08/10/06 — Teen pleads guilty to murder

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Teen pleads guilty to murder

By Bonnie Edwards
Published in News on August 10, 2006 1:52 PM

Antonio Jenkins

KENANSVILLE -- A teenager accused of stabbing his 86-year old neighbor to death in 2003 pleaded guilty to second- degree murder Wednesday in Kenansville.

Antonio Jenkins, 15, received three consecutive sentences totaling a maximum of 40 years in the death of Mary Fulford in October 2003. They lived in houses next to each other on N.C. 24 between Kenansville and Warsaw. Jenkins was 13 at the time.

Judge Kenneth Crowe had picked five jurors and came to court Wednesday morning expecting to continue jury selection when he learned Jenkins wanted to plead guilty. Jenkins was facing first-degree murder charges, which would carry a sentence of life without parole.

Crowe said this was the first time he has tried someone for a crime so violent so young.

"We had experts on both sides," he said about the defense lawyer's argument that Jenkins had limited mental capacity and was therefore incapable of formulating intent to murder anyone.

Still, it would have been a complicated case, he said.

"It would have taken a long time to try," Jenkins added, saying it would not have been easy to get 12 jurors to vote unanimously on the case because of Jenkins' youth and IQ, which was 70.

Jenkins will be a middle-aged man when he is released from prison.

Prosecutor Ernie Lee said the victim's family is pleased with the sentence, and there will be no appeals. He said with a full trial, there was always a chance the jury would return a verdict of second-degree murder, for which Jenkins would have served 12 or 13 years.

"I'm very pleased he pleaded guilty, because it gave closure to the family, and it ensures this defendant remains incarcerated to middle age," Lee said. "He's 15 right now. There's going to be a different world when he's released."

Lee said Jenkins received a sentence in the top end of the punishments allowed because of Ms. Fulford's age.

Jenkins was sentenced on several counts, all totaling a minimum of 31 and 3 months to a maximum of 40 years.

"He must serve no less than 31 and a third years in prison, absolute minimum," Lee said. "He will be near 50 when he is eligible for parole."

The judge had Lee prepare a bill of information on the three counts for which Jenkins was sentenced in addition to second-degree murder, for which he received a sentence of 16 years 4 months minimum or a maximum of 20 years and 5 months in prison.

After that sentence is complete, Jenkins will be in prison for another eight years or so for robbery with a dangerous weapon, court officials said.

And after that, Jenkins will serve almost another year for felony breaking and entering, followed by about 10 more years for first-degree kidnapping.

Lee said the trial would have been a "battle of the experts" had it gone the whole route.

Defense lawyer Fredrick Hall had psychologists ready to testify that Jenkins suffered from bipolar disorder, conduct disorder, substance abuse, mild mental retardation, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and some traits of personality disorder. Jenkins had been admitted to the Brynn Marr mental hospital in Jacksonville four times between 2000 and 2003, the last time shortly before the murder occurred.

In addition to the long history of psychological problems, the defense pointed to a troubled childhood during the sentencing hearing. Jenkins' mother had been involved with drugs and let other people care for him, defense attorneys said. His father was in prison at the time of the murder.

But a forensic psychologist and a psychiatrist saw Jenkins six times at Dorothea Dix between May and June 2005 for the prosecution. And although the dosctors said they did find Jenkins suffers from a behavior disorder, Lee said they found he could form "specific intent to kill."