The Justin Hurd triple-murder case is expected to go to the jury Friday after more than five hours of closing arguments that painted radically different landscapes of the previous two weeks of testimony.
Assistant District Attorney Clayton Jones told the jury of seven men and five women “to take off your blinders” and see the state’s testimony and physical evidence for what it is: proof of Hurd’s role in a murder-kidnapping to settle a drug debt.
And for the first time, Jones said up to four men had committed the killings, with Hurd taking a leading role.
“It’s time to see the defendant for what he is: a cold-blooded killer, an enforcer,” Jones said.
Defense attorneys said the state has “failed miserably” in mounting any case against their client, much less tying him to the savage killings that wiped out a north Charlotte household in 2008. They also called for a mistrial when Jones referred to Hurd as a “drug dealer” in front of the jury.
“You know the saying: If you don’t know it, they didn’t prove it,” said attorney Carl Grant of Columbia.
Superior Court Judge Robert Ervin is expected to give instructions to the jury, perhaps as soon as Friday afternoon. Then the jury members will begin working toward a verdict, sifting through almost two weeks of testimony – all of it from the prosecution.
Their decision must be unanimous. If convicted, Hurd faces a possible death penalty.
The 35-year-old is accused of three counts of murder, kidnapping and arson in connection with the slayings of Kevin “Fergie” Young, his girlfriend, Kinshasa Wagstaff, and Wagstaff’s niece, Jasmine Hines.
Young, a reputed drug dealer, lived in Wagstaff’s home at 6002 Patricia Ryan Lane. Prosecutors say whoever stabbed and shot the couple also set the house on fire before fleeing.
Hines was found shot twice 7 miles away off Beatties Ford Road in Huntersville. The teen’s mother – and Wagstaff’s sister – has been in the courtroom daily.
For the first time, Jones told the jury Thursday that Hurd may have had a hand in the slaying of his suspected accomplice, 20-year-old Nate Sanders of Cincinnati. Sanders was shot to death Sept. 26, 2008, three days after a Charlotte-Mecklenburg police detective showed his picture to Hurd’s girlfriend. Hurd was arrested in Ohio a year after the Charlotte killings.
Investigators said he and Sanders concocted their scheme during meetings in Atlanta a few days before the siege at Wagstaff’s home. Sanders showed up on local convenience store surveillance cameras buying items that later turned up at the scene. Police say Hurd’s DNA was found on water bottles in the home and also on the steering wheel of Young’s car, which was parked near Hines’ body.
Prosecutors also put two jailhouse informants on the witness stand who said Hurd had confided about the killings and said Young owed a large amount of money to a New York drug cartel. The only witness, presumably Sanders, had been “taken care of,” one of the informants testified.
The defense did not present a case. Under North Carolina law, that gave Hurd’s attorneys the right to give the first and last closing arguments to the jury. Jones spoke in between.
On Thursday, Bowman and Grant told the jury that the prosecution’s case was a mirage built on DNA results that Jones and co-prosecutor Reed Hunt can’t fully explain and testimony from witnesses not even the district attorneys can trust.
“It’s not what they’re saying. It’s what they can prove, and they’ve failed miserably,” Grant said.
He used a variety of insults to describe the state’s two jail informants, Jimmy Lee Williams and Louis Misenheimer, including “snitches,” “liars” and “career criminals.”
Bowman told the jury that another suspect – “unrelated to Mr. Hurd in any fashion” – has been indicted in Ohio in connection with Sanders’ killing.
When Jones referred to Hurd as a drug dealer, Bowman said the remark irreparably damaged his client’s chances of a fair verdict.
Ervin ruled that the case would go on but told the jury to ignore the prosecutor’s remark.
Meanwhile, Jones told the jury that the state had not picked Williams and Misenheimer as witnesses: “Justin Hurd did.”
New details: Four killers
Jones acknowledged that the state carries “the burden of proof,” and for much of the afternoon, he appeared to wear it like armor.
For more than 2 1/2 hours, the white-bearded prosecutor meticulously reintroduced the physical evidence that had appeared in court over the past two weeks.
He told the jurors they could trust the DNA findings, saying that Bowman and Grant had raised questions of contamination or misrepresentation that had not been borne out by proof of how hard police worked to protect it.
Jones then went a step further, presenting a theory of events that the jury had not heard.
For the first time, he said Thursday that as many as two other unidentified men joined Hurd and Sanders in their assault of Patricia Ryan Lane on Super Bowl Sunday 2008.
Sometime between 5:30 and 6 p.m., they handcuffed Young, then surprised Wagstaff as she walked through the front door. The intruders kept the couple alive for at least six hours as they tried to find money or drugs to pay off Young’s debt, Jones said.
After killing the couple, they put all the items they had touched in the home in a trash bag. They stowed the bag in Wagstaff’s SUV, which they planned to steal. Finally they doused the house with gasoline and flicked a lighter.
The house exploded, Jones said, buckling the garage door and blocking in the SUV.
The killers took Young’s Camry instead, with Hines as a hostage and Hurd at the wheel, Jones said. But they left behind the trash bag in the SUV.
Jones said Hines was shot in the back of the head while still in the car. After recovering, Jones said, she grabbed a Christian Dior hot-pink shoe her aunt had bought in Dilworth that afternoon and used it as a weapon during a desperate barefoot run for freedom around 6 a.m.
Bowman dismissed Jones’ narrative as a “yellow brick road of fabrication” that could not be found in the evidence.
As its role in the trial neared an end, Hurd’s defense team gave the impression of high spirits. The attorneys huddled around their burly client, and Bowman pounded him heavily on the back.
When Hurd left the courtroom in the company of two deputies, he was smiling broadly.