February 28, 2014

Jury gets Hurd case after defense blasts evidence

The triple murder trial of Justin Hurd will push into its third week. This time, the jury will do the talking.

The triple murder trial of Justin Hurd will push into its third week. This time, the jury will do the talking.

After two weeks of testimony and two days of closing arguments, Hurd’s fate rests in the hands of the seven men and five women.

They got the case late Friday but will begin deliberations in earnest Monday, likely with the final words of prosecutors and defense attorneys ringing in their ears.

Defense team members Alan Bowman and Carl Grant spent almost seven hours Thursday and Friday attacking the prosecution’s case. Bowman used most of it, roaming from jury box to witness stand to ridicule the evidence against Hurd, a 35-year-old Ohio man accused of leading a murderous siege in 2008.

Assistant District Attorneys Clayton Jones and Reed Hunt presented DNA evidence linking Hurd to the two crime scenes in the case. His genetic fingerprints were found on water bottles recovered from 6002 Patricia Ryan Lane. There, homeowner Kinshasa Wagstaff and drug-dealer boyfriend Kevin “Fergie” Young were held captive then stabbed and/or shot to death six years ago this month. Her house was then burned.

Police say Hurd’s DNA also was discovered on the steering wheel of Young’s car, which was found parked off Beatties Ford Road near the body of Wagstaff’s niece, Jasmine Hines, 18.

Jones says Hurd, accomplice Nate Sanders and up to two other unidentified men killed the three as part of a plan to collect what Young owed to a New York drug cartel.

But Bowman dismissed Jones’ narrative as fiction, deriding key prosecution witnesses as liars and career criminals who altered or created facts to cull favor. He said police cannot say when the DNA was deposited, whether it was contaminated or even whether Hurd may have left it because he is an acquaintance of Young.

The veteran New Jersey litigator, one of five lawyers on Hurd’s defense team, reserved the names of cartoon magpies “Heckle and Jeckle” for jailhouse informants Jimmy Williams and Louis Misenheimer. The two felons said Hurd bragged of masterminding the killings.

Bowman spent hours reading trial transcript to point out inconsistencies in the informants’ testimony, which included supposed crime details that do not match evidence.

Misenheimer, who according to evidence shopped his testimony for a possible cut in his prison time, is “a giant liar,” Bowman roared. “Giant! Gargantuan!” Williams, he said, has made a career out of defrauding people.

Bowman also took aim at Antonio Harmon, a Cincinnati man, who told the jury that his friend Sanders offered him a chance to get in on a drug deal or robbery a few days before the killings. That offer came, Harmon said, after Sanders met twice with Hurd in Atlanta.

Bowman said Harmon has a possible motive for implicating Hurd – his own involvement in the killings.

“We believe there is a strong inference in the evidence that Mr. Harmon is more deeply involved ... than the prosecution tried to prove,” he said.

If convicted, Hurd faces the death penalty. His trial is the first of two such “capital” cases scheduled for Mecklenburg County this year. The county last sent a convicted murderer to death row in 2009. Jones was the prosecutor.

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