LENOIR Justin Ray Hester, 26, of Lenoir was convicted of two counts of first-degree murder in Superior Court in Lenoir on Monday.
Judge Robert Ervin accepted Hesters plea arrangement made with the District Attorneys office, and Hester was sentenced to two life sentences without parole for both murders.
I hope he burns in hell, said Pam Brown, mother of victim Kevin Lee Shatley, after the judges decision. Shatley and Harlie Brooke Carter were murdered.
He took the plea because he couldnt stand being in a cell 23 hours a day, she said, referring to Hesters confinement prior to his sentence. In prison, hell have more freedom, she said.
Carters cousin, Robin Carter, said I think (Hester) was a coward and that he was afraid of the needle.
There have been no death penalty murder convictions in North Carolina since 2006, according to James Gaither, the district attorney for Caldwell County.
Shatley and Carter were killed in June 2010 in the Dudley Shoals area of Caldwell County in a dispute over money, according to the district attorneys office.
Assistant District Attorneys Nancy Lee and Eric Bellas prosecuted the case.
Bellas revealed evidence gathered by Caldwell County Sheriffs Office in collaboration with the N.C. State Bureau of Investigation in a PowerPoint presentation.
Bellas followed trails of text messages, evidence and testimony that led to Hester as the person who most closely fits the evidence. Much of the evidence pointed to a premeditated or first-degree intent to kill Carter and Shatley.
The evidence indicated Hester shot Carter and Shatley once each in the head with a .357 caliber revolver, according to the presentation.
Hester then enlisted the help of Matthew Bradley Powell, then 21, of Granite Falls and Dylan Shane Teeters, then 19, of Lenoir, in disposing of the car by sinking it in Lake Rhodhiss, said Bellas.
The car bogged down on a muddy road to the lake. The three then hatched a plan to burn it, said Bellas.
It was the burned car with the two bodies in it that led deputies to begin the in-depth investigation that led to the arrest of Hester.
When questioned by the judge as to his understanding of the plea agreement, Hester responded yes to all points, including that he was facing two terms of life imprisonment without the chance of parole.
When asked if he had any comments, Hester said, No, sir.
When asked if he committed the crimes, Hester said, No, sir.
Hes guilty, said Gaither, referring to the acceptance of the guilty plea.
Robert Campbell, defense attorney for Hester, said, Hes been in jail since 2010 and is ready to get this behind him.
Powell and Teeters are awaiting trial on lesser charges, two counts each of accessory to murder after the fact, and are being held at Caldwell County Detention Center under no bond, according to the DAs office.
Lee asked Ervin to allow members of the victims families to address Hester after the convictions.
Your Honor, there is one child without a dad, and one child without a mother as a result of his actions, said Toni Shatley, mother of one of the victims. Why? Why? Did you ever think not to do it? she said to Hester. Anger keeps us linked to you, and that link is stronger than steel.
I hope you make amends with God, she said. If you can make amends, God will help us to forgive. Forgiving doesnt mean forgetting.
Marie Teague, Carters aunt, told the court she had to explain to Carters daughter why her mother was not coming home.
There is no punishment that can take away the pain, she said.
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