February 18, 2014

Prosecutors try to tie dead suspect to triple killing

Tuesday, prosecutors attempted to tie Justin Hurd and Nathaniel “Lil Nate” Sanders to the Feb. 4, 2008, crime, homing in on Sanders, who was shot to death in Cincinnati in the fall of 2008.

The customer had blood on his hoodie and a busted lip. Rochester Hutchins also noticed that he appeared nervous, and smelled of drugs, perspiration and fear.

On Feb. 4, 2008, Hutchins was a night clerk at a convenience store in north Charlotte.

Tuesday, he gave compelling testimony in the death-penalty murder trial of Justin Hurd.

Hurd has been charged with the home-invasion slayings of Kinshasa Wagstaff, her live-in boyfriend Kevin “Fergie” Young, and her 18-year-old niece, Jasmine Hines.

Six years ago, Wagstaff and Young were found shot and/or stabbed in the burning wreckage of her home off Brookshire Boulevard. Hines’ body turned up several hours later off Beatties Ford Road in Huntersville. She had been shot twice and doused with gasoline.

Prosecutors say Hurd and Nathaniel “Lil Nate” Sanders, both from Cincinnati, drove up from Atlanta to rob Young, a DJ and drug dealer who at times purchased large quantities of marijuana in the Georgia capital. Hurd was living in Atlanta at the time, prosecutors say, and the robbery plan took shape while Sanders was visiting the city.

Hurd’s defense team says prosecutors lack evidence to convict their client of the killings. Lead attorney Alan Bowman of Newark, N.J., spent much of the day picking at the inconsistencies in the various statements prosecution witnesses have made as the case has stretched on.

Tuesday, prosecutors attempted to tie Hurd and Sanders to the crime, homing in on Sanders, who was shot to death in Cincinnati in the fall of 2008.

Around 2 a.m. on Feb. 4, 2008, according to testimony, a man in a hooded jacket got out of a dark van at a Circle K convenience store in north Charlotte. He tried to pay for gas, gas cans, gloves and trash bags with a $100 bill. Freddie King, then the store’s clerk, testified Tuesday that he didn’t have enough money in the register at that hour to make change for so large a bill.

So the man in the jacket grabbed a nearby bag of lighters, King said. Can you make change now? he asked.

Less than two hours later, Wagstaff’s house on Patricia Ryan Lane was engulfed in flames.

At 5 a.m. that same day, Hutchins testified he watched a green van pull up to the pumps at the Exxon convenience store at W.T. Harris Boulevard and Mount Holly-Huntersville Road. A man in a dark hooded coat walked through the door.

He wanted gas cans, Hutchins recalled, but the customer spent a lot time wandering around the store, fumbling with the coffee machine, “like he was nervous or something.”

Brenda Givens, a fellow customer that morning, testified that she was so unnerved by the man’s behavior that she left the store and sat in her car until he left, fearing that he was there to rob it.

And the customer smelled, too, Hutchins recalled. Outside the courtroom, he described the odor as a combination of drugs, perspiration and fear, and how when a man gets nervous all the stuff inside him pours out.

That morning, Hutchins said he watched the man prosecutors identify as “Lil Nate” Sanders fill the gasoline cans and drive off.

Three hours later and a few miles away, an off-duty Huntersville police sergeant pulled up alongside the body of Jasmine Hines. Getting out of his car, Scott Sharp testified, he smelled gas.

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