Crime & Courts

Bar patrons’ behavior a key in Gay’s murder trial

Kenan Gay goes on trial for second-degree murder later this month.

But based on a pretrial hearing Friday, the jury could be dissecting the behavior of three people the night Rob Kingston died outside a Dilworth bar.

There’s Gay, a former law student and walk-on UNC Chapel Hill football player, now facing trial for the first arrest of his life. Did he aggressively shove Kingston into Park Road in front of a passing car in 2012? Or, as the defense claims, was the death a tragic accident that resulted from Gay appropriately defending his girlfriend from Kingston’s gropes?

There’s Kingston, a former Charlotte Bobcat accounts manager, who was drinking at Ed’s Tavern and flirting with Liz Wicker Gay, now Gay’s wife. Was he a sexual predator or the drunken victim of Gay’s aggression?

And there’s Wicker Gay. Was she the target of Kingston’s escalating advances or did she egg him on?

In a Mecklenburg County courtroom Friday, attorneys for both sides debated the trio’s roles on the night of March 3, 2012, when a drunken Kingston went sprawling into traffic and Gay first ran, then cried and prayed in the back of a police car after his arrest.

For more than three hours, Mecklenburg Assistant District Attorneys Anna Greene and Jay Ashendorf sparred with Gay’s defense team of David Rudolf and Sonya Pfeiffer over what the jury should learn about the three people at the center of the drama.

For the first time, surveillance-camera footage taken that night at the bar was played in open court. Frame by frame, it showed a popular bar swelling with patrons after that night’s Duke-UNC basketball game.

Kingston is seen drinking with friends, but staring at Liz Wicker. They talk on several occasions. At one point he appears to touch her rear end. Seconds before his death, he walks over and kisses her, and his hand appears to slide back down below her waist.

Gay rushes into focus, grabs Kingston around the shoulders and the two men disappear out of the camera frame. Bar patrons seemed to follow them out the bar’s door.

A series of motions debated before Superior Court Judge Forrest Bridges opened a window on what attorneys hope to present to the jurors.

In one debate, the prosecutors asked Bridges to keep the jury from seeing a version of the Kid Rock T-shirt that Kingston wore that night. It read on the back: “You never met a M----- F----- quite like me.”

The prosecutors also tried to block evidence of Kingston’s drinking habits and texts taken from his phone that the defense says indicate the 30-year-old went to bars to get drunk and “whack a mole,” which was slang for him and his friends for finding a woman for sex. Bridges said he may allow the texts depending on how the trial unfolds.

Rudolph and Pfeiffer attempted to limit references to Kingston as a victim. But they failed to keep Wicker Gay in the courtroom. As a wife, she would be expected to attend her husband’s trial. As a witness, she will be sequestered until completing her testimony. Friday, she sat with Gay’s family and her own, two rows behind her 25-year-old husband.

Ed’s Tavern will also play a key role. The trial will convene there, perhaps at the end of the trial, so jurors can see the relationship between the bar and the street. It’s unclear if it will be a day or night trip.

Jury selection begins May 27.