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03/30/14 — The jury will decide

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The jury will decide

By Kenneth Fine
Published in News on March 30, 2014 1:50 AM

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Leonard Joyner

Barring any unforeseen developments, the 12 Wayne County residents charged with determining the innocence or guilt of one of four men accused of murdering 16-year-old Kennedy McLaurin Jr. Sept. 9, 2012, will deliver their verdict Monday.

Leonard Eugene Joyner, 23, told the jury that the teenager was shot in a struggle for a gun he pulled during what was supposed to be a drug deal -- that after McLaurin died, he feared the police would not believe that he was acting in self-defense.

But the state claims -- and did its best to prove during more than a week of testimony that saw 20 witnesses take the stand and hundreds of items introduced into evidence -- that McLaurin was still alive when Joyner, Curtis Ethridge, Kevin Smith and Jerome Butts arrived in a field off Carmack Road, the site where the former Goldsboro High School student was, according to Goldsboro Police Department investigators, beaten to death, burned and buried.

Joyner admitted that he lied to lawmen from the moment he was first questioned about his presence in the car that drove away from Bain Street with McLaurin inside.

But he said it was fear that prompted his dishonesty -- that after he, Ethridge and Butts arrived at Smith's house some 20 minutes after the shooting, he got on his bicycle and rode away; that he never went to the burial site.

Among the witnesses who testified that Joyner was still, to this day, lying about his involvement -- and McLaurin's condition just before he was buried -- were:

* Josh Carter: Carter told the court that he lied for Joyner when he was interviewed, for the first time, by Goldsboro Police Department Det. Dwayne Bevell -- that he said the young man had been with him at a tattoo shop Sept. 9, 2012. He also testified that Joyner confessed to him that he had a role in McLaurin's murder and the initial burial of his body -- the victim's remains were later unearthed and moved some 500 feet away from the original burial site.

* Curtis Ethridge: Ethridge told the court that he heard McLaurin making threats and cursing at the men in the car long after they fled Bain Street and the first shot went off. He also testified that Joyner called Smith and said, "Get ready. Somebody tried to rob us." When the men arrived at Smith's house, Joyner, Ethridge said, told Smith to, "get a shovel," and shortly after they arrived in a field off Carmack Road, he said he watched Joyner and Smith beat McLaurin to death after they dug a hole to put his body in.

* Jerome Butts: Butts told the court that he knew Joyner planned to kill McLaurin when, long after they fled from Bain Street, he called Smith and told him to "get a shovel." He also testified that he was sitting on McLaurin for the duration of the drive from Goldsboro to the burial site -- that the 16-year-old was struggling and making threats until just before the car parked in a field off Carmack Road.

* Kevin Smith: Smith said that when the other three men arrived at his house with McLaurin in the car, he got in the vehicle and asked the teenager why he tried to rob them. McLaurin, Smith told the court, responded by saying, "My Homeboys are gonna find me." Smith testified that McLaurin was still alive when the car parked in a field off Carmack Road -- that he finished the young man off with a shovel. "After I hit him the last time, he laid down," Smith said.

For more coverage of the trial -- including live play-by-play of all the testimony that has been delivered inside Courtroom No. 1, go to www.NewsArgus.com and click on the banner at the top of the page.

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