Defendant had ‘sneaky eyes,’ and other things jurors will never know

 State witness convicted of killing defendant’s nephew

By Kevin Spradlin
PeeDeePost.com

Previous coverage
* 4/2: Judge denies defense motion for mistrial
* 4/2: Defense seeks mistrial
* 4/1: Detective: ‘I forgot’ to search co-defendant’s home
* 4/1: Pete Ingram: ‘To clear myself, I’d tell on my momma’
* 3/31: Co-defendant: ‘My uncle killed that man’
* 3/31: Defendant’s nephew: My uncle did it
* 3/30: 911 calls replayed, detectives questioned
* 3/30: Victim’s wife of defendant: ‘He was our friend’
* 3/27: Alternates selected, opening statements set for Monday
* 3/26: Medical emergency delays murder trial
* 3/25: ‘At a particular place at a particular time’
* 3/25: Jury set in murder trial of Norman General Store owner
* 3/25: Prospective juror caught up in gambling ring
* 3/24: Race becomes an issue in jury selection
* 3/24: Defense works from “presumption of innocence”
* 3/23: Jury selection begins in murder trial

ROCKINGHAM — Within a few hours after the murder of former Norman General Store owner Michael Leverne Collins Sr. on Nov. 26, 2012, a man was interview by Richmond County Sheriff’s Office personnel said that Alexander Ingram had come by his home that night asking for money.

Ingram had, the man said at the time, “sneaky eyes.”

Kevin Spradlin | PeeDeePost.com Life goes on at the Norman General Store, which continues to serve customers under the management of the wife of the late Michael Leverne Collins Sr., Tonia Collins, and her son, Michael Collins Jr.

Kevin Spradlin | PeeDeePost.com
Life goes on at the Norman General Store, which continues to serve customers under the management of the wife of the late Michael Leverne Collins Sr., Tonia Collins, and her son, Michael Collins Jr.

The man’s perception will never be known to the jurors, however. Neither will the fact that the man has a lengthy history of working with the Richmond County Sheriff’s Office and other area law enforcement agencies — a relationship that has helped him to get drug charges against himself dropped.

Details like that were crushed by Superior Court Judge Richard T. Brown after sometimes lengthy discussions — sometimes in open court, but without the presence of jurors, and other times in private bench conferences with attorneys or even in-chambers conversations — from ever being able to be legally known or considered by the 12-member jury panel. Brown has ordered jurors avoid any media account of the trial for fear of contamination; legally, jurors are permitted only to consider as part of their deliberations what evidence is presented in court.

Testimony in the trial of Alexander Ingram, charged with first degree murder and robbery with a dangerous weapon, will continue Monday morning in Courtroom E on the third floor of the Richmond County Judicial Center. It will be the fifth day of testimony. Jury selection began March 23.

Alexander Ingram

Alexander Ingram

It’s interesting to note all the facts that aren’t permitted to be considered by jurors. For example, defense attorney Stephen Freedman said that the Ellerbe resident saw Alexander Ingram between 10 p.m. and 10:30 p.m. on Nov. 26, 2012. Collins was beaten to death with a hammer shortly after 11 p.m. that same night. In an interview that occurred approximately two months ago between the man and representatives of the Richmond County Sheriff’s Office, the witness said Ingram had “sneaky eyes” that night.

Freedman took offense to the description, and Assistant District Attorney Dawn Layton quickly agreed to “not go there at all.”

But that’s not all. Freedman brought out — again, while the jurors were out of the courtroom — that the witness had served prison time for killing one of Ingram’s family members prior to 2012. The witness told investigators that when Ingram came to his home the night of the murder, the witness told police he was scared not to give Ingram money when the defendant showed up at his home. The man gave him $10. Ingram left.

Henry Thomas "Pete" Ingram is a co-defendant, charged along with his uncle, Alexander Ingram, with first degree murder and robbery with a dangerous weapon in the death of Michael Leverne Collins Sr. Pete Ingram is being tried separately.

Henry Thomas “Pete” Ingram is a co-defendant, charged along with his uncle, Alexander Ingram, with first degree murder and robbery with a dangerous weapon in the death of Michael Leverne Collins Sr. Pete Ingram is being tried separately.

And still, that’s not all. Freedman said when he requested information on the man’s criminal history with the Richmond County District Attorney’s Office, Layton was quick to respond — albeit with limited case information. Since some information was from several years ago, Freedman said he understand that it took longer to obtain. In one case, only a case summary was available. And still, the additional details allowed Freedman and fellow defense attorney Frank Wills to paint a picture of a state’s witness willing to say what he needs to say in order to get a better deal for himself.

In 2013, the witness faced drug charges that were later dismissed by the District Attorney’s Office because he was a cooperative witness for the state. The attorney who filed the request for dismissal? ADA Layton. And that’s not the only time.

“Not only did he cooperate (then), he has done a lot of work in Richmond County, Montgomery County and in South Carolina,” Freedman told Judge Brown. Williams even cooperated with federal authorities in a federal investigation.

Each time, it seemed, the man benefitted. In 2006, he had another case against him dismissed at the request of sheriff’s office investigators. These issues, Freedman noted, “became important because he spoke with Richmond County investigators two months ago” and things he said then were “completely contrary to what he told my investigator two years ago.”

But if the prosecutor — Layton — didn’t open the door on the witness’ past, Freedman couldn’t pry. Unfortunately, those in the gallery weren’t able to learn what the man told Freedman’s investigator. As Freedman began the tale, Layton interrupted.

“I don’t understand the relevance,” Layton said.

Layton then indicated all the witness would say on the stand was that Alexander Ingram had visited his house and asked for money.

“If that’s all he’s gonna say, I don’t have any problem with it,” Freedman said.

What the public might not realize is that quite a bit of the trial, or perhaps the overwhelming majority of it, follows a script that is hashed out prior to any testimony. The script is negotiated between attorneys of both sides and the judge, who ultimately rules what is and is not permissible.

What no one knows, however, is how the 12 jurors will take what evidence they are permitted to see, hear and consider in forming an opinion as to the defendant’s guilt or lack thereof.

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

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