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Jurors in the first-degree murder trial of Gregory Parks sat through nearly four weeks of testimony from dozens of witnesses. They listened to 911 calls. They watched videos of police interviews. They viewed bloody items police seized from Parks’ Wilson home. And they also heard powerful closing arguments from Wilson County Assistant District Attorney Joel Stadiem and defense attorney, Tom Sallenger.
Then it was their turn to sit down and get work.
On Tuesday around 2:45 p.m., the eight men and four women, were tasked with one question — was Parks guilty or innocent in the disappearance of 20-year-old Isabel “Chaveli” Palacios?
“Obviously after you can’t speak for three weeks, the first thing you want to do is talk and talk and talk,” the foreman, who spoke on condition of anonymity due to the nature of the case, told The Wilson Times on Wednesday. “But once everybody got that out of their system, everybody took a deep breath.”
He said after that, jurors got down to business and eventually came to a unanimous decision.
The jury rendered its verdicts around 10:30 a.m. Wednesday. Parks, 59, was found guilty on all charges in Palacios’ kidnapping and killing. He was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Despite hearing what’s known as a “no-body” case, jurors were ultimately convinced that something violent took place inside Parks’ Ward Boulevard bedroom. And that violence ended in Palacios’ death.
“The amount of blood evidence in cohesion with the expert witnesses definitely played a part,” in the guilty verdict, the foreman said. “I do believe personally that justice was served.”
‘PIECE BY PIECE’
Expert witnesses testified that Palacios lost enough blood inside Parks’ home that she would require medical attention. While the carpet itself was never found, police did find a large swath of carpet padding in an trashcan outside Parks’ home. The blood spot, which was a foot in diameter, along with other various items, including a candlestick, a lamp, a bath rug and hamper weighed heavily in the jury’s deliberations, the foreman said.
Stadiem said that Parks cleaned up after he “brutally” beat Palacios to death. Palacios and Parks had been smoking crack cocaine for several hours, according to testimony. Parks lured Palacios to his home with those drugs, but after they ran out, Parks expected payment in return — sex.
But Palacios, a young mother from Bailey, fought back. And that made Parks angry, according to Stadiem.
Parks claimed that Palacios, whose vehicle stayed in his driveway, left his house around 2:30 p.m. on July 31, 2015. Parks testified that she told him she was going to find more drugs. He also said she had lost her keys and told him she was getting a ride with another man.
The foreman said jurors brought their personal experiences to the table when deliberating the facts presented to them in the case.
He said they also tried to leave emotions aside, even though it was difficult. He said they were able to do that by way of tackling the case “very systematically.”
While the foreman has a military family background, there were others in the jury room who were like him, too.
“We talked it out,” he said. “We felt like the best way to tackle the deliberations was to take everything piece by piece as we understood it as we were presented it and put the facts together to reach our judgment. It’s how we reached the verdict that we reached.”
‘THAT’S HOW THE LEGAL SYSTEM WORKS’
The foreman declined to reveal the outcome of the first vote taken inside the jury room. But he did tell The Wilson Times that some progress was made Tuesday afternoon and the verdicts were unanimous after more progress was made Wednesday morning.
“There was never an opposing opinion,” the foreman said. “There was always desire for clarification. We kind of talked it out that way. We expressed to ourselves how we felt about it and where our deduction or our logic was coming from and let the jurors form their own opinions, bearing in mind the whole time that if one juror wasn’t in agreement, then that was it, that was a not guilty verdict. There was no forcefulness.”
He said when there was a need for clarification, jurors addressed that need and in the end, everyone got the answers they wanted. He said this was the first time they all had ever served on a jury.
“It was a very long, drawn-out process,” he said. “But we all came to understand by the end that’s how the legal system works, especially in a case of this nature.”
‘THE RIGHT DECISION WAS MADE’
When jurors were finished with their duties in the trial process Wednesday, the sentencing phase for Parks began. Superior Court Judge Wayland Sermons Jr. told jurors they could all leave or they could sit in the public viewing area to listen to the final portion of the court proceedings.
After a 20-minute break, all 12 jurors returned and sat together to watch the sentencing phase. And they also heard for the first time Parks’ criminal history, which includes manslaughter and attempted first-and second-degree rape.
“I think it’s a great show of character of the defendant based on what he’s previously been charged with and served time for,” the foreman said. “I would assume most jurors would agree, obviously I can’t speak for them, but the right decision was made today.”
In 2013, Parks was convicted by a Wilson County jury on two counts of participating in the prostitution of a minor. While he was sentenced to decades in prison, he was released early after the N.C. Court of Appeals overturned those convictions in 2014, citing lack of evidence in the case.
“It’s validating,” the foreman said. “The world today is a dark, dark, dark place full of people willing to do you harm, full of people premeditating to do you harm. Obviously, we all live in Pitt County, but I feel like we’ve made Wilson County a little less dark and a little brighter.”