Oakes pleas for life

Published 3:35 pm Wednesday, August 27, 2008

WINTON – With his life on the line, Eric Alan Oakes took the stand here Monday afternoon.

Oakes, 26, was convicted Thursday by a jury of his peers of first degree murder through premeditation and deliberation, along with four other charges, stemming from the July 2002 shooting death of Tyrelle Overton in Ahoskie.

Monday morning, the defense began presenting mitigating evidence to the same jury of eight men and four women.

Today (Tuesday), that group will likely begin deliberations to determine whether Oakes will receive the death penalty or life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Lead defense attorney David Sutton began questioning Oakes by asking, &uot;Did you intend to kill Tyrelle Overton,&uot; to which Oakes replied that he did not.

Oakes further testified that he was unaware of the live round .380-caliber bullet found in co-defendant Joseph &uot;Joey&uot; Forehand’s car with the initials &uot;T.O.&uot; engraved on it.

&uot;Until I had the conference with my first attorney, I didn’t know nothing [sic] about it,&uot; he stated.

Sutton inquired as to what happened to the gun after Overton was shot.

Oakes testified, &uot;When me and Joey arrived at my mom’s house, I gave the gun to him and he put it in a Crown Royal bag and put it in his girlfriend’s car… later Joey said he threw it in the ocean.&uot;

As to the deadly hollow-point bullets being used, Oakes stated that those bullets were already in the gun when it was purchased from a friend.

He further testified that he had received no military training in the use of handguns and was not familiar with such weapons.

&uot;In basic training we trained on M-16 rifles and then at Ft. Bragg we used the M-4 rifle which is a smaller version of the M-16… I have never been trained in the use of handguns,&uot; Oakes stated.

After more questioning, he said he was never in Forehand’s car after the July 13, 2002 shooting.

Oakes began crying when Sutton asked him how he felt about what happened that fateful day six years ago.

&uot;There is not a day that goes by when I don’t regret what happened, not a day that goes by when I don’t think about Tyrelle, his mother and his family, and what this has done to my own family and my son, too,&uot; he testified.

Then, Sutton walked Oakes through relating what happened the day Overton was shot and about the events leading up to that day.

Oakes testified that the Saturday before Overton was killed, on July 6, he and Forehand came to Ahoskie to go to Chubbie’s.

&uot;We had four ounces of pot (marijuana) to sell for profit… it was ours together and the money we would have split evenly,&uot; he stated.

Oakes continued, &uot;Then Joey got in a yellow car with two black males and they were taking him to get two Ecstacy pills and they were going to trade us those plus $200 for the weed (marijuana).&uot;

He went on, &uot;But when he came back he jumped out of the car and ran and told me that he had been robbed, that they put a gun to his neck and stole the weed from him.&uot;

Oakes testified that Forehand was angry over the incident and that the two went back to Ft. Bragg but returned the following week to look for the men who had robbed them.

&uot;On July 13 (2002) we woke up and left Joey’s house (in Colerain) around 11 a.m. and went to Ahoskie to ride around, looking for the guy who robbed him… we went in Wal-Mart and Joey said he saw the guy over to the right in the clothing section,&uot; Oakes stated.

He continued, &uot;So we went back outside and waited for him to come out.

It wasn’t planned out, what we were going to do, we just wanted to get back what we had lost… we followed the guy for 10 minutes or so, didn’t really talk and didn’t have any grand plan.&uot;

Oakes added, &uot;I wasn’t really that serious about the whole thing.

I wanted my stuff back, but I could have dealt with not having it back… I was just there for Joey.&uot;

Oakes then testified that after following Overton around Ahoskie, he jumped out at the stoplight (at the corner of Memorial Drive and Catherine Creek Road).

&uot;I only did it there because it was just an opportunity to do it while the vehicle was stopped,&uot; he stated.

What happened next is apparently a bit blurry, even in Oakes’ mind.

&uot;When I got in the van, the light turned green and he pulled off… then he said he had to pull over to call his mom or his men.

He pulled into the parking area and reached over and grabbed my hands and the gun… my back was sort of to the door and the gun was lying across my lap,&uot; Oakes testified.

He continued, &uot;It happened so fast; he just reached over and grabbed it.

I was scared, I pulled and he pulled and the gun went off twice.&uot;

Oakes added, &uot;I knew that the gun went off twice and I thought that the first one (shot) had hit him but I wasn’t sure about the second one.

It was like playing tug of war… after the gun went off the second time I turned and saw Joey’s car and ran to it.&uot;

He went on, &uot;I don’t make no excuses for nobody [sic], least of all myself.

I made the decision to get in that van with a loaded gun and I’m sorry.&uot;

Oakes finished answering Sutton’s questions with the statement, &uot;In the six years I’ve been incarcerated, I have changed a lot… not my personality because I’ve always been a shy person… but I’ve found a relationship with God and discovered all the strength He has to give me… even though this will always weigh heavy on me, I know I have His forgiveness and that makes it easier to cope with.&uot;

After the afternoon recess, District 6B Attorney Valerie Asbell began her cross-examination.

Showing Oakes the previously entered state’s exhibits depicting Overton’s body and the bullet wounds that killed him, she asked, &uot;Is this the person that stuck a gun in Joey Forehand’s face on July 6 (2002)?&uot;

Oakes replied, &uot;I don’t know because I never got a good look at him.&uot;

Then Asbell inquired, &uot;Is this the man whose face you stuck a gun in?&uot;

Oakes answered, &uot;I didn’t stick a gun in his face, but I did point the gun at him, and yes that’s the same guy.&uot;

Later, Asbell asked Oakes how an application for another military ID, his birth certificate and Social Security card were found in Forehand’s car if Oakes claimed he had never been back in that vehicle after the July 13 shooting.

&uot;I was in a car accident and I had lost my military ID.

The sergeant ordered Joey to give me a ride to get a new one, but I never did… I just put the documents in his car,&uot; Oakes testified.

Asbell also asked if it was true that a person actually has to rack a handgun back to put a bullet in the chamber before it would fire, and she asked Oakes when did he do that.

Oakes answered, &uot;I don’t remember when, but yes I did do that at some point.&uot;

A few minutes later, finishing up her questioning, Asbell inquired, &uot;So basically you robbed and killed a man based on what Joey Forehand said, is that correct?&uot;

&uot;Yes, based on what Joey said,&uot; Oakes replied.

Several friends and family members of Oakes also testified on his behalf, including his mother, father and his former girlfriend who is the mother of his 7-year-old son.

Earlier in the day, psychologist Dr. Claudia Coleman also testified that she had diagnosed Oakes with a form of long-lasting mild depression.

She further stated that Oakes showed some anti-social behaviors, but did not have anti-social personality disorder and that he was a follower, not a leader.

On cross-examination, Coleman testified that Oakes had a &uot;high average&uot; intelligence quotient score of 117.

The gist of the testimony heard from family members and friends painted a picture of Oakes’ broken childhood and the various places he lived growing up and cultures he was exposed to.

Several family members testified he had a fear of being abandoned and he had a hard time trusting people and allowing them to get close.

Naja Neal, the mother of Oakes’ son, described him as a kind and considerate person.

&uot;He was considerate, kind, always put my feelings ahead of his, and he was very sensitive… the smallest thing could make him cry.

He didn’t take it well when we broke up… I noticed that he began to be depressed,&uot; she testified.

Oakes’ former step-grandmother, Kennetta Lark, testified that his parents were not there for him a lot growing up and that Oakes assumed much of responsibility for raising his mentally handicapped younger sister.

She added, &uot;I knew early on that Eric had issues with people leaving him… like his biological father, his mother with her (military) job, and my son when he left.&uot;

Lark continued, &uot;Eric had no racial or cultural identity to speak of on his own… he didn’t fit in anywhere, but was trying to identify with somebody.&uot;

Next when Oakes testified following Lark, he noted that he had found a close friend, his &uot;best&uot; friend, in Joey Forehand.

When Oakes’ sentencing hearing continues today, the jury will hear arguments from opposing councils and then be instructed by the judge on how to proceed with determining the appropriate punishment.

The prosecution called no witnesses.

Jurors are set to arrive back at the Hertford County Courthouse at 1 p.m.