03/27/14 — The witnesses

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The witnesses

By From staff reports
Published in News on March 27, 2014 1:46 PM

Defense witness No. 1: Goldsboro Police Department Det. Dwayne Bevell -- Bevell told the court, after being handed a DVD by defense attorney Charles Gurley, that the disk was dated "9/21/2012" and had the name "Kevin Smith" written on it. He also testified that a second DVD he was given by Gurley was dated "9/20/2012" and had the name "Jerome Butts" on it.

Gurley then played portions of the videos for the jury.

At the beginning of the Butts video, Bevell told the young man he was "free to leave." Several minutes later, the detective's questioning began.

"I ain't gonna lean on you. I ain't gonna question you hard core," Bevell said. "Just tell me what happened in the car."

Butts replied that McLaurin "pulled out a gun" and was "basically shooting himself."

Bevell also asked what took place at the first burial site.

"I don't even know where we went. Somewhere," Butts said. "A field. They had a shovel. I don't know where they got a shovel."

The detective then asked the young man about the burial.

"Who's idea was it to do all this burying (expletive)?" Bevell asked.

It was hard to understand Butts' answer, but judging by Bevell's response to it -- "He was the oldest out of all y'all, right?" -- Joyner seemed to be the person he named.

Gurley then showed the jury an hour-long portion of the Smith video.

In it, the fact that the interview room door was open was evident -- Bevell previously testified that he did not read the suspects their rights before their first interviews because they were not "officially in custody" and were "free to leave at any time."

After more than 10 minutes of watching Smith sitting in a chair in the interview room by himself, the jury saw Bevell walked into the frame.

"He did it. I got him on first-degree murder," Bevell said, referring to Joyner. "He told me (expletive) that ain't true. I blew it up. I blew that (expletive) up."

The detective then characterized Joyner as an "evil (expletive)."

"This is a death penalty crime," Bevell said. "He's out there running because he's a (expletive). If you lie to me, you're evil. ... You've got a life-changing decision to make. I need to get his body back to his mama so they can give him a proper burial. You were (dragged) into this. You were guilty by association. Don't go down. This (expletive) is real."

The detective then told Smith that he could help him if he told the truth.

"You show me where the body is, that is showing remorse," he said. "You got to tell me where he is ... otherwise you're just as guilty. ... You feel me?"

Smith replied that he did not know where McLaurin was buried.

"You're a liar," Bevell said.

"I don't know," Smith replied. "I really don't."

Gurley ended the video before the conclusion of the interview.

Smith, in the clip the jury saw, never gave in.

All he would say is that he heard McLaurin "shot himself twice."

Defense witness No. 2: Lacy Hewitt -- Hewitt told the court that he lives off of Highway 111 South -- that he does not work because he has cancer and lives "five minutes walking" from Joyner's house.

He testified that he saw Joyner, "usually daily," and that the two were friends.

Hewitt also said that Joyner got around on "an older bike."

"Did you see him on or about Sept. 9, 2012?" Gurley asked.

"I see him so often, I wouldn't have known," Hewitt replied. "It wouldn't have been odd to have seen him, so I don't remember the exact day. I see him a lot."

During cross-examination, Assistant District Attorney Matthew Delbridge asked Hewitt if he's "doing OK with his health."

The witness replied, "Yes."

He told the court that he had been friends with Joyner for roughly seven years -- that he also knew Smith and Curtis Ethridge.

And he said that Smith and Joyner were "friends," but not "best friends."

During redirect, Hewitt said he and Joyner would "smoke weed" and play video games at his house.

"We just hung out and did stuff guys do," he said. "He's been a real nice guy. ... He even called my mom on Mothers Day."

Defense witness No. 3: Leonard Joyner -- Joyner told the court he is 23 years old -- that before he went to jail, he lived off Highway 111.

He testified that he went to, and graduated from, Spring Creek High School.

Joyner said he worked at McDonald's for roughly two years, but was not working in 2012 because he was "trying to get into Wayne Community."

He told the court he lived with his mother and that she works at Wayne Memorial Hospital -- that his father has lived in Wilmington "all my life."

Joyner said he has known Lacy Hewitt "since high school" and that they remain friends and that he had known Jerome Butts for five or six months before "this incident happened."

He testified that he met Kevin Smith "in the neighborhood" and knew Curtis Ethridge through his older brother, whom he said he went to school with.

Joyner testified that the morning of Sept. 9, 2012, he rode his bicycle "out to the neighborhood" to "smoke" and "chill."

"Smokin' what?" Gurley asked.

"Marijuana," Joyner replied.

Butts, he said, went to get his car because they decided they wanted "very potent weed" -- a type of marijuana called, "Loud."

Butts, he said, showed up with his car and he and Ethridge got in.

Joyner said he then called Antonio "Mel" King, who told them to "come to Bain Street."

"I met him through my, I would call him, my brother-in-law," he said, adding that he had purchased drugs from him before.

"As soon as we got to Bain Street, I called Mel. He said, 'I'm sending Little Homey,'" he said. "We waited for like three or four more minutes."

Joyner said he did not know who "Little Homey" was and had no knowledge of Kennedy McLaurin Jr. before that day.

"The victim approached the car and looked in. I said, 'Are you Mel's homeboy?' He said, 'Yes.'" Joyner said.

He told the court that McLaurin then got in the car and asked them what they wanted.

"He was like, 'This is what I got for y'all,' and pulled out a weapon.'" Joyner said.

He testified that McLaurin then hit Ethridge with the gun and pointed it at the others -- demanding money.

The struggle, he said, began.

And once the gun was pointed at him, "I grabbed the gun."

"Now, me and him are wrestling over the gun," Joyner said. "He's yelling, 'You're not gonna get this gun from me.'"

He told the court he then asked the other two men -- who had gotten out of the car when McLaurin pulled the gun -- for help and Butts got back in the car and held McLaurin down.

Moments later, the first shot went off, Joyner said.

"Were you in fear at this point?" Gurley asked.

"Yes, sir," Joyner replied.

He testified that after the first shot rang out, McLaurin shouted.

"After the first shot, he said, 'I shot myself,'" Joyner said. "That's when he started yelling, 'Roll call. Roll call.'"

The witness said with "one hand on the gun," he told Ethridge to get back in the car and drove away because he saw "two or three guys coming through the cut."

"Jerome was sitting on Kennedy, and I still had one hand on the gun," Joyner said. "My first destination was to go to the police station."

But just then, a second shot rang out, he told the court -- and he was "able to get the gun from Kennedy."

"After the second shot, he wasn't saying anything," Joyner said. "I believe he was dead."

At that point, any notion of going to police went out the window, he added.

"I panicked," Joyner said. "We had drugs on us. Plus a dead guy. I was scared. I wasn't really thinking."

He testified that he did not go to police because if they saw "three young black guys, plus a dead body," he would get arrested.

Instead, Joyner decided to go back to where he had come from -- Smith's house.

"We pulled up at Kevin's house and I got out of the car," he said, adding that he got on his bicycle and left.

"Why did you ride off?" Gurley asked.

"Because I didn't want to have anything to do with it," Joyner replied.

"Anything to do with what?" Gurley asked.

"Whatever they were about to do," he said.

Joyner told the court he rode to Hewitt's house and "acted like it was just a regular day."

But later, after he got a phone call from King asking about McLaurin, he decided to create an alibi.

"Later on that day, when I went to Josh Carter's house, that's when I told him to say I was at the tattoo shop," Joyner said.

Ethridge and Smith were at Carter's house, too.

And that evening, "Jerome ended up coming over," he said.

"The guy's were talking. Josh overheard them and started asking questions," Joyner said. "Josh is basically telling us that he's done this before -- that this is how you get rid of a body.

"I didn't go out there. I don't know what happened. I don't know what they did."

He testified that on Sept. 10, 2012, he rode with Carter to buy a blue tarp and "other instruments."

"We went back to his house ... and just sat there," he said. "We waited until nighttime and that's when Jerome, Kevin and Josh Carter ... went back to the grave site."

When Gurley asked him why he lied to Goldsboro Police Department Det. Dwayne Bevell, he said he was trying to "to carry on the lie I had told the guys who were threatening me."

And when he was asked why, after the detective told him it was OK if it was self-defense, he continued to lie, Joyner told the court that "cops lie just to get what they want."

During cross-examination, Assistant District Attorney Matthew Delbridge asked Joyner if he and his mother were "tight."

The young man said yes, that he respected "basically all my elders."

"I seen them all as parents," he said.

Joyner testified that he saw Smith and Ethridge "just about every day" -- that the three of them sold marijuana to make money.

"The drug business is sort of a dangerous business to be in, isn't it?" Delbridge asked.

"Yes sir," Joyner replied.

But he denied owning a gun -- and said he "did not see" Smith pull a gun when the car with McLaurin in it arrived at his home less than an hour after the shooting.

Delbridge asked Joyner if he was "very convincing" to King about not knowing where McLaurin was.

"So you were giving the appearance of being very sincere right?" he asked.

"I was trying to save myself," Joyner replied.

Joyner told the court the gun was pointed at him at one point -- that he never had his hands on McLaurin, only the weapon.

"How long have you been practicing this?" Delbridge asked.

"I, I haven't practiced this," Joyner replied. "I'm telling the truth."

Delbridge then sat in front of Joyner, asking him to re-enact what happened between him and McLaurin in the car.

After he acted it out, he said the first shot when off on Bain Street.

Butts, at that point, was already on top of McLaurin, Joyner said.

"I don't know if he was pushing down," he said.

Joyner then testified that after the first gunshot, Kennedy said, "Ah, I shot myself."

"So he's narrating?" Delbridge asked.

"I don't know what was on his mind," Joyner said.

Delbridge then asked him if it was his intention to go to the Police Department after the first shot went off.

He said yes.

"I was gonna come here because the guy was tryin' to rob us," Joyner said, adding that he didn't end up going because a second shot went off and McLaurin, he said, was dead.

The prosecutor then asked why, after Bevell told him about self-defense, he lied.

Joyner, as he did when Gurley posed the question, said it was because he didn't trust the police.

"I was scared," he told the court. "I was trying to save myself."

He said in the interview with Bevell, he was at ease.

"You didn't look too ... upset," Delbridge said, adding that the video of the interview shows the young man rapping while he waited for Bevell to enter the room.

"Just passing time," Joyner said.

Delbridge then asked whether he was worried about driving down Ash Street with a body in the car on a Sunday afternoon."

Joyner said he "wasn't thinking."

State rebuttal witness No. 1: Goldsboro Police Department Det. Dwayne Bevell -- Assistant District Attorney Matthew Delbridge asked Bevell questions about how a semi-automatic weapon works.

The detective told the court that when a shot is fired, the shell ejects to the right and, if the slide is blocked, it will not reload -- that the gun would likely jam.

Delbridge then asked about the interviews he conducted with Jerome Butts and Kevin Smith -- the videos that were shown to the jury as part of the defense.

Bevell testified that Butts' account of what happened was the "very first" eyewitness account of what had happened -- that when defense attorney Charles Gurley stopped the video during the defense's case, there was more interview left.

Delbridge showed the jury the remainder of the video.

On it, Butts is seen telling Bevell that McLaurin talked "all the way" to the burial site -- that the 16-year-old only shot himself "once."

"What was the last thing that boy saw before he died?" Bevell said. "Did y'all bury that boy while he was still alive? What killed that boy? One gunshot didn't kill him."

Butts replied that "they" dragged him out of the car "and did somethin' to him."