Defense attempts to pin down murder date

Published 12:00 am Monday, February 9, 2004

WINDSOR – What was the exact date of Allen Ray Jenkins’ murder? That’s what the defense team representing Alan Gell wants to discover.

As week one of Gell’s second trial – one ordered in late 2002 after possible key evidence linking Gell to the crime was not passed from the state prosecutors to defense counsel – drew to a close here last Thursday, the new team of attorneys representing the Lewiston-Woodville man mounted a challenge to the actual date of the slaying.

Under cross examination by defense attorney James Cooney, former Aulander Police Chief Gordon Godwin testified that his homicide report showed the last known date that Jenkins was seen alive was April 8, 1995.

However, in the first trial back in 1998, the state built its case around the fact that the autopsy report showed that Jenkins died on April 3, 1995. That was the same date that Gell and co-defendants Crystal Morris and Shanna Hall were seen in Aulander by at least two other witnesses – Morris’ grandmother, Maybelle Davidson, and the teenager’s boyfriend at that time, Gary Scott.

Morris and Hall, both of whom accepted plea bargains for second degree murder in exchange for their testimony against Gell, are currently serving 90-117 months behind bars. The two women, both age 15 in 1995, reconfirmed last week that Gell was carrying a knife on the night of April 3 and that he was going to rob Jenkins.

Gell, fingered by Morris as the person who fired two fatal shots into Jenkins’ chest while at the Aulander man’s home, was found guilty of capital murder and was sentenced to death by lethal injection. He has maintained his innocence since that 1998 conviction.

If Gell is to win his freedom, his defense team must prove that Jenkins was murdered after April 3, 1995. Such was the case last week where Cooney attempted to pin Godwin down on the date of the murder.

Knowing that Gell, according to testimony at the first trial, was out of the state on April 4-5 and, upon returning, was arrested for vehicle theft and incarcerated in the Bertie-Martin Regional Jail from April 6-20, 1995, Cooney asked Godwin that if Jenkins was murdered anytime between April 4-20, 1995, could Gell be the killer?

State prosecutor Jim Coman objected, sustained by Superior Court Judge William Griffin.

&uot;You gave this information (April 8, 1995) to the Bertie County Medical Examiner,&uot; asked Cooney, to which Godwin replied, &uot;yes.&uot;

Cooney went on to explain that the Medical Examiner’s report included that date (April 8, 1995). In the narrative summary completed by the Examiner, it showed that Jenkins was last seen alive by a neighbor on that date.

Later, in a re-direct by Coman, Godwin was asked if the April 8th listing was, &uot;a preliminary finding.&uot;

&uot;Yes,&uot; answered Godwin.

During the cross examination, Cooney asked Godwin if there was any physical evidence – fingerprints, hair or fibers from clothing items – linking Gell to the scene of the murder or the knife. Godwin answered no.

&uot;Is it true that the only evidence that Mr. Gell had a knife was the verbal testimony of Miss Morris and Miss Hall,&uot; quizzed Cooney.

Godwin answered, &uot;yes.&uot;

&uot;And it’s already been shown that Miss Morris and Miss Hall haven’t been very truthful,&uot; said Cooney, to which Godwin replied, &uot;yes.&uot;

Coman countered by asking Godwin if there was any physical evidence linking any of the three suspects to the murder scene. Godwin stated no.

He also asked Godwin that – with the exception of the shotgun and empty shells used in the slaying – had any of the other items reportedly stolen in the crime (Jenkins’ wallet, checkbook and money) had ever been recovered?

&uot;No,&uot; replied Godwin.

In a re-direct by Cooney, he asked did Godwin know if anyone contacted Jenkins’ bank to see if any of the missing checks were returned for payment.

&uot;Not that I’m aware of,&uot; answered Godwin.

Later during Thursday’s testimony, Hall revealed that, on orders from Gell, she tossed Jenkins’ wallet, checkbook and a set of keys into a body of water as the two crossed a bridge en route to Virginia on April 4, 1995.

However, Cooney, during his questioning of Godwin, said that an SBI Crime Scene agent found the keys in Jenkins’ coat pocket, located in a nearby bedroom, on April 14, 1995, the same day the man’s badly decomposing body was discovered.

The trial now moves into its second week.