Throughout three days of testimony this week, the jury in Justin Hurd’s triple murder trial heard details on how the victims died.
For the first time Thursday, they saw them, too.
Against objections by Hurd’s attorneys, the video screens in Superior Court Judge Robert Ervin’s courtroom showed photos of the victims from the Feb. 3, 2008, home invasion that wiped out a Charlotte household.
Under the monotoned guidance of Assistant District Attorney Reed Hunt, two medical examiners detailed every bullet hole and knife wound suffered by Kinshasa Wagstaff, her boyfriend Kevin “Fergie” Young, and her niece, Jasmine Hines.
The medical experts told the panel of seven men and five women that Wagstaff and Young likely were dead before Wagstaff’s house was torched. Both bodies were severely burned. Authorities believe the killers poured gasoline throughout the home before setting it on fire.
Young, a suspected drug dealer and Wagstaff’s 34-year-old, live-in boyfriend, died from either a gunshot to his abdomen or a deep knife wound to his throat at her home at 6002 Patricia Ryan Lane in north Charlotte, said Dr. Christopher Gulledge, a former Mecklenburg assistant medical examiner who did Young’s autopsy. Young had been handcuffed at the time.
The death of Wagstaff, 33, may have been even more savage. Her killer stabbed or slashed her throat five times while the real estate saleswoman was bound by copper wire. Two of the wounds would have been lethal, said Dr. Michael Sullivan, the county’s chief medical examiner.
Police found a knife in a garbage bag recovered from Wagstaff’s Cadillac Escalade parked in her garage. According to testimony, it was bent and the tip had broken off.
Hines was shot twice: in the back of the head and her back. The latter bullet went through her heart, Gulledge said. Hines was also doused with gasoline, which caused extensive chemical burns to much of her body. She had been gagged with a dish towel that was secured both by a scarf and duct tape, Gulledge said.
The 18-year-old was found off Beatties Ford Road in Huntersville. A nearby resident, retired Charlotte firefighter George Young, testified earlier in the week that he heard two gunshots just after 6 a.m. on Feb. 4, 2008.
Prosecutors say Hurd and Nate Sanders, both of Cincinnati, are responsible for the deaths. They say the pair drove up from Atlanta to rob Kevin Young. Sanders was shot to death in his hometown that fall. Hurd was arrested in Ohio a year after the killings. He faces the death penalty if convicted.
The jury has seen no evidence that ties Hurd to the crimes. Hunt said in his opening statement that the defendant’s DNA was found on water bottles discovered in the trash bags taken from Wagstaff’s vehicle, and on the steering wheel of Young’s Toyota Camry, which was parked near Hines’ body.
Thursday, the prosecution showed the jury the water bottles for the first time. But there was no testimony about what, if anything, investigators found on them.
Meanwhile, Ervin allowed the jury to see the photographs of the victims over the objections of Hurd’s lead attorney, Alan Bowman.
Hunt told the judge that the images offered vital details of the victims’ death.
Bowman argued otherwise. Everyone agrees that gruesome murders occurred, he said. The only issue is whether Hurd took part. “The horror associated with these pictures,” Bowman said, could inflame and influence the jury not to give Hurd a fair trial.
In the end, Ervin culled four or five photographs from the list. The jury saw the rest.
When the first photographs of Hines appeared on the video screen above the witness stand, at least one spectator rushed from the courtroom.