WILSON’S LOCAL PRINT AND DIGITAL COMMUNITY INSTITUTION SINCE 1896

Court upholds conviction in boy’s killing

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A Wilson gang member convicted last year in the shooting death of 7-year-old Kamari Jones will remain in prison for the rest of his life after the state’s appellate court upheld his convictions.

The N.C. Court of Appeals ruled 22-year-old Anfernee Knight’s May 2017 convictions, including first-degree murder, still stand.

A Wilson County jury found Knight guilty in Kamari’s July 2014 killing. The child, an innocent bystander in a retaliatory gang shooting, was struck in the head by a stray bullet while he was in his Parkview Street bedroom playing video games.

Knight was also found guilty in the attempted murder of a rival gang member who was injured earlier that day in a separate shooting. Prosecutors said at the time the first shooting led to the second and both incidents stemmed from gang conflicted that resulted in retaliation.

SEPARATE CASES

Through a public defender, Knight argued that the trial judge was wrong when he didn’t separate the National Grocery shooting case from the Starmount Circle shooting case. Knight stood trial on charges for both cases at the same time.

But the three-judge Court of Appeals panel disagreed.

“Each offense arose from a continuous course of violent criminal conduct related to gang rivalries,” Judge Philip Berger wrote in the published appellate court ruling. “The evidence tended to show that the Starmount Circle shooting was in retaliation for the earlier National Grocery shooting.”

DISMISSED JUROR

The appellate panel also rejected Knight’s argument that the trial court erred when the judge dismissed a juror during his trial. The judges determined that the trial court didn’t “abuse its discretion” by dismissing the juror.

Superior Court Judge Walter H. Godwin, who presided over the trial, dismissed a juror after prosecutors questioned the juror’s actions during the trial.

The juror was dismissed after he was questioned in two separate hearings about remarks he made to a veteran Wilson County bailiff.

Jurors are to remain impartial during a trial and are not allowed to form an opinion or express any views regarding testimony or evidence in a case to anyone. They are only allowed to freely discuss a case during deliberations after all evidence is presented.

The juror had asked the bailiff if he and other jurors could pray during breaks from the trial in the jury room.

The juror also said, “he felt it was inappropriate and rude” for the prosecutor, who was Joel Stadiem, to be “pointing at people in the audience while a witness was testifying.”

Stadiem had pointed out during the trial that several people who were watching it in the gallery were documented gang members. Prosecutors asserted at the time that those alleged gang members were trying to intimidate witnesses including co-defendants in the case who testified against Knight.

During the trial, one co-defendant changed his story from what he previously told police about what happened on that July 2014 night. Heavy security was present during the trial, which lasted more than a week.

The juror told Judge Godwin at the time he didn’t remember making the remarks to the bailiff. Godwin warned the juror, who also said he had not formed an opinion in the case. Later that same day, prosecutors brought up the matter regarding the juror again when they played a jailhouse recording of a call between Knight and his mother, who said she knew the juror.

Stadiem, the prosecutor, renewed his request to dismiss the juror. Godwin questioned the juror again about his remarks to the bailiff outside the jury’s presence. The juror finally admitted that he “vaguely remembered” discussing the jury’s security and whether he could pray for the jury because he believed that they were “in jeopardy somehow.”

Because the juror provided different answers to the same questions in two separate hearings, Godwin dismissed him.

INSTRUCTIONS

Knight argued during his appeal that the court also erred when it failed to instruct the jury regarding the use of hearsay statements.

“While we agree that this omission was error, we find the error harmless,” Berger wrote in the opinion.

While the court failed to provide a specific instruction when the jury was charged, the jury was “sufficiently advised of this instruction throughout relevant portions of the trial.”

“Moreover, even if the instructions had not been given during the course of the trial, defendant cannot show prejudice as the record reflects overwhelming evidence of defendant’s guilt,” Berger continued.

The appellate court ruling concluded that Knight received a fair trial, one free from prejudicial error.

Knight is currently serving his sentence at Marion Correctional Institution. Judges Richard Dietz and John M. Tyson concurred with Berger, who wrote the unanimous opinion for the three-judge panel.

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