Ray Gets Life in Prison
Sean Maurice Ray will spend the rest of his life in prison for committing four murders in 2003.
Ray, 28, entered guilty pleas on all counts Tuesday afternoon. Senior Resident Superior Court Judge James M. Webb accepted the plea bargain.
The arrangement consolidated his punishment for four first-degree murder counts to one sentence of life without possibility of parole.
Other charges -- attempted murder, robbery with a deadly weapon, first-degree kidnapping and arson -- were also consolidated for a sentence of 201 to 351 months. The state dismissed other charges, including assault with a deadly weapon inflicting serious injury, as part of the arrangement.
Ray is one of three people accused of kidnapping and first-degree murder following a killing rampage on Dec. 19, 2003, in a mobile home at Carolina Lakes Subdivision outside Carthage. Investigators removed four bodies from a smoking, bloody scene.
The four victims were Eddie Lynn Ryals, 21, who lived on Heron Road in that mobile home; Harvey Daryl Hobson, 20, who lived across the street from Ryals; Joseph Allen Harden, 19, of Morrison Bridge Road in Vass; and Carl Garrison Justice Jr., 18, who was Harden's roommate.
A fifth victim, Amanda Cook Varner, then 15, narrowly escaped after attackers stabbed her multiple times, shot her twice and slit her throat. She fled, but they caught her, wrapped her in a tarp and put her in the back of a truck -- meaning to dump her body in a pond or lake as she later testified in court.
Their truck got stuck in a sandy ditch, and they ran, leaving Varner behind. She crawled out and collapsed, bleeding in the street where an EMS crew responding to a call about the mobile home fire found her. Before emergency workers took her to the hospital, she identified Mario Lynn Phillips as one of the attackers, according to Moore County Sheriff Lane Carter.
Varner spoke with deputies from her hospital bed, and they arrested Ray, Phillips and his girlfriend, Renee Yvette McLaughlin. All were charged with kidnapping, attempted murder, and four counts of first-degree murder.
Phillips was sentenced to death at the end of a seven-week trial last fall. Varner was a key witness in that case.
After Phillips' death sentence, McLaughlin accepted a plea offer from the state. In January, Webb sentenced her to serve six to eight years in prison on each charge, with the sentences to be served consecutively. She will spend the next 12 to 16 years in prison.
Ray's defense attorneys had filed pretrial motions contending their client's low IQ (as measured when he was a boy) makes him ineligible for the death penalty. Webb had set Ray's trial for the May term of Superior Court after his attorneys rejected an initial plea bargain deal of four life terms in prison.
Ray was brought into court Tuesday by bailiffs in red jail suit and orange cuffs. He sat between his state-appointed attorneys, Walter I. (Butch) Jenkins II and Arthur Donadio. Assistant District Attorney Peter Strickland appeared for the state. District Attorney Krueger sat with the families.
Ray answered Webb's required questions and indicated he understood the charges, the plea deal, that he had a right to a trial, was pleading guilty and actually was guilty.
Strickland read into the record a number of statements Ray gave investigators when he told about the day of the murders. He and Phillips got Hobson and went across to Ryals' place where they found Justice and Harden were visiting.
As Strickland related Ray's account of her son's sudden death, Veta Justice buried her face in her hands, weeping.
Strickland summed up the events of the day and entered autopsy reports. Donadio called Ray's mother, Arletha Ray, to the stand. He asked how long she had lived in Carolina Lakes.
"I've been there a while, a lot of years -- about 20 years now," she said. "I have seven more (children) besides him. I got one at home with me."
Her son had mental problems from the beginning, even when they lived in Brooklyn.
"He was in a special class, because one side of his brain didn't function like the other," she said. "They told me Sean needed special schooling, plus he was on medication. He wasn't quick to catch on like everybody else. I didn't know it was going to be like that. I really didn't. He never got a driver's license."
Donadio asked Ray's mother if there was one particular thing she would want to tell the judge
"Whew, I don't know" she said. "I know that I had a good child. What happened over the years, I don't know. You can't pick your children's friends.
"I feel sorry for all the families, deeply in my heart. They were just like my kids, as many meals as they ate in my house."
Harvey Hobson spoke for his dead son and the other victims.
"I sat here all through the trial, and nobody showed any sign of remorse," Hobson said. "I just don't see how somebody could kill someone, and not show remorse. He gets to see his people. He gets to make phone calls. People feel sorry for him, but he shows no sign of remorse."
Contact John Chappell at 783-5841 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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