner, he said, "needed a ride to Goldsboro, so I went back home to get my car."

Butts said that he did not know, at first, why his friend wanted a ride, but found out later it was so he could "buy some marijuana."

So he, Joyner and Ethridge went to make the deal. Butts told the court that he drove and Joyner rode next to him -- that Ethridge was in the back seat.

And when they arrived on Bain Street, a road he had never traveled down before, Joyner told him to park on the side of the road.

"He was meeting someone," Butts said.

Roughly 10 minutes later, "someone approached the car," the young man said. "He got in the back seat."

Butts testified that McLaurin then pulled out a gun and hit Ethridge in the eye with it -- prompting him and Ethridge to get out of the car.

"At this point, I see Leonard grab the guy and the gun," he said. "They began tussling with the gun."

Butts said he heard a gunshot and, moments later, Joyner told him to get back in the car so he did -- that he got into the front passenger seat because Joyner was now in the driver's seat.

"He told me to come help him," he said. "He told me to hold him down."

Butts told the court that McLaurin's head and torso were "toward the floor" and that he was holding him down with his knees.

"At this point, Ken was talking junk -- cussin' at us," he said. "Leonard and Ken was tussling for the gun and I was on top of him."

Joyner, he said, asked for his keys. They were on the dashboard and he grabbed them, cranked the car and drove off, Butts said.

McLaurin, Butts told the court, was still "cursin' at us," but he couldn't get up, "because I was on his back."

"Ken was cussin', saying he was gonna shoot," he said, adding that Joyner pulled out a knife and "started poking him with it to try to get him to let go of the gun."

Joyner eventually gained control of the gun, Butts said, adding that the man continued to drive toward N.C. 111.

"Leonard told me to squat so that nobody would see me," Butts said.

He testified that as they drove, McLaurin was moving his legs and upper body.

"What were you doing?" Delbridge asked.

"Squatting down on top of him," Butts replied.

As they made their way toward Seven Springs, he said he heard a phone call being made.

"Leonard was making a phone call," Butts said. "I heard him talking. ... (He said) that we had been robbed and to get a shovel."

"We kept driving until we got to a point where we stopped. I noticed that we were in Hickory Hills at Kevin's house. Kevin came out with a black bag. Leonard told him to turn around and take that back and to get a shovel."

Butts told the court Smith returned to the car with a shovel and Joyner started driving again.

McLaurin, he said, was "still cursing."

"Was there any discussion about where y'all were going?" Delbridge asked.

"Yes," Butts replied, adding that they were driving to a field off Carmack Road where the others "had shot guns before."

He testified that the car stopped "in a wooded area, a field," he said, adding that he had never been there before.

Butts then identified "the first burial site," using a photograph of the scene taken by Goldsboro police officers. And using a long, wooden stick, he pointed to where they took McLaurin.

"Leonard got out of the car and got the shovel and started digging," Butts said. "I was inside the vehicle ... still sitting on Kennedy."

He told the court he was "not sure" what condition the boy was in at that point, but that the last time the 16-year-old had said anything was back at Hickory Hills when Smith got into the car.

"Kevin took over and started digging," Butts said. "We (dragged) Kennedy out of the car. ... Kevin (dragged) Kennedy into the grave he had just dug."

He testified that Smith proceeded to hit McLaurin with the shovel -- that after the boy was incapacitated, he and Smith, at Joyner's request, went to buy gasoline.

Butts said McLaurin spoke before he was hit by Smith with the shovel, but said nothing as he was being put into the grave afterward.

But he "lifted up" once he was in the hole, prompting Smith to hit him with the shovel again.

After that, Butts said, he "laid back down" and there were no further indications that he was alive.

Butts testified that he paid for the gas they had pumped into an anti-freeze container.

"I believe it was about $3 (worth)," he said. "When I came back, I parked the car. Kevin had got the gas and Leonard started pouring gas over him before Kevin took over. After that, Kevin lit the fire."

"Was the fire out when the grave was covered?" Delbridge asked.

"Yes," Butts replied.

Everybody, he added, fired the gun toward the grave at some point during that time.

Butts told the court he dropped the men off in Hickory Hills and went home.

"I was scared," he said.

And he testified that the next day, he got a phone call from Carter telling him to come over to his house.

"When I got there ... everybody was just talking about random stuff until Josh came in," Butts said. "Josh was talking to Kevin and asked how deep the grave was dug."

He drove Carter and Smith back to the grave site a little while later.

"When I got there, Kevin and all of us had gotten out of the car," Butts said, adding that a decision was made to move the body.

Butts showed the jury, using a large wooden stick, where, on a photograph of the crime scene, they moved the body.

"I had followed Josh and Kevin toward the wooded area," he said, adding that Carter was in front of them and showed them where to put the body. "Josh had pointed out a spot. He started digging a ... hole."

After that, Butts said he drove Carter home -- that he and Smith returned to the grave site and moved the body and covered it with dirt.

When they finally got back to Carter's house, they burned their clothes.

Butts told the court that a few days later, he, Smith and Joyner stripped the interior of his car and burned what they pulled out of it.

During cross-examination, defense attorney Charles Gurley asked Butts whether he told investigators that, "When Kennedy pulled out the gun, it was 'survival mode.'"

The young man said he did make that statement.

He testified that he did not remember whether or not he was read his rights or much of what he said in his first statement.

Butts also said that he told investigators that McLaurin "basically shot himself."

During redirect, Delbridge asked Butts if he said McLaurin was "talking junk" after the shots were fired.

He said yes.

"Can you tell the jury how you can talk junk if you're dead?" Delbridge asked.

"I don't think you can," Butts replied.

State witness No. 18: Goldsboro Police Department Cpl. Trevor Albaugh -- Albaugh, who testified earlier in the trial, told the court about some of the evidence he collected at the "first burial site."

The officer then identified a diagram he created at that crime scene -- and some of the pieces of evidence that were collected there, a cigar wrapper cigar tip and lighter.

During cross-examination, defense attorney Charles Gurley asked if Albaugh found "three or four spent bullets in that grave."

The officer said no.

State witness No. 19: Pathology expert Dr. Lauren Scott (Due to the graphic nature of this testimony, only a few details are being published) -- Dr. Scott told the court that she is a medical doctor who graduated from the University of Buffalo and the University of Buffalo Medical School -- that she completed her residency at Dartmouth University.

She said her "expertise" is in pathology and that she has been involved in "somewhere between 450 and 500" autopsies.

Senior Resident Superior Court Judge Arnold Jones then qualified Dr. Scott as an expert "in the area of forensic pathology."

Dr. Scott told the court that she conducted the autopsy on McLaurin's remains -- that the body was "very decomposed."

She noted, during the procedure, "severe fracturing" and a "gouge mark" on the skull, facial fracturing and "fire injury."

But, "the major findings were two gunshot wounds."

The doctor, using Assistant District Attorney Matthew Delbrigde as her model, showed the jury how each of the bullets entered McLaurin's body and where they traveled before coming to rest.

The first bullet, she told the court, was recovered from "behind the right shoulder blade" -- the second was "lodged in the aorta."

Dr. Scott identified, and detailed for the court, several photographs taken during the autopsy.

When those images were published to the jury, several jurors shed tears.

Dr. Scott also marked, on a diagram, where "defects" on the spinal column were located and said fracturing on the skull and face indicated multiple "blows" were delivered to the victim.

She also told the court that she handed the two bullets she found in the body over to Goldsboro Police Department Cpl. Trevor Albaugh.

Dr. Scott testified it was possible that the first bullet caused damage to the spinal cord and might have even caused paralysis of the lower extremities -- and that hemorrhaging around the bullet wounds indicate McLaurin was still alive when both bullets entered his body.

The shot to the heart, she added, would have proved fatal -- though she could not say how long it would take for a person to die from that type of wound.

During cross-examination, Dr. Scott confirmed, when asked by defense attorney Charles Gurley, that 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 told the court that the cause of death was "two gunshot wounds to the chest" -- but that she could not tell which bullet entered McLaurin's body first.

State witness No. 20: Kennedy McLaurin Sr. -- McLaurin told the court that 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 then identified, on a photograph provided by the state, a key chain that he bought his son and said he was wearing when he saw him the morning of Sept. 9.

McLaurin also said that Kennedy wore earrings, "pretty much every day."

His testimony concluded after he identified a photograph of his son -- in the picture, Kennedy is smiling.

Defense attorney Charles Gurley declined the opportunity to cross-examine the witness.