April 07, 2015
BOLIVIA — Jury selection is under way in the murder trial of a Wilmington man accused of killing his then-girlfriend’s 3-year-old son more than three years ago.
A day after Senior Resident Superior Court Judge Ola M. Lewis ruled on several motions during pretrial hearings, jury selection began in the trial of 29-year-old Montey Andrea Murray, who is charged with first-degree murder and felony child abuse in the March 2012 death of Jaronn Ladale McAllister.
Jury selection began just after 10:30 a.m. Tuesday, March 24, and Lewis decided to call in six jurors at a time — out of pool of almost 115 potential jurors — to begin the selection process.
Lewis didn’t want to bring in all the jurors at one time out of fear that the juror pool would be “contaminated” because of the high-profile nature of the case involving the death of a 3-year-old.
Murray’s lawyer, James Payne, warned Lewis that when jurors found out about the death of a child in the case, he heard audible gasps from potential jurors in the crowd behind him.
Assistant District Attorneys Lee Bollinger and Quintin McGee are prosecuting the case.
Bollinger, McGee, Payne and Lewis all agreed Monday that selecting a jury would be a challenging process under the circumstances.
Within two hours of jury selection, Bollinger moved for two jurors to be excused from their duties. Lewis approved both motions, citing cause.
One juror told Bollinger she had already formed an opinion on the case when she read about it in the news media.
Another juror said she couldn’t offer a fair and impartial decision at the trial’s end, saying emotion would impair her ability to make reasonable decisions. The woman told Bollinger her son died about 10 years ago, an event that she’s still dealing with a decade later.
Another potential juror said he couldn’t make a fair decision because he has children around the age of 3, the same age Jaronn was at the time of his death. The juror said his childrens’ age and his father previously working as a Brunswick County Sheriff’s Office deputy “hit home” with him and he wouldn’t be able to give the defendant a fair trial.
Bollinger told both jurors he appreciated their honesty and two new jurors were called in to fill their empty chairs.
Bollinger also asked the judge to excuse one more juror. Bollinger didn’t feel a woman, based on her answers, could make fair, impartial decisions on the case based on a statement the woman made claiming she couldn’t be fair because of “the thought of what happened to that little boy.” That potential juror was also excused.
Although 12 juror chairs were filled by day’s end, the jury is not set in stone. Payne and his defense team also have a chance to question potential jurors and both sides have to agree on all the jurors before a group is set in place.
Throughout the day, Bollinger asked potential jurors about their occupations, family members, experiences with law enforcement, prior experiences on a jury and knowledge of this particular case, among other questions. The goal is to ensure all 12 members of the jury can solely rely on the evidence presented during the trial to “make a fair, impartial decision.”
Bollinger also asked jurors if they understood what the state’s burden was in a first-degree murder trial. He also explained the first-degree murder law in North Carolina.
Bollinger told jurors the legislature in North Carolina determined that if someone is committing a felony — what he called “an inherently dangerous crime” — and a murder occurs, a jury can convict a person of first-degree murder. He added a murder doesn’t have to be premeditated or deliberate to be classified as first-degree in the Tar Heel State.
After he asked all potential jurors if they understood the process, he asked if they would be able to find Murray guilty if the state met its burden.
He also asked if others would be able to find him not guilty if the state didn’t meet its burden. Most nodded yes, but an official jury hasn’t been set.
After jury selection, opening statements will begin.
The state plans to call 19 witnesses to testify during the trial, Bollinger said. It’s unclear whether Montey Murray will testify.
Payne filed several motions in the weeks leading up the trial in an attempt to strike key evidence from the trial, including the traffic stop police made on Murray after he dropped Jaronn at Novant Health Brunswick Medical Center moments before he was pronounced dead.
Murray, dressed in slacks, a gray and blue button-down shirt and wearing his hair back in long dreadlocks, smiled as he entered the courtroom and waved to about 20 members of his family and friends who came to show their support Monday.
Pretrial motions began about 11 a.m. Monday. Lewis cleared the courtroom after moving several other cases around the trial calendar so Murray’s trial could begin.
First, Shallotte Police Officer Braxton Strickland testified Brunswick County Sheriff’s Office deputies made a “BOLO,” or “be on the lookout,” call for a silver SUV the morning of March 1, 2012, after Jaronn was pronounced dead at the hospital. Officials from the hospital told law enforcement officers a black man driving a silver Mercury Mountaineer dropped the boy off at the hospital then fled.
Strickland spotted the vehicle in front of an apartment in the Cardinal Pointe neighborhood off U.S. 17. When he approached Murray and another man, Jesse Holt, Murray got back in the vehicle and drove back toward U.S. 17 Northand led officers on a high-speed chase down U.S. 17, ramming two deputies’ vehicles before he was caught.
Strickland, Brunswick County Sheriff’s Deputies Jeremy Borowski, Chris Wood and Deputy Michael Murray and Capt. Sammy Turner pursued Montey Murray on U.S. 17 North until Turner finally performed a precision immobilization technique (PIT) maneuver— a technique McGee called “a controlled crash” — on Montey Murray’s vehicle.
Each officer testified Montey Murray drove at various speedsand erratically while ignoring law enforcement orders to pull over. Finally, he was taken into custody without incident.
Payne argued his client was not required by law to talk to law enforcement when they approached him at a Cardinal Pointe apartment. Therefore, Payne said, the traffic stop was unconstitutional.
Payne said reasonable suspicion, by definition, meant law enforcement officers had to believe that “a crime had been committed, and that this man did it,” he said, pointing to Montey Murray.
“There were no allegations at this point that anyone was involved in the child’s death,” Payne told the court. “That’s not why he was PIT’ed. Law enforcement had no reasonable basis to stop him.”
Individuals have the “lawful, constitutional right to say, “No thank you and I’ll be on my way,” to law enforcement, Payne said.
“(Montey Murray) didn’t have to drive back to the hospital,” he said. “He could’ve went to South Carolina. What he did is what the law entitled him to do.”
Multiple law enforcement officers testified Montey Murray told them he was on his way back to the hospital, where he dropped Jaronn off, before leading them on a chase on U.S. 17 North.
McGee argued law enforcement officers had no way of knowing Montey Murray was telling them the truth when he claimed he was going back to the hospital.
“The information the state has provided in between is window dressing,” Payne said. “There has to be reasonable suspicion to stop him. If he has the right to leave, and that’s what he did, they don’t have the right to stop him.”
McGee disagreed with Payne’s assessment of the situation and said law enforcement officers were well within their rights to stop Montey Murray.
“Not only do we have a (be on the look out) call with a dead child at the hospital, we have a suspect vehicle that matched the description,” McGee said. “We have that suspect vehicle running a red light. There was no submission to authority of four sheriff’s office deputies or an officer with the Shallotte Police Department … we’re talking about a person of interest in the death of a child who ran a red light, rammed two deputies and is now putting lives in jeopardy (on the roadway). After all that, they still didn’t perform a PIT maneuver. That’s reasonable suspicion.”
McGee argued law enforcement officers had “reasonable suspicion” to perform a traffic stop on Montey Murray because of the look out call and because Montey Murray ran a red light at a busy Shallotte intersection to get back on U.S. 17 North.
McGee also noted Montey Murray refused repeated attempts by law enforcement officers to pull over on the side of the road. Then, McGee reminded Judge Lewis that officers testified they had to perform the PIT maneuver on Montey Murray before he reached one of the busiest intersections in Brunswick County at N.C. 211 and U.S. 17.
“At that point, we worried about the safety of the motoring public,” Turner testified. “We knew we had to do something before he reached that busy intersection.”
Payne said it was important for the court to understand Montey Murray announced he was traveling to the hospital.
“He declared that’s where he was going,” Payne said. “Is a man who stops at a red light fleeing from law enforcement? No. He’s doing what he’s entitled to do.”
Lewis denied Payne’s motion to suppress the evidence from the traffic stop.
During a separate suppression hearing, Lewis ruled select statements Montey Murray made after he invoked his right to legal counsel would be inadmissible.
Bollinger told Lewis and Payne the state didn’t wish to introduce those statements into evidence.
Bollinger said any statements that were “illegally obtained” wouldn’t be introduced during the trial.
Lewis ordered members of Montey Murray’s family to remove four children from the courtroom Monday.
A day later, one of Montey Murray’s family members who was ordered to remove her children from the courtroom brought another young child into court.
Lewis immediately ordered potential jurors be taken out of the room. She then scolded members of Montey Murray’s family and told his mother, Chervy, that she’d face 30 days of jail time if another child was brought into the courtroom.
“They are here to support their uncle,” one family member said.
Montey Murray has been in jail since March 2012, after law enforcement officers said he led them on a high-speed chase from the hospital where he had taken Jaronn.
Montey Murray and his cousin, Jesse Holt, were babysitting Jaronn at Apartment 207 on 12 Paisley Drive while Jaronn’s mother and Murray’s girlfriend, Candice Young, was at work Feb. 29, 2012, court records show.
The state medical examiner’s office ruled Jaronn’s death a homicide, citing the cause as internal bleeding from blunt-force injuries to his abdomen.
The autopsy report noted Jaronn was in cardiac arrest when he arrived at the hospital and had bruises on his chest before receiving CPR at the hospital, though no one tried to resuscitate him before then.
Jaronn, who weighed 35 pounds, had nine bruises on his head and between 20 and 40 bruises — some of them up to an inch in diameter — on his lower chest and abdomen. There were five lacerations to his liver, which caused hemorrhaging.