03/31/14 — Joyner found guilty

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Joyner found guilty

By Kenneth Fine
Published in News on March 31, 2014 1:46 PM

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Leonard Joyner blows a kiss to his family this morning shortly after he was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Guilty of first-degree murder.

After nearly five hours of deliberations that began Thursday afternoon and resumed, after a three-day break, this morning, a jury returned a guilty verdict for Leonard Joyner, 23, in connection with the 2012 murder of 16-year-old Kennedy McLaurin Jr.

Joyner was one of four men charged in connection with the case.

Senior Resident Superior Court Judge Arnold Jones sentenced him, moments later, to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Joyner's road to conviction began Sept. 9, 2012, when the Goldsboro High School student went missing during what has been characterized as a "drug deal gone bad."

Days later, the teenager's friend, Antonio "Mel" King, told Goldsboro Police Department Det. Dwayne Bevell that he had set up the transaction -- that the buyer was Leonard Joyner, also known as "Levi."

But when the detective tracked Joyner down, the young man said he never went to Bain Street that day -- that he had sent "Charlie Brown" to pick up the drugs; that his friend, Josh Carter, could vouch for him that the two were at a tattoo parlor together when McLaurin went missing.

Carter, who testified during the trial in exchange for a pledge from police that they would not charge him in connection with the crime, later told Bevell that he lied about Joyner being with him that day -- that Joyner had confided in him that he was, in fact, there when the Goldsboro High School student was killed and later buried in a field off Carmack Road.

Joyner would ultimately take the stand and testify in his own defense.

He told the court that he lied to police about being in the car that day out of fear -- that McLaurin shot himself twice in the car and he was afraid lawmen would not believe it.

And he said that Curtis Ethridge, Kevin Smith and Jerome Butts -- the three men who have already entered guilty pleas for their admitted roles in the 16-year-old's kidnapping and murder -- were not telling the truth when they testified that Joyner was with them at the burial site and that McLaurin was still alive when they arrived there.

For complete coverage, see Tuesday's News-Argus. Continuing up-to-the-minute coverage can be found on @newsargus and online at NewsArgus.com.