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03/28/14 — Jury gets case

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Jury gets case

By John Joyce
Published in News on March 28, 2014 1:46 PM

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News-Argus/SETH MABRY

Assistant District Attorney Matthew Delbridge makes his final plea to the 12 Wayne County residents who will determine whether or not Leonard Eugene Joyner is guilty in connection with the Sept. 9, 2012, death of 16-year-old Kennedy McLaurin Jr.

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News-Argus/SETH MABRY

Defense attorney Charles Gurley makes his final plea to the 12 Wayne County residents who will determine whether or not Leonard Eugene Joyner is guilty in connection with the Sept. 9, 2012, death of 16-year-old Kennedy McLaurin Jr.

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News-Argus/SETH MABRY

Leonard Eugene Joyner

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News-Argus/SETH MABRY

Senior Resident Superior Court Judge Arnold O. Jones speaks with the members of the jury Thursday.

After more than three hours of deliberation, the jury in the first-degree murder trial of Leonard Eugene Joyner, 23, still had not reached a verdict Thursday evening when Senior Resident Superior Court Judge Arnold O. Jones decided to send everyone home.

Due to an undisclosed scheduling conflict, jurors will not return until Monday.

Jones, speaking after the jury departed, said such a delay is not unheard of, and added that he remains confident the jurors will continue to abide by his instructions not to discuss the case with anyone or to look at any media coverage of the proceedings.

Joyner testified Wednesday that he had no involvement in disposing of the body of 16-year-old Kennedy McLaurin Jr., the young man who disappeared Sept. 9, 2012.

Investigators worked for 12 days to round up suspects, including Joyner and the three men who testified against him in exchange for plea bargains, one of whom eventually led detectives to the body of the missing teen.

Jerome Butts, 20, Curtis Ethridge, 19, and Kevin Smith, 20, each testified similarly to Joyner, saying the victim attempted to rob them in a drug deal on Bain Street the day he disappeared. A struggle for the gun ensued and McLaurin shot himself after being dragged into the front seat by Joyner.

From there, the accounts of Joyner and his co-defendants differ. All three co-defendants say Joyner drove away from Bain Street, with McLaurin in the car, to Marlette Drive where he picked up Smith and at least one shovel, then drove to a field off Carmack Drive in Seven Springs where the four men disposed of the victim's body.

Joyner admits driving to Smith's, but says he hopped on his bicycle and rode away, leaving the other three men to deal with McLaurin, whom he says by then had died.

The exact time, location and cause of the victim's death were not clearly established in the trial.

Assistant District Attorney Matt Delbridge relied on witnesses and first-hand accounts from Butts, Smith and Ethridge to prosecute his case.

Defense attorney Charles Gurley relied on inconsistencies in those testimonies and a self-defense argument his client maintained throughout the trial.

Jurors retired to the jury room at 1:20 p.m. Thursday following closing arguments from both attorneys, as well as 40 minutes of legal instruction from the judge.

Jones charged the jury with returning a verdict of either guilty of first-degree murder, second-degree murder, voluntary or involuntary manslaughter, or not guilty.

The 12 jurors also will return a verdict of guilty or not guilty on the charge of first-degree kidnapping.

Within one minute of receiving the case, the jurors had elected a foreperson and the judge sent in the verdict sheet. Just two minutes later, the jurors requested a written copy of the legal instructions.

Neither attorney objected, and Jones sent in a full copy of the jury charge.

After 13 minutes of deliberation, the jury took a one-hour lunch.

Another 10-minute break was allowed mid-afternoon.

By a quarter to 6, with no news from the deliberation room, Jones called in the jurors and asked for an update.

The foreperson told the judge progress was being made, but when asked if more time might help resolve any issues, the foreperson requested deliberations carry over to Friday morning.

A short bench conference took place and all parties agreed that rather than Friday, the jury would return Monday at 9:30 a.m.

Jones is scheduled to hold civil court Monday and said he will continue to work his docket while the jurors deliberate.

Neither attorney objected.

During the three-plus hours of deliberations that did take place Thursday, the families of both the victim and defendant sat on either side of the courtroom.

Additional sheriff's deputies and Goldsboro police officers were again present outside the courtroom Thursday, following Wednesday's confrontations in the parking lot. Both families admonished those involved, none of whom, it seems were actually relatives of either the victim or the defendant.

"It's just foolishness," said Clinton King, who is dating Joyner's mother and has been speaking on behalf of the family. He said the altercation involved "a bunch of young people going about things the wrong way." He added that none of them have returned to the courthouse since.

In a written statement she sent via email, the victim's mother, Kim Best, agreed that there should be no conflict.

"We have no issues with any of the family members of any of the defendants," Ms. Best wrote. "I would prefer if all supporters were civil to each other."

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