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Jury returns guilty verdict

WINTON – After deliberating for a little over an hour, a jury of 12 returned here Thursday afternoon with a verdict of guilty on all counts in the capital murder case against Eric Alan Oakes.

Oakes, 26, was arrested in April 2003 and charged with first degree murder, attempted armed robbery and kidnapping in the July 2002 shooting death of Tyrelle Deshun Overton in Ahoskie.

After a day of pre-trial motions, another day and a half of jury selections, six days of testimony and Thursday morning’s closing arguments, the jury of eight men and four women apparently found beyond a reasonable doubt that Oakes had committed the crimes in which he was charged.

Monday morning, that same jury will hear mitigating arguments from the defense and aggravating factors from the prosecution so that they may then determine whether or not Oakes will spend the remainder of his life behind bars or receive the death penalty.

Thursday’s closing arguments summed up the testimony of the previous six days from both sides.

Defense attorney Edwin Hardy spoke first, posing questions to the jurors that he claims were not answered during the trial.

“There are too many questions left unanswered, so that you must see there is a reasonable doubt left here,” he stated.

Hardy continued, “Where’s Andre Britt and Joey Forehand?

Where’s the gunshot residue expert?

Where’s Dewayne Tyrone Britt, where’s the pocketbook that was in the van, where are the other photos that are of the van?

Where’s Tyrelle’s roommate from college?”

He finished, “In all my years I’ve never had so many unanswered questions after a trial.”

David Sutton, the lead attorney for the defendant, began his statements by saying, “For five and a half years, Eric Oakes has sat over there (in jail) and had time to think about what he did that day on July 13 (2002).”

He continued, “Tyrelle Overton did not deserve what happened to him that day, no matter whether he sat in that yellow Cavalier or not… but nothing that is done here today is going to bring Tyrelle Overton back.”

Sutton added, “What happened six years ago was a tragedy; no one here is saying that it wasn’t wrong… but Eric Oakes has a family who loves him too.”

“Everything you’ve heard is consistent with a struggle over a handgun inside the van… you’ve got blood in the van and a shell casing inside the van,” he noted.

Sutton concluded, “We are asking you to find him guilty of none of the above… we’re not saying he’s not guilty of anything, but not what they have charged him with.”

Assistant District Attorney Assata Buffaloe began closing remarks for the prosecution.

“At this point the state would argue that the case is really simple… and very serious.

Tyrelle Overton was murdered on July 13, 2002,” she stated.

Buffaloe continued, “There is not anything in this (Oakes’) handwritten statement about an accident that occurred in the Golden Corral parking lot.”

She went on, “A lot of these things that we’ve heard about over and over again are just smokescreen… mirrors, to take your attention away from what really matters.”

Later, Buffalo noted, “There’s been a lot said about Tyrelle Overton in this case, a lot of (negative) things brought out about his life… as if his life has less meaning because of these things… that made it okay to shoot him.

But no one had the right to murder him.”

She continued, “Tyrelle Overton will not get the chance to correct his mistakes, to go back to school, to meet a girl and marry her, to live his life and be complete.

And why?

That is all because that man right there (pointing at Oakes), he planned and he followed, hunted and stalked, and then he killed Tyrelle Overton.”

After showing the jury display boards noting the different aspects of each charge and what was required for it to be applicable, she hit home the prosecution’s point even further.

“He (Oakes) had a cool mind and a fixed purpose, that’s what we’re talking about here.

The defendant followed Tyrelle Overton all around Ahoskie… he (Overton) was followed, stalked, hunted,” Buffaloe stated.

She continued, “Furthermore, the gun had to be in a firing position and it was ready to fire once he got in the van.

This is not some common layperson we’re talking about here, this man was a soldier in the United States Army; he knows all about weapons and gun safety.”

Buffaloe added, “To get shot in the back like Overton was, that is not in an aggressive position like the defense would have you believe.

Who does that?

Who goes at somebody again after they’ve already been shot?

He (Overton) was trying to get out of the vehicle and Oakes murdered him.”

District 6B Attorney Valerie Asbell finished off closing arguments for the prosecution.

“What was Tyrelle Overton’s life worth?

To this defendant, it was worth $250… but no, not even that… he had to pay $50 for the gun, and then the gas to drive back and forth from Fayetteville to shoot him.

That knocks it down to about $180,” she began.

Asbell continued, “Throughout this trial, everybody in here involved in the case has been on trial except the one person who was arrested for it, this defendant.”

Referencing Sutton’s earlier remarks, she rebutted, “You want to talk about time to think?

If anybody had time to think about what they were going to say when they were arrested, between the time of the murder and his arrest nine months later, it was him.

He had plenty of time.”

Asbell further stated, “Whether it (the shooting) happened in the parking lot or whether he (Overton) was trying to get out of the van, he (Oakes) still shot him in the back.”

She added, “The defense called only two witnesses in this case and I’ll submit to you, ladies and gentlemen, that both of those proved the state’s case.”

“David Cloutier, their last witness, testified to you that a trained military soldier does not let an unarmed man take a gun from him.

Furthermore, military training teaches you that you don’t point a gun at someone unless you intend to kill them.

And hollow-point bullets?

You don’t use those except to take down a target with one shot.

He (Oakes) shot him (Overton) not once, but twice.

That’s clearly premeditation and deliberation,” Asbell stated.

She concluded, “The state contends that Tyrelle Overton’s life was worth more than $180.

We ask that you find him guilty on all charges.”

After instruction by Judge William C. Griffin, the jury retreated into the deliberation room at 2:20 p.m.

They returned at 3:35 p.m. with a unanimous guilty verdict on the counts of first degree murder by means of attempted robbery, first degree murder by means of kidnapping, first degree murder through premeditation and deliberation, attempted armed robbery and first degree kidnapping.

Due to being found guilty of first degree murder through premeditation and deliberation, Oakes now faces either the death penalty or life in prison without the possibility of parole.

His sentencing hearing is set to begin in front of the same jury at 9 a.m. on Monday at the Hertford County Courthouse.