Victim’s wife of defendant: ‘He was our friend. We trusted him.’


By Kevin Spradlin

Previous coverage

* Alternates selected, opening statements set for Monday
Medical emergency delays murder trial
‘At a particular place at a particular time’
Jury set in murder trial of Norman General Store owner
Prospective juror caught up in gambling ring
Race becomes an issue in jury selection
Defense works from “presumption of innocence”
Jury selection begins in murder trial

ROCKINGHAM — Defense attorneys Stephen Freedman and Frank Wells are going to do their best to convince a jury of seven men and five women that Assistant District Attorney Dawn Layton is prosecuting the wrong man.

Kevin Spradlin | Alexander Ingram is on trial in the beating death of former Norman General Store owner Michael Leverne Collins Sr.

Kevin Spradlin |
Alexander Ingram is on trial in the beating death of former Norman General Store owner Michael Leverne Collins Sr.

Freedman’s defense of Jackson Springs resident Alexander Ingram in the beating death of late Norman General Store owner Michael Leverne Collins Sr. began in earnest Monday morning during a 25-minute opening statement in Courtroom E on the third floor of the Richmond Count Judicial Center.

These things Freedman conceded: There was matter that appeared to be blood on Ingram’s shoes found in his home, that Ingram voluntarily gave to police; that matter contained DNA later matched to the victim; that Ingram was inside Norman General Store at the time the murder occurred.

Everything else, however, is open to interpretation, and Freedman and Wells will point to co-defendant Henry Thomas “Pete” Ingram, of Candor — or someone else — as the person responsible for using a hammer to take Collins’ life.

Tonia Collins was first to take the stand Monday morning. She testified that she’d work the store in the evenings until around 7 p.m., including the night of Nov. 26, 2012, and then her husband would take over until closing at 11 p.m.

“I would sit up and wait” for him to come home, usually no later than 11:30 p.m., Collins said. “I’d go unlock the back door and turn the light on for him.”

That Monday night, her husband never came home. Between 11:30 p.m. and midnight, she called the store. No answer. She wrapped up her granddaughter and drove to the store. By this point, it was more than an hour after the normal closing time.

As she reached the store parking lot, “it looked like the store was open,” Collins said. “All the lights were on. His truck was there.”

She approached the store’s front door. It was locked. She user her key to let herself in. She called out Mike’s name. No answer. She got a bad feeling. She exited the store and drover to her son, Michael Collins Jr. The two, with two children in tow, returned to the store. Tonia Collins entered but remained on the carpet inside the front door. Michael Jr. went back and searched. It didn’t take long before Michael Jr. looked to his mother.

“‘Mama,'” Collins recalled her son saying, “‘somebody blowed daddy’s brains out.'”

Collins said she told her son to call 911.

“Maybe he’s still alive,” she said.

Alexander Ingram was among the last customers Tonia Collins saw before heading home, she said. Collins said Ingram was playing the video poker machines. He was a regular customer, and his name was one that Tonia Collins gave Richmond County Sheriff’s Office investigated early in the morning of Nov. 27.

Freedman said investigators went to where Ingram lives, a home he shares with his mother. They consented to a search and Freedman said Ingram volunteered his shoes for inspection. They were taken for evidence. He voluntarily traveled with law enforcement for further questioning in downtown Rockingham.

Freedman noted, there were plenty of things law enforcement didn’t do. Henry Thomas “Pete” Ingram, being tried separately, gave police the jeans he was wearing on Nov. 26. They had blood on them. Collins’ blood.

But, Freedman said, police never asked for consent to search Pete Ingram’s home. They never asked for the rest of the clothes he was wearing, and the shirt and jacket they had collected as evidence and sent to the State Bureau of Investigation was, investigators knew or should have known, was not the clothing Pete Ingram had been wearing on Nov. 26.

On at least three separate occasions in interviews with Detective Robert Heaton or Layton in the past two months — Jan. 23, March 18 and March 23 — Tonia Collins had indicated there had been no previous complaint expressed about Ingram at all or did not mention one to Heaton or Layton when given the opportunity. No mention of it was made in a transcription of a recorded statement made on Nov. 27, 2012, either.

“I don’t think I ever mentioned it to her,” Collins said on the stand. “I We trusted (Ingram). We let him have cigarettes on credit. He’d always come back and pay. I was so upset that night (of the murder), I don’t know what I said.”

In court Monday morning, however, she brought up a time when Ingram asked to borrow $5. Collins had to tell him no, and then he asked Michael Collins Sr. for $5. He, too, said no. Tonia Collins said this happened a month or two “before it happened,” before her husband of 34 years was murdered.

That was brought up in a closed session, however, without the jurors present. It’s likely that they’ll never learn of it, either, unless Freedman or Wells decide to bring it up themselves. It’s not clear how much the situation matters — Tonia Collins said she, her husband and Ingram himself “laughed it off” later on. Still, it’s clear Freedman and Wells don’t want the jury to be able to confuse that situation as a reason for murder.

Stay tuned to for new developments. Refresh your web browser as this story will be updated.


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