From The Charlotte Observer by Michael Gordon, February 25, 2014
According to his fellow inmates, Justin Hurd bragged that there were no witnesses to the 2008 triple murder with which he is charged.
But on the eighth day of testimony in Hurd’s capital murder trial, a forensic expert told the jury that Hurd left a little of himself at one of the murder scenes: his DNA.
Shere Enfinger, a DNA specialist with Charlotte-Mecklenburg police, told the jury that she matched Hurd’s DNA with a sample taken from a steering wheel of a car related to the case.
Sheree Enfinger – Photo by TODD SUMLIN
Assistant District Attorney Clayton Jones confirmed during a morning recess that the steering wheel sample was taken from a Toyota Camry found Feb. 4, 2008, in Huntersville, next to one of the victim’s bodies.
Enfinger testified that the odds of someone other than Hurd matching the DNA sample taken from the car are more than 1.22 trillion to 1.
Prosecutors hinted Tuesday that Hurd had a hand in the killing of “Lil’ Nate” Sanders, the man police believe helped Hurd wipe out a north Charlotte household in 2008.
Sanders was gunned down in his hometown of Cincinnati, about seven months after three people were stabbed or shot to death after a Feb. 3, 2008, home invasion on Patricia Ryan Lane in Charlotte.
Jones told the court for the first time that Sanders died only three days after a Charlotte-Mecklenburg police detective showed his picture to Hurd’s girlfriend in Ohio.
Detective Philip Rainwater, the lead investigator in the Charlotte slayings, testified that he talked to Hurd’s girlfriend on Sept. 23, 2008, in Springfield, Ohio. By then, Hurd and Sanders were suspects in the Charlotte case.
Sanders was fatally shot Sept. 26. He was found wearing a bulletproof vest.
Jones laid out the unusual timing of Sanders’ death while the jury was out of the courtroom. It’s unclear what details, if any, Superior Court Judge Robert Ervin will allow the seven men and five women to hear of the 20-year-old’s killing.
Jones’ comment, though, followed highly disputed testimony Monday from a former jail inmate who told the jury that Hurd confided about his case last year.
“The only one who can put me in North Carolina is dead,” Jimmy Williams said Hurd told him while both were jailed. “He was taken care of a few months after.”
Williams said Hurd told him that the Feb. 4, 2008, deaths of Kevin “Fergie” Young, Kinshasa Wagstaff and Jazmine Hines were “a personal hit out of New York” because Young, a reputed drug dealer “owed some big money.”
‘They made it all up’
Defense attorneys derided the accounts of Williams and fellow jailhouse informant Louis Misenheimer, saying the two career criminals had concocted stories in hopes of striking better deals with prosecutors.
“I think they made it all up,” lead counsel Alan Bowman said during a recess.
Bowman also tried to restrict what prosecutors can say about Sanders’ death. Bowman argued that there is no evidence linking Hurd to Sanders’ murder, and that Ohio authorities indicted another man in 2011. (Cincinnati media reports identify that suspect as Dwayne White.)
Jones responded that he’ll try the case “with the facts I have here.
“… I don’t care what the state of Ohio does.”
If convicted, Hurd faces a possible death sentence. Prosecutors believe Sanders and Hurd drove from Atlanta to Wagstaff’s house at 6002 Patricia Ryan Lane six years ago to commit the crimes. A mutual acquaintance, Antonio Harmon of Cincinnati, said the pair hatched the scheme during meetings that January in the Georgia city.
The disputed link between Hurd and Sander’s death was one of the few highlights in a day that bogged down from the start.
Prosecutors had hoped to have a Charlotte-Mecklenburg police DNA expert link the 35-year-old Hurd to both scenes of the Charlotte murders. But the delays and daylong wrangling forced Ervin to close court for the day shortly after Enfinger was sworn in.
Under questioning by Jones, Enfinger did say she had tested a DNA sample taken from a steering wheel of a car. Prosecutors have said Hurd’s genetic blueprint was found on the wheel of a Toyota parked in Huntersville next to the body of Jazmine Hines. She had been gagged, shot twice and doused with gasoline.
Wagstaff was her aunt; Young was Wagstaff’s live-in boyfriend. They were found bound in the burning wreckage of Wagstaff’s home. She had five stab or slash wounds to her throat. Young had been stabbed and shot. Prosecutor believe whoever killed them then set the house on fire.
Under Bowman’s questioning, Rainwater shared further details about what investigators found at the home, including a significant amount of live ammunition. Reading from a police report, Bowman described a “shovel filled with live rounds” under a dresser in an upstairs bedroom.
In a nearby storage locker leased by either Wagstaff or Young, police say they found a handgun, a stolen motorcycle and 5 pounds of marijuana.
Rainwater also acknowledged that police questioned a Charlotte man in connection with the killings who had taken part in a shootout with Young in 2007.
The detective testified that he had been told Isahai Ellington had vowed “to finish what he started” with Young a year earlier.
Rainwater later told the jury that he had no evidence tying Ellington to the three deaths.