Jury selection begins in General Store murder trial


By Kevin Spradlin

ROCKINGHAM — The prospective jury for the trial of one of the two men charged in the 2012 beating death of the Norman General Store owner currently includes four women and seven men.

That will likely change by lunchtime Tuesday as defense attorney Stephen Freedman continues to question potential members of the 12-person panel that will decide on the guilt or lack thereof regarding his client, 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.

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.

Alexander Ingram

Alexander Ingram

Nine of the 11 prospective jurors who so far have passed the scrutiny of questioning are white and two are black. Alexander Ingram is black; Collins was white. Only one prospective juror resides or works near the northwest portion of Richmond County where the murder occurred; the other 10 live in Rockingham or Hamlet. The list of potential jurors includes a labor and delivery nurse, the wife of a Baptist preacher, a former Sealed Air worker, a state Department of Corrections officer and a retired schoolteacher, among others.

Freedman and Assistant District Attorney Dawn Layton agreed on the fundamental elements of the case — that Collins, store owner, died of blunt force trauma to the head. The weapon used was a hammer, both sides agreed Monday.

Shortly after 2 p.m., prospective jurors lined the back three rows on one side of Courtroom E on the third floor of Richmond County Superior Court. Scotland County Judge Richard T. Brown reconvened the court at 2:07 p.m. and 12 names were randomly called out.

It was Layton’s role to ferret out the jurors who might be a good option for any other case but this one. When her questioning began 2:15 p.m., she told the men and women — 40 were assembled in the room but 12 were randomly selected to sit in the jurors’ box — she needed honesty.

Layton told a bit about herself — a Richmond County native, an East Carolina University graduate, and a former child support enforcement officer before enrolling in law school. Layton, with 10 years’  experience as a prosecutor, then wanted to know about the men and women who will eventually decide whether she’s met the state’s burden of proving Ingram guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

“We welcome that burden,” Layton said.

She reminded potential jurors, though, that state law does not require her to prove her case 100 percent, or to eliminate “all doubt.”

“Once the state has proven (beyond reasonable doubt), it’s your duty to find the defendant guilty,” Layton said.

Layton also said if she fails to prove her case, its the jury’s duty to find Ingram not guilty.

Five potential jurors were eliminated from consideration. One black female who works at a fast food establishment expressed concern about the graphic photos that would be part of the evidence, including photos of the crime scene and autopsy photos.

“Is the body in there,” she asked of the photos.


The woman then indicated she recently came into contact with a body of a person at her place of employment.

“I’ve always had a problem viewing dead bodies,” she said.

What Layton needed to know, though, was whether or not the woman’s feelings would have an adverse impact on her ability to judge the case in a fair an impartial manner.

“Yes,” she said.

A second woman — another fast food establishment worker — said she would likely have a problem making a decision.

“I’m just indecisive,” she said. “I’m not good with this.”

Layton needed her to be more specific, and to learn if the woman could deliberate the evidence as presented during trial with other jurors. There’s no wrong answer, Layton said.

“I’m just looking for honesty,” Layton said.

When being questioned by Freedman, the woman was, well, indecisive.

Would the woman’s views, Freedman asked, “substantially impair” her ability to be a juror?

“Yeah and no,” she said. “I can do what you all are asking me to do.”

But the woman later acknowledged she couldn’t’ look at the photographs. A juror’s job, Freedman reminded her, was to review and consider all the evidence presented before making a decision.

In dismissing the potential juror, Judge Brown told her that she did nothing wrong.

“What would cause trouble,” Brown said, “is having strong feelings and not sharing them with us.”

Another woman, a Hamlet resident and retired professional cook who liked to watch “anything with a mystery in it,” also was dismissed from the jury pool. In addition, another woman — a Rockingham woman, married with children — said her home is near the workplace of one of the members of the Collins family.

At first, the woman figured she could handle the idea of seeing the woman on a regular basis after the trial without it affecting her during the proceedings. Freedman, however, probed further. The woman initially said it wouldn’t impact her ability to be fair and impartial.

But a little later, “I don’t think it would, but it’s possible that it could,” she admitted. “It’s very possible that it could affect my decision. I doubt that it would sway me one way or another … It may make it uncomfortable for her, may make it uncomfortable for me.”

She wasn’t the only one. Two of Collins’ family members left the courtroom when Freedman began describing the process a pathologist uses to determine the cause of death. Two sets of closed doors separated the woman and those in the courtroom but she could still be heard crying.

The woman was dismissed and as Brown recessed the proceedings until 9:30 a.m. Tuesday had not been replaced.

The proceedings were viewed by four supporters of Ingram, as well as several members of the Collins family, including his wife, sister and sister-in-law. A reporter with the Richmond County Daily Journal approached the family outside Courtroom E for comment but they soundly rejected his request. They expressed outrage with a previously published Daily Journal article that included the graphic details of how Collins’ body was found.

Ingram, for his part, did not express much emotion throughout the afternoon session. Dressed in a pressed blue shirt and black slacks, Ingram, mostly kept his chin resting on his left hand, his right hand on the defense attorneys’ table and his eyes on the pool of potential jurors.

During a 20-minute  mid-afternoon break, defense attorneys Freedman and Frank Wells mentioned that jury selection would take a little longer than expected. The trial itself is expected to last less than two weeks.

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