Man Enters Plea for Role in Eagle Springs Murder
BY JOHN CHAPPELL
A man who says he didn't kill anyone still pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in court on Monday.
The plea came as part of a deal with prosecutors to avoid the risk of a life sentence. Bruce O'Neal Jarrell entered what is called an "Alford" plea of guilty to the lesser charge, meaning he considered it in his best interests to plead guilty but did not admit actual guilt.
On Feb. 3, 2010, Claudis Antonio Barrett, 29, was found lying in the front yard of his home in Eagle Springs when Moore County sheriff's deputies responded to a 911 call.
Deputies arriving at 2753 N.C. 211 found Barrett had been shot several times. He was taken to FirstHealth Moore Regional Hospital, where he was later pronounced dead.
Details of the case remained confusing because of varying statements given to investigators. Barrett and two others - Phillip Brian Chisholm, 31, of Robbins; and Robert Anthony Boone, 28, of Asheboro - were indicted. Barrett, 19 at the time, is the youngest of the three.
"Plead guilty to second-degree murder," Barrett's attorney James R. Van Camp told the court. "Pursuant to a plea agreement; Alford plea."
Senior Resident Superior Court Judge James M. Webb sentenced Jarrell to 14.8 to 18.5 years in prison, with credit for time served. He is to make restitution to the state for his lawyer's services and is not to be housed in the Department of Correc-tions with either co-defendant.
Chief Assistant District Attorney Peter Strickland - in a lengthy narrative - summarized the state's evidence that would support the plea. Plea deals have to be approved by the sitting judge if they include punishment arrangements.
"On Feb. 3, 2010, at a little after 6:30 that night, Eric Spencer and Claudis Barrett had returned in Spencer's Jeep," Strickland said. "They were parked in front of Barrett's single-wide trailer when they saw an individual with dreadlocks walk to the door and ask for 'Bam' - the street name of Spencer. Claudis got out of the Jeep and walked into the house where the individual was. They talked inside a brief period time.
"The individual said that his cousin got locked up last week, that he'd been 'messed up.' Barrett told the individual he would have to leave. He told him he did not have any weed. The individual grabbed Barrett outside the house. Mrs. Barrett said she saw he had her husband up against the car."
A gunshot rang out, Strickland said.
"Spencer heard one gunshot, got out of the Jeep, ran into the woods and hid," Strickland said. "Once he was in the woods, he heard several more gunshots. Sabrina Barrett was in the back bedroom when she heard the one, then heard four more gunshots in succession.
"Finally, she came out and saw her husband on the ground, bleeding from his head and moaning. Spencer told her he did not know the man who walked up to the house. She was able to call 911, and deputies and EMS arrived. Mr. Barrett was taken to the hospital, but he died before he got there."
The bullets passed through the victim's body and were not recovered. SBI tests found no gunshot residue on Spencer.
Cellphone records showed calls between Chisholm and Spencer. Statements led investigators to question others who had been involved with individuals in the case, Strickland read. A week before, Spencer's mother had been robbed in Moore County by an individual out of Guilford as well as Moore County, he said.
Chisholm admitted at least driving by Barrett's residence, planning to rob Spencer, because Chisholm thought he had been dealt with unfairly, Strickland said. Chisholm said he talked with Boone about robbing him of his marijuana and using Spencer's mother's robbery as a pretext.
"It turned out Chisholm and Boone knew the two of them, so Boone asked Jarrell to go with them down into Moore County for this robbery," the prosecutor said. "Chisholm was talking with Boone right before the robbery and the shooting."
A gray Nautica bag taken from the car at Barrett's house was found at the residence where Jarrell was arrested, Strickland said.
"Boone said he and Jarrell parked over by a mulch processing plant and walked through a field after passing by (Barrett's) house," Strickland said. "He said he hid in a trailer while Jarrell went up to the house. He said there was a struggle and a shot.
"Boone ran up to the Jeep to find the marijuana and Eric Spencer ran to the woods. The defendant came to the Jeep and picked up the Nautica bag. That night, Boone told him they couldn't leave any witnesses."
Investigators did not do a photo lineup with Mrs. Barrett since they thought she might be somewhat suspect herself, the prosecutor said.
"Other evidence was collected and DNA samples taken," Strickland said. "None matched the defendant. A cigarette butt found at the scene did not match anybody. I have talked with the family in the past about restitution amounts, but so far no conclusions. Family members are here. Fingerprint analysis showed only prints identified as Sabrina Barrett's and one friend of the family. Taking all that into consideration, the state agreed to this plea."
Van Camp said he had only a few points to make.
"Mr. Jarrell did not kill Mr. Barrett - that is just plain and simple," Van Camp said. "We genuinely believe Mr. Boone did it, or one of the others yet to be sentenced. The court will find each gave inconsistent statements. You might say, 'Why plead guilty?' A jury could well have found him guilty. They could have been found to have been acting in concert."
Van Camp pointed to the lack of conclusive evidence of his client's actual guilt.
"No DNA. No fingerprints. No hair. No blood," he said. "You might think there would have been something that indicated he was the assailant in that struggle. No fingerprints of any kind. The state did a yeoman's job trying to figure out who did it.
"Boone and Chisholm did not have a whole lot of credibility with them. The Barretts' young son said the assailant had a red bandanna. A red bandanna was found in Boone's possession - consistent with young son's statement. There were at least four other individuals.
"All those things taken into consideration, I don't believe a jury would have found guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. Boone - if you can believe anything he said in one statement - said he didn't leave witnesses. Both (Boone and Chisholm) are habitual felons, convicted many times of violent things. Brings into question whether they are credible."
Still, going to a jury would have been risky, Van Camp said.
"I don't know if I would have been able to satisfy a jury my client wasn't there," Van Camp said. "There is some phone evidence he was in fact present. There were footprints, tire marks taken. None could be totally identified as belonging to my client. 'Could have' is as far as they could go. I think the offer is fair and reasonable under the circumstances.
"I would say this about Mr. Chisholm: He got out on bond, and while he was out on bond on this case he went out and committed another felony. That is kind of the man he is. I ask the court to consider the plea. My client has spent 30 months in jail. He was going to school; he was in college."
After court, Van Camp said Jarrell would be out in 11 years and planned to finish college.
Contact John Chappell at (910) 783-5841 or jfchappell @gmail.com.
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