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Jury seated; trial underway

WINTON – After a day and a half of selecting a jury, opening statements were heard and first witnesses for the state called in the capital murder trial of Eric Alan Oakes.

Oakes, now 26, stands accused of first degree murder, attempted armed robbery and kidnapping in the July 2002 shooting death of Terrell Deshun Overton, 20, in Ahoskie.

A jury of eight men and four women first heard an opening statement from Assistant District Attorney Assata Buffaloe.

&uot;This is a case of a random act of violence… with a twist,&uot; Buffalo began.

She continued to tell the jurors how the last day of Overton’s life began.

&uot;That morning, July 13 in 2002, Terrell went to his mom’s house and stayed there until around 1 p.m., then he and his family left and drove to Ahoskie in his mom’s van to go shopping,&uot; Buffalo stated.

At some point, Overton’s mother, aunt, sister and niece went to McDonald’s to eat while Overton borrowed his mother’s van to go uptown to purchase a pair of jeans.

On his way back to McDonald’s to pick up his family, Overton’s life took a deadly turn.

&uot;Terrell was on the phone with his best friend at the time and told him that he noticed somebody following him and that he didn’t know who they were,&uot; Buffaloe told the jury.

She continued, &uot;Terrell was stopped at the stoplight at the intersection of Catherine Creek Road and Memorial Drive, along with several other people who witnessed the incident. Witnesses saw a white man get out of a car behind the van and walk up to the van with something in his hand.

&uot;According to witnesses, there was a conversation (between the two) and the man got into the van (with Overton) and both vehicles made a left onto Memorial Drive when the light changed.

The van turned into (what was then) the Golden Corral parking lot (now Lu’s Buffet) and witnesses in the lot also saw that.

Then they saw a black man jump out of the driver’s side with the van still rolling, and a white man jump out of the passenger’s side, point a pistol at the black man and fire a shot off.

Finally, they saw the white male jump into the car behind the van and it sped off.&uot;

She added, &uot;Next, the black male (Overton) ran into the door of the Golden Corral and fell.

Rescue was called… he was taken to Roanoke-Chowan Hospital, where he died.&uot;

According to Buffaloe’s statement, Overton’s body was autopsied on July 15, confirming that he had died of two gunshot wounds – one in the chest and one in the back.

Oakes, who allegedly was the white male who shot Overton, was a soldier stationed at Fort Bragg in Fayetteville.

According to the prosecution, Oakes and a friend, fellow soldier Joseph Forehand, had spent the weekend prior to the incident visiting Forehand’s home in Colerain.

And therein lies Buffaloe’s &uot;twist&uot; – during that visit, Oakes and Forehand went into Chubbie’s on July 6 and talked to two black males driving a yellow Chevrolet Cavalier.

Later, there was reportedly a drug transaction and one of the co-defendants (Oakes or Forehand) was robbed of either four ounces of marijuana or $250 they were going to use to purchase ecstasy.

Buffaloe noted, &uot;Joey Forehand was mad at being robbed and after the two returned for duty during the next week, they bought a handgun from a friend for $50, with the defendant (Oakes) contributing $20 of that.&uot;

She continued, &uot;Then they went back to Joey Forehand’s house in Colerain the next weekend and Saturday they went looking for the black male who had robbed them.

They went to Wal-Mart and saw the black male they thought was him, saw him drop his family off and followed him.&uot;

Then, the prosecution alleges, Oakes was the white male who proceeded to jump in Overton’s van, force him to drive and later shoot him once in the car and again in the Golden Corral parking lot as he attempted to flee.

Buffaloe concluded, &uot;(After his arrest) the defendant later stated the gun went off accidentally during a struggle… but then he went back to Joey Forehand’s house while Joey Forehand and his girlfriend went to the beach.&uot;

One attorney for the defense, David Sutton, began his opening remarks by agreeing with one thing Buffaloe had stated.

&uot;One thing she said we are in complete agreement on.

On July 13, Oakes believed Overton was one of the men who had robbed him.

That’s a cornerstone of our defense,&uot; Sutton stated.

He continued, &uot;Six years ago, Eric Oakes did not commit intentional murder.

If he committed a crime, it is not in the category of murder.

Expert testimony will show that both shots are completely consistent with a struggle over a gun occurring inside a vehicle and there is no credible witness who saw any shooting outside in the parking lot.&uot;

Sutton went on to say that evidence will show Oakes was attempting to retrieve property he believed Overton had stolen from him.

&uot;Retrieving your own property by force in North Carolina is not a problem, it is not illegal, it is not a crime,&uot; he stated.

Sutton continued, &uot;What happened during those two weeks they were here is that the defendants hatched a plan to sell some marijuana to supplement their military paychecks and they decided to come to Joey Freeman’s home because the defendant had no real roots as his mother was in the military and he was raised from all over.&uot;

The defense’s opening remarks also denied any attempted robbery or kidnapping having taken place.

&uot;The prosecution charged him with robbery, but there was a purse in the back that was opened, but not touched, and there was money left in the victim’s wallet,&uot; Sutton noted.

He added, &uot;Even if he (Oakes) did appear to rob and kidnap and shoot (Overton), it was because he thought he was getting back what was his and that isn’t illegal.

Was it moral or right?

No.

But not criminal.&uot;

Regarding Oakes’ possession of the gun in the first place, Sutton stated, &uot;Keep in mind he thought he was going into a situation where the person he would be facing had a gun, since they’d robbed him at gunpoint the week before.&uot;

He questioned, &uot;How could it be premeditated (murder) if it took place in a busy retail area, in front of a restaurant with a gas station next door?&uot;

Sutton continued, &uot;As poor a judgment as it was by this young man (Oakes), Overton had tried to grab the gun from him and Oakes was afraid for his life at that point, so it was just two men struggling for a gun and it went off.&uot;

He concluded, &uot;There is nothing shocking about there being two shots. The gun went off by mistake… this is a case of two young people who were involved in something they certainly shouldn’t have been involved in, and as tragic as it was it’s not premeditated and it’s certainly not felony murder.&uot;

After opening statements from both sides, the first three witnesses for the prosecution took the stand.

Cathy Overton, the mother of the victim, testified first, followed by her sister and Terrell’s aunt, Holly Overton.

Both corroborated that Terrell had come home Saturday morning after working in the log woods with his stepfather that morning.

They were with Terrell and their two young daughters shopping just before the incident occurred.

Each verified the information given during Buffaloe’s opening statements on the day the shooting occurred and added more detail to the account.

Cathy Overton added that she had given her son her cell phone to use on his trip to the store in downtown Ahoskie.

It was on that phone which Terrell was apparently talking to his best friend, Elton Taylor, just before the shooting.

Cathy Overton told of how the family members came to realize something was wrong when Terrell did not return with the van in a timely manner.

&uot;We ate and after a while we realized it had been a while since he left.

We kept trying to call and there was no answer… so we went to Shoe Show and were just standing there waiting around.

We saw my husband’s cousin and asked her to take us down to Main Street to see where Terrell was,&uot; Overton’s mother stated.

Tearfully, she continued, &uot;We passed by the Golden Corral and saw a crowd around what looked like my van, so she turned around and we pulled in and when I told them that’s my van and that my son was driving, a policeman said we needed to go to the hospital right away.&uot;

When the family arrived at the ER, they were told to wait in a conference room until the doctor could come in.

At that point, the news was as grim as it gets: Terrell Overton had been shot and was dead.

&uot;We were just sitting around trying to make sense of what had happened.

They asked me to ID the body, but I just couldn’t do it,&uot; Overton’s mother added.

Holly Overton’s testimony said much of the same thing.

She added that Terrell had been wearing a brand new white T-shirt when he was shot.

&uot;He had just walked down to Manhattan Clothing store to buy that new shirt… he went ahead and put it on because his old one had a stain on it,&uot; she said, sobbing.

Last, the court heard testimony from Elton Taylor.

Taylor, now 26, stated that he had known Overton his whole life and that he was like a brother to him, his best friend.

He said the two spent some time together every day when Terrell was home and talked on the phone frequently when Terrell was away at college.

&uot;We would play Playstation, hang around outside, sit on the picnic table under the shade and drink a couple of beers,&uot; he remembered.

Taylor said he did not have a driver’s license at the time, but Overton did; even so, the pair did not venture away from home very often.

&uot;Why would we need to go out, we had everything we needed right there at my house,&uot; he stated.

Taylor also was adamant that neither of them had ever been in Chubbie’s and that they didn’t go to any clubs at all.

On July 6, the night that Oakes and Forehand were allegedly robbed at Chubbie’s, Taylor says he and Overton were at his house that night as well and did not venture out.

&uot;We were hanging out in the yard at home… didn’t go anywhere.

He stayed until real late and then went to his grandmother’s house which is right across the yard from my house,&uot; Taylor stated.

The afternoon of July 13, Taylor had just gotten out of the shower when his personal line rang in his room at his parent’s house and it was Overton calling.

&uot;He said he was uptown shopping with his mom and sister… we were just talking about what we were going to do later, but then he said these white guys were following him,&uot; Taylor stated.

He continued, &uot;He said he had stopped at the stoplight and I could hear him talking to one of the dudes, I guess he had rolled down the window, and he said why are you following me, you need to stop… and the dude said are you talking to me?

And that’s when the phone went dead.&uot;

Taylor testified that 15 or 20 minutes later, one of Overton’s cousins called and told him that he was dead.

After further questioning, Taylor also revealed that neither he nor Overton knew anyone who drove a yellow Cavalier.

He also testified that while he and Overton occasionally smoked marijuana, neither of them sold drugs.

&uot;I know he wasn’t selling drugs because he wasn’t that type of person,&uot; he told Sutton on cross-examination.

Court recessed at 5 p.m. Wednesday until 9:30 a.m. Thursday morning.

Taylor is expected to continue his testimony at that time, followed by more witnesses for the state.

The Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald will have more coverage of this trial as it progresses.