New Sentence Ordered In 2002 Murder Case
A man sentenced to life without parole three years ago has a new sentence.
William Garfield Little Jr. faced a possible death sentence in January 2005, after a Moore County jury found him guilty on three counts of felony murder committed in June 2002. After a sentencing phase, the same jurors returned a binding recommendation of life without possibility of parole, rather than death.
That sentence was vacated Tuesday in a special setting of Superior Court as requested by Senior Resident Superior Court Judge James M. Webb. Retired Judge Jerry Cash Martin -- who had presided at the original trial -- returned to accept a consent order changing it.
Little's new sentence -- this time on two counts of second-degree murder -- will keep him in prison at least until 2038 on good behavior and with credit for time served. Little still faces trial in Montgomery County for another 2002 murder. He could be sentenced to death if convicted of first-degree murder for the April slaying that year of Stacey Atkins.
The state Court of Appeals, acting on Little's appeal, said it could not decide it "on the basis of the materials before us" and ordered an evidentiary hearing. Instead, the decision was made to change Little's sentence to match that of another convicted man.
Little and Kevin Nicholas Brower had each been convicted on charges stemming from a June 3, 2002, shooting that left three dead and one badly wounded.
Jose Luis Zapatero, Emedel Rosas Hernandez, and Elmer Adan Carbajal were shot to death in Zapatero's mobile home at Sunset Mobile Home Park near Robbins. A fourth man, Juan Guerrero Romero, was also shot but lived to testify at both trials.
The state tried Little and Brower separately, with Little tried, convicted and sentenced first in January 2005.
According to Assistant District Attorney Warren McSweeney, Little and Brower planned an armed robbery, intending to steal two pounds of cocaine. Little's attorneys -- Mike Howell and John Britt -- said there was no planned robbery, only a cocaine deal gone bad. Little shot only one man, who lived, they said, contending that all the fatal bullets came from Brower.
Much depended on eyewitness testimony by Romero. At trial, he said Brower had called him and asked whether he knew where Brower could buy a kilogram of cocaine. Romero said he told Brower that he had a friend who could sell that much cocaine. Later that day, according to appeals court documents, Brower and Little went to Romero's house to buy the cocaine.
Romero, Brower, and Little waited inside Zapatero's trailer for cocaine to be delivered and Carbajal and Hernandez came in later and put cocaine on the table, according to Romero's testimony. He said that after either Brower or Little put a plastic bag of money on the table, Hernandez told them the kilogram was missing four ounces, but he would give them the missing four ounces at a later time.
Romero then said he was leaving, and stood up (according to testimony cited by the appeals court). Romero testified that before he could leave, Little shot him in the neck, causing him to fall down. Brower and Little then began shooting Zapatero, Carbajal, and Hernandez. After the shooting stopped, Brower and Little took the cocaine and the money and left, Romero said.
Little gave his own statement to police, which was admitted into evidence at trial. According to his statement, Brower began arguing with the others. Then Brower pulled out his gun and shot the three men, and he (Little) shot Romero when Romero came toward him. In his statement, Little said he left the money and the cocaine on the table and went to the car -- but Brower came out with the cocaine and the money and got in the car, and he and Brower drove away.
Little's convictions under the first-degree felony murder rule were based on two underlying violent felonies: robbery with a firearm and assault with a deadly weapon inflicting serious injury on Romero. Under this rule, a victim's death during, or as a result of, a violent felony becomes first-degree murder even if the death was accidental and unintended.
Brower's later trial started in October and ended in December with a different verdict and sentence. Brower's jury found him guilty of second-degree murder for killing two of the men -- but "not guilty" on all other charges against him, including the third man's death and felonious assault on Romero.
Little's appellate counsel, Frank Wells, argued on appeal that the trial court had improperly excluded evidence that would have shown Romero's bias in favor of the prosecution. Specifically, he contended that Martin erred by excluding evidence that Romero was an illegal alien. While the appeals court disagreed, the three-judge panel did order a hearing back in Moore County.
Another issue arose when it was discovered after Little's trial that evidence gathered in a separate federal investigation in another case contained a vague reference that may or may not have indicated one of the homicide victims habitually carried a gun.
At Tuesday's session, McSweeney presented Martin with a consent order vacating Little's original conviction and sentence and instead found Little guilty on two counts of murder in the second-degree, the same as Brower.
Martin then sentenced Little -- like Brower -- to serve 220 to 273 months in prison for the murder of Hernandez and to a second term of the same length for murdering Carbajal, sentences to run consecutively.
More like this story