Man Pleads Guilty In Cameron Murder
Albert DeVonte "Von" Brown, of Pinehurst, will spend at least a dozen years in prison after pleading guilty to a murder that happened last year near Cameron.
By pleading to second-degree murder, Brown, 26, would not face the death penalty as he would have at a jury trial. On Thursday, Senior Resident Superior Court Judge James M. Webb sentenced Brown to serve 151 to 191 months in the prison as part of a plea bargain agreement.
Brown is one of three suspects originally charged with killing Jonathan Elee Grice last May. The state also charged Jessica Denise White, 24, and James Allen Hammond, 17, of Southern Pines with murder, robbery and conspiracy to commit robbery. White hanged herself in her jail cell last year. Hammond has yet to be tried.
Grice died last year, sometime around May 21, 2007. His body was not discovered until two days later. Gregory Thompson called 911 to say Grice, who was his girlfriend's son, had been missing for days, according to a summary of evidence in the case offered in court by District Attorney Maureen Krueger.
Deputies went to 306 Baker Lane in Cameron looking for Grice. They did not find him. They did find a bloodstain on the living room carpet and signs that somebody had tried to clean it up, according to the evidence.
A search of the property led to the discovery of drag marks. Investigators followed them to a burn pile behind the house where they discovered Grice's body concealed in a blanket under burn pile debris. He had been shot once directly in the top of his head, apparently fired straight down while Grice was sitting in a bloody, charred chair also found in the burn pile.
At the time, investigators with the Moore County Sheriff's office said Grice was White's live-in boyfriend, but that she and Brown also had a boyfriend-girlfriend relationship.
White had agreed to testify against Brown and was to have been the state's star witness in the case, according to the district attorney. Earlier on the day White killed herself, she had been out with investigators in the field cooperating in their ongoing murder investigation, according to Sheriff Lane Carter.
She had been in the county jail since her arrest on the same day deputies discovered Grice's body behind their Cameron home. Without White's testimony, the state relied on other evidence against Brown.
Statements by co-defendant Hammond, who is yet to be tried, were not entered at this hearing when Krueger outlined the evidence against Brown in support of the plea deal.
"I didn't think it would be right to use statements made by Hammond before his trial," Krueger said. "What I did put in was evidence that Brown pawned some of the stolen property shortly after the murder. That was more than enough to connect him."
Electronic databases of pawned items led law enforcement to box speakers, jewelry, diamond earrings, gold chains, rings and other things that had been reported stolen from Grice's home.
The investigation continued even as Brown's attorneys negotiated the plea agreement with the district attorney's office. The case might still have gone before a jury, had Brown changed his mind, or the court refused to accept his plea to a lesser charge.
"Kathy Williams was lead investigator for Sheriff Lane Carter," Krueger said. "She worked very hard putting this case together, even going out and tracking down new leads as late as this week."
Brown did not admit to committing the murder. Instead, he told Webb that he was entering an Alford plea: the kind of plea entered when accused persons decide it is in their best interest to plead guilty, but does not admit actual guilt.
As the law requires, Webb made sure Brown understood he would be treated as guilty just the same.
"An Alford plea is a guilty plea," Krueger said. "He pled guilty to second-degree murder."
Krueger would not discuss the murder beyond what she said in the Brown hearing, since Hammond is yet to be tried.
"The case of a codefendant is still pending," Krueger said. "Ethical rules obviously prevent my saying much about this beyond what was said in court."
Brown was represented by court-appointed attorneys James R. Van Camp, of Pinehurst, and Jonathan Silverman, of Sanford.
John Chappell can be reached at 783-5841 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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