Working from ‘a presumption of innocence’

Jury selection continues in Norman General Store owner’s murder trial

By Kevin Spradlin
PeeDeePost.com

* Day 1 coverage

ROCKINGHAM — A Rockingham man who said Monday he was able to look at scenes of a bloody crime scene “as long as it’s not my blood” was dismissed Tuesday after relaying comments his son said to him when the murder was committed that included a racial slur.

The married father of two adult children told defense attorney Stephen Freedman in the morning session of the second day of jury selection for the murder trial of the former Norman General Store owner.

Alexander Ingram

Alexander Ingram

Alexander Ingram, of Jackson Springs. Both Ingram and his nephew, Henry Thomas “Pete” Ingram, of Candor, were charged with first-degree murder and robbery with a dangerous weapon in the death of Michael Leverne Collins Sr. Henry Ingram is being tried in a separate case. Alexander Ingram is represented by Freedman and Frank Wells.

Collins was killed on Nov. 26, 2012. Collins’ body was found by his son and wife the next day inside the family owned and operated store. Prospective Juror No. 3 told Freedman his son had conveyed to him the story of Collins’ death and mentioned that someone had been beaten to death. Freedman felt there was more to the story. He was right. Superior Court Judge Richard T. Brown ordered all other prospective jurors to way in the jury assembly room while Freedman questioned the man further.

“It’s important for us to understand exactly what your son said to you,” Freedman said. “Honesty and what your true feelings are …There’s nothing wrong with telling us how you feel.”

Prospective Juror No. 3 took a deep sigh.

“He just said,” the man said of his son’s comment, “the gentleman was murdered” and that “it was done by a bunch of damn … black people.”

The man let that comment sink in for a moment, then added, “that’s why I said I’d rather not tell you.”

Freedman felt there was more. Again, he was right.

“I’m assuming your son didn’t use the phrase “black people,” he probed.

“Right,” the man said, “and I won’t use the phrase (the son used).”

The man said he’d forgotten all about the comments his son made until he realized for what trial he was being vetted to be a juror.

“It brought it right back,” the man said.

Asked if the comment would prevent him from being fair and impartial, the man said, “I won’t lie to you. Yes.”

Again, Freedman probed further.

“I can’t say yes and I can’t say no,” the man said. “It’s like a thin line. It could fall either way.”

Freedman persisted.

“You have to give us that assurance” of being able to be fair and impartial, said the defense attorney whose client’s fate could have been in that man’s hands.

“I wish I could say yes,” the man said. “I’ve already got it in my head … which I’m sorry.”

Without effort from Assistant District Attorney to keep him in the pool of jurors, the man was dismissed.

Three other prospective jurors were dismissed Tuesday. One woman — No. 4, a female — was dismissed after acknowledging her familial relationship with a former staff member of the Richmond County Sheriff’s Office. That staff member, Freedman told the woman, could be called to testify and is a cousin of the woman’s husband.

“I’ve always known him to be a truthful person,” the woman said.

When pressed by Layton, the woman was asked if the she could consider that idea that McInnis not not have the best, most accurate version of events.

“I’d probably lean towards what Dan had said,” the woman said.

Prospective Juror No. 7 also was dismissed. The Cordova resident told Freedman he had a problem looking at crime scene photos that would be introduced as evidence.

“I’m gonna be honest with ya, I don’t know if I can do that or not,” the man said. “It’d be hard. I thought about it (Monday night) a lot.”

Layton, though, wanted to know what made the man thought he couldn’t be fair? She and other court officers have acknowledged the photos will be difficult to stomach.

“I don’t know,” he said. “It’s just the way I feel.”

Judge Brown intervened at this point and asked the man if the man was leaning towards the defendant’s guilt one way or other.

“Yes, the man said before being released.

A fourth prospective juror also was released. He had medical issues, Layton said, and in addition was related to support staff of the District Attorney’s Office.

Freedman reminded jurors of key legal principles, including the state’s burden of proving his client’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. He also talked of the the U.S. legal system’s concept of “innocent until proven guilty.”

Freedman said the fact that his client was charged with murder is not evidence of his guilt.

“The law says he’s completely innocent,” Freedman said. “He’s never required to prove his innocence. In some ways, it kind of goes against human nature.”

In another development, Judge Brown modified his order Monday morning of no cameras in the courtroom. He said cameras would be permitted but only to be used when prospective jurors were not in the courtroom.

 

 

 

 

 

Filed in: Ellerbe/Norman, Latest Headlines, News, Public safety, Rockingham

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