Crime & Courts

’I need him gone’: Threat against judge disrupts Charlotte murder trial

Prosecutors say the defendant in a Charlotte murder trial threatened the trial judge in a call from jail last week. The call, which was discovered Wednesday, could change the course of the trial.

“I need him gone,” Rayquan Borum said in the phone call from Mecklenburg County Jail, according to a jail sergeant and an audio recording played in court. Then he spelled out the judge’s full name.

The judge, Gregory Hayes, will appear before a Superior Court judge Friday morning to determine if he should recuse himself from the case.

Borum is accused of killing 26-year-old Justin Carr in uptown Charlotte on Sept. 21, 2016, the second night of protests over a deadly Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police shooting.

Discussion of the alleged threat derailed court proceedings Wednesday, which would have been the third day of witness testimony in the trial. The jail call was made Feb. 20, during jury selection in the trial, the jail sergeant said.

Prosecutors learned about the existence of the jail call around 11 a.m. and shared it with Hayes and Borum’s defense team soon after that. Court was essentially suspended until 3:45 p.m., when Hayes held a hearing on the alleged threat. The public was allowed to watch the hearing, but jurors were kept out.

After a recording of the call was played in court, defense lawyer Mark Simmons moved that Hayes recuse himself and declare a mistrial. “Mistrial is an extreme remedy, but this is an extreme situation,” Simmons said.

Simmons said he watched Hayes’ reaction the first time the judge heard the call, and he said something about feeling sick to his stomach.

“Any reasonable person might have a very similar reaction to the one Your Honor had,” Simmons said, arguing that Borum could not believe he was getting a fair trial after hearing about Hayes’ reaction to the jail call.

Hayes denied the motion for a mistrial, emphasizing that jurors will not learn anything about the call. But he agreed to a hearing on his possible recusal, which will be scheduled Friday and not Thursday because Hayes was already going to miss court Thursday for medical reasons.

Simmons also questioned the facts surrounding the call. Jail inmates must enter a personal identification number when they make calls, the jail sergeant testified, and the PIN associated with this call was not Borum’s.

But the phone number was one that Borum called often, the jail sergeant said, and the call came from a phone in Borum’s housing area. Inmates sometimes use other PINs if they can’t afford a phone call or if they want to hide something, the sergeant said.

Hayes described the jail call as “extremely intentional conduct” by Borum, whose jail calls from just after his arrest are expected to come up in the trial.

“Mr. Borum must know the jail calls are recorded,” Hayes said.

The interruption in the trial came just before Borum’s defense attorneys would have started cross-examining a key witness — a federal inmate, Kendell Bowden, who says he spent most of the night of the shooting with Borum.

Bowden testified earlier Wednesday that he saw Borum point a gun twice that night in 2016. The first time, Bowden said, Borum tried to fire and the gun didn’t go off.

Prosecutors asked Bowden where Borum aimed the failed shot.

(At) the police,” Bowden said, clarifying that no particular officer seemed to be the target.

Bowden testified that moments later he saw Borum fling his arm back, point the gun behind him and fire again without looking.

That shot worked, Bowden said, and hit Carr.

Bowden said he ran away once he heard the shot.

“This guy is freakin’ nuts, I’m going,” he said he was thinking at the time.

But he ran into Borum a few blocks away, he testified. Bowden said Borum threatened him and told him not to talk.

More than a year later, after Bowden pleaded guilty to identity theft charges and was sentenced to 5 1/2 years in prison, he talked to police about what happened that night.

He said he waited so long because he was scared.

Bowden testified that no one has offered him reduced time or another deal in exchange for his testimony, although he isn’t opposed to the idea. “It would help,” he said in court.

Jane Wester is a Charlotte native and has been covering criminal justice and public safety for The Charlotte Observer since May 2017.