In court time Friday, the last five months of Doug London’s life were boiled down to less than an hour.
The Charlotte businessman first appeared to the jury in the trial of three men tied to his killing during a police video from May 25, 2014.
In it, he explains to two Charlotte-Mecklenburg detectives how he had thwarted a robbery of his South Boulevard mattress store only hours before by grabbing a handgun from the top drawer of his desk. He opened fire on the intruder who stood a few feet away, a man who had “stuck a gun in my face before I could blink,” London said.
One witness and a few minutes of testimony later on Friday, London reappeared in the courtroom – this time in a series of disturbing photographs taken Oct. 23, 2014, the night London died.
In them, he is shown lying face down just inside the front door of his Lake Wylie, S.C., home. His right arm is draped around the waist of his dead wife Debbie. Both appear to have been shot at close range. A stream of blood pools nearby. A small handgun gleams on the floor a few feet away.
The footage and photographs were made public for the first time Friday, three years removed from the Londons’ deaths, and their premiere dominated the government’s mounting case against three alleged Charlotte gang members accused of plotting the Londons’ deaths.
In all, 12 alleged members of the Charlotte cell of United Blood Nation were indicted in connection with the killings, which prosecutors say was ordered and carried out to keep Doug London from testifying against the three Bloods who tried to rob the Londons’ store. Nine have pleaded guilty.
Randall Hankins, Nana Adoma and Ahkeem McDonald are the first to go to trial for a crime that sent tremors through the greater Charlotte community.
“I can’t remember another example of that level of contempt for the law,” says Anne Tompkins, who was U.S. Attorney at the time of the Londons’ deaths. “It took violence to a level I had not seen before, and it was startling. ... It made me very frightened for a lot of people.”
Hankins and McDonald are charged with racketeering murder in connection to the killings, along with multiple conspiracy and firearms violations. McDonald and Adoma also are on trial for the murder of Kwamne Clyburn, a homeless teenager who was executed in a southwest Charlotte park in 2013. Adoma was also one of the three gang members who attempted to rob the Londons’ store, prosecutors say.
Two of the main conspirators in the case have already been sentenced to life without parole: Jamell Cureton, Adoma’s brother, who was shot by Doug London during the robbery attempt and later gave the order for the couple’s killing from his Mecklenburg jail cell; and Malcolm Hartley, the confessed triggerman who was better known inside the gang as “Bloody Silent.”
Both Hartley and Cureton pleaded guilty to murder and other charges to avoid trial and a possible death penalty. At least one of the other defendants is expected to testify at the trial, which is expected to last at least another two weeks.
If convicted, Hankins, Adoma and McDonald also face life sentences.
Their attorneys tried to persuade U.S. District Judge Max Cogburn to keep the jury from seeing the bloody photos from the shooting scene. Steve Potolsky of Atlanta, a member of Hankins’ defense team called them “utterly unnecessary,” “largely irrelevant” and designed only “to inflame the jury.”
Assistant U.S. Attorney Don Gast told Cogburn that the photos would corroborate earlier testimony and show jurors how the Londons died. The judge agreed, ruling that the photos were not prejudicial and something the jurors should see.
One by one, the photographs of the Londons’ bodies then flashed by on the computer screens of the jurors and the attorneys in the courtroom.
Leslie Musgrove, Doug London’s sister, watched each image from her seat two rows behind Gast and co-prosecutor Beth Greene. She and her husband put their arms around each other, and pulled close.