Jury spares Oakes’ life

Published 10:55 am Thursday, August 28, 2008

WINTON – A little more than six years after his murder, the family of Tyrelle Deshun Overton finally saw justice served for their loved one here Tuesday evening.

Overton, 20, was shot and killed in the parking lot of what used to be the Golden Corral in Ahoskie on July 13, 2002. Nine months later, Eric Alan Oakes was arrested and charged with first degree murder, attempted armed robbery and kidnapping.

A jury of his peers convicted Oakes, now 26, of those and two other charges on Thursday of last week. The same group of eight men and four women returned Tuesday to the Hertford County Courthouse to decide Oakes’ punishment – life in prison without the possibility of parole, or the death penalty.

After hearing arguments from opposing councils and then deliberating for 35 minutes, the jury returned with its decision – life in prison.

Assistant District Attorney Assata Buffaloe and District 6B Attorney Valerie Asbell had pushed earlier in the day Tuesday for a harsher punishment, pleading with the jury to find that the aggravating factors in the case far outweighed the mitigating circumstances.

&uot;When we started this case, I told you this was a random act of violence… and it was… the defendant just took out whoever was pointed out to him on July 13 (2002)… he was an enforcer, basically,&uot; Buffloe said at the start of her closing remarks.

She continued, &uot;He followed, carjacked, kidnapped and murdered Tyrelle Overton… this case boiled down to its essence is all about money and drugs.

That’s what brought us here; that’s what drove this defendant to commit murder… and that’s why this case deserves the ultimate punishment.&uot;

Buffaloe added, &uot;It wasn’t a crime of passion, it wasn’t over a woman or a card game… it was business.

A business transaction, over $250, that’s what brought us here.&uot;

Referencing the previous day’s testimony from the defense that pointed out Oakes’ difficult childhood and broken home life, she noted, &uot;We’re not here for anybody’s fault in this courtroom except his, this defendant.

He’s the one who pulled the trigger.&uot;

Buffaloe finished, &uot;(Oakes) didn’t even murder the right person.

This is awful; this wasn’t Andre Britt that they killed.

(Oakes) didn’t even know that Tyrelle Overton was at Chubbie’s on July 6.

Tyrelle Overton had nothing to do with this.

He got shot in his stomach and then in his back for nothing.

He was murdered for $250 that he had nothing to do with.&uot;

Asbell tore apart the defense’s mitigating circumstances, stating, &uot;When you are trained in the United States Army and use that training to hunt somebody down and kill them, then age has no mitigating value.&uot;

She continued, &uot;Depression, lack of contact with your father and lack of childhood stability does not have mitigating value either.

He (Oakes) still made a moral choice… there are lots of children of military personnel, lots of people who are depressed and kids who have no parents and you don’t see them sitting here convicted of murder.&uot;

Another mitigating circumstance presented by the defense was that Oakes’ co-defendant, Joseph &uot;Joey&uot; Forehand, had pointed out to Oakes that Overton was one of the three black males who had robbed him in Chubbie’s the week before the shooting.

To that, Asbell posed the question, &uot;How could you find mitigating value for that Joey Forehand pointed out Tyrelle Overton as one of the men who had robbed him?

How does he get credit for that?&uot;

She added, &uot;That means that Joey Forehand could point out anyone in this courtroom and this defendant would kill them.&uot;

Asbell concluded, &uot;When you kill somebody for money and when you kidnap them, if that isn’t an appropriate circumstance for the death penalty then when will there be one?&uot;

Lead defense attorney David Sutton began his arguments by saying to the jury, &uot;I wish I could sit down with each and every one of you and determine what your problems are and address them, but I’m not allowed to do that, that’s the law.&uot;

He continued, &uot;He (Oakes) doesn’t fit in anywhere… he has had no positive male role model in his life… as you heard testimony from yesterday from his family members, he doesn’t trust easily, but when he makes close friends he would do anything for that person. So when Joey Forehand came back and said some guy had put a gun in his face, he stuck up for his best friend.&uot;

After Tuesday’s afternoon recess, Sutton finished his remarks.

&uot;What really went on here is just one thing – a 19-year-old kid jumped in a car with a 20-year-old kid and pointed a gun at him.

There was no grand plan, it was just the one thing,&uot; he stated.

Sutton continued, &uot;You have evidence now that you hadn’t heard before when you convicted him of murder… do you have enough to have a reasonable doubt now and spare him his life?&uot;

He added, &uot;There is love in him (Oakes) and his life is worth saving.

Everything you have been showed says he is remorseful… over and over Eric has said that he didn’t mean for this to happen.

He is not the same person today at 25 that he was at 19.&uot;

Another point Sutton argued was that of Oakes cooperating with the investigation and giving a statement to law enforcement after his arrest, then later aiding in the prosecution of Forehand.

Sutton noted, &uot;Where is the fairness in somebody saying, thanks for cooperating with this investigation, here’s your prize of the death penalty.&uot;

He further argued that the state’s aggravating factors did not apply in this case due to the way the incident played out.

&uot;The aggravating factors don’t apply here because it’s meant for if somebody kidnaps and robs someone, completes that and then just kills them for spite.

That didn’t happen here, it happened all at once,&uot; Sutton noted.

The jury retreated for deliberation on sentencing at 4:40 p.m. and returned at 5:15.

They unanimously found that both of the state’s two aggravating factors did exist, but also that seven of the defense’s 14 presented mitigating circumstances existed as well.

Furthermore, the jury unanimously determined that the mitigating circumstances outweighed the aggravating factors and as such recommended a sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole.

After the jury was dismissed, Judge William C. Griffin imposed that recommendation and Oakes was remanded to the custody of the state of North Carolina, where he is sentenced to serve out the remainder of his natural life behind bars.

When court adjourned, Asbell told the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald that she was glad the ordeal was over for Overton’s family.

&uot;I’m very glad for Tyrelle’s family that this is finally over and the state certainly respects the jury’s verdict and sentence recommendation as to life in prison without parole,&uot; she noted.

An attorney for the defendant, Edwin Hardy, said afterward that he and Sutton would be appealing for a new trial for Oakes as well as a change of venue.