Crime & Courts

Charlotte death-penalty case goes to jury

Demarcus Ivey’s freedom – and perhaps his life – hinges on whether a Mecklenburg County jury believes he is the hooded gunman in a grainy 2009 video, pausing at the door of the Charlotte strip club he has just robbed to fatally shoot a man kneeling on the floor.

Adrian Youngblood, 25, died almost instantly at Club Nikki’s on Little Rock Road.

On Tuesday, seven men and five women began deliberating whether to hold Ivey accountable for the Sept. 10, 2009, killing. If convicted, the 33-year-old Charlotte man and career criminal faces a possible death sentence.

Lawyers began picking a jury within days of the fifth anniversary of Youngblood’s death. After more than two months in the courtroom, Ivey’s attorneys told the jurors on Tuesday that the prosecution had not proved their case.

Grady Jessup and Norman Butler argued that the weeks of evidence fell on their client’s side. They said no witnesses had identified Ivey as the gunman at the robbery. They said police botched the DNA testing, never tested Ivey for any gunshot residue nor produced any weapon linking their client to the crime.

Butler told the jurors that Assistant District Attorneys Bill Stetzer and Bill Bunting “want to take you for a ride.”

“They want you to do what they can’t do – to figure out this case because they can’t. ... It’s one thing to imagine what happened. But that’s not what the law tells us to do. They don’t know what happened. They don’t know who did this.”

During his final remarks, which stretched out over two days, Jessup picked up a Bible by the witness stand and tapped on it to emphasize what he described as the lack of sworn testimony incriminating his client.

He said the evidence presented falls far short of what is needed to send Ivey to prison for the rest of his life or even to death row.

“Make the state prove its case,” Jessup said, his voice climbing to a roar. “Hold them to that burden of proof. Make them follow the law.”

Given the final say with the jurors, Stetzer focused on what he described as the stubbornness of facts. Follow them, the prosecutor said, as he strode across the courtroom to where Ivey sat, and they lead to one person and one conclusion: Demarcus Ivey shot and killed a helpless man. Stetzer described it as a “sport killing.”

The centerpiece of Stetzer’s 90-minute closing was a compilation surveillance video from Club Nikki’s. It opens with two men driving up to the club in a Ford pickup. Stetzer said the driver was Kevin Bishop, now serving a 20-year sentence for second-degree murder in connection with the case. His passenger wears a dark gray sweatshirt. That’s Ivey, Stetzer said.

Inside the club, the video shows the two gunmen ordering about a dozen of the club’s patrons, dancers and staff on the floor. The robbers go group to group, taking cash, cellphones, jewelry and other items.

As they leave, the man in the dark sweatshirt stops by Youngblood and rips something off the back of his neck. He steps to the doorway and then looks back into the club. Then he fires his handgun directly down at Youngblood, who crumples to the floor.

At 2 p.m. that day, police began chasing a Ford pickup up Interstate 85. The truck crashed shortly after exiting onto Beatties Ford Road. Two men fled. Bishop and Ivey were arrested nearby.

Inside the truck, police found loot taken from Club Nikki’s, Stetzer said. They also found a dark gray sweatshirt on the passenger side.

Tests later revealed that it carried Ivey’s DNA.

The jury began deliberating Tuesday afternoon. The case will then be on break until Monday.

If they find Ivey guilty, the jurors will begin a sentencing trial to decide whether Ivey should be sent to prison for the rest of his life or placed on death row.

Researcher Maria David contributed.