Friday, July 25 2014 11:13 AM EDT2014-07-25 15:13:25 GMT
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Justin Hurd will spend the rest of his life behind bars instead of getting death. A jury convicted him of the 2008 murders of Kevin Young, Kinshasa Wagstaff and Jasmine Hines and for arson for setting their house on fire to cover up the crime.
The last day of his capital trial, Justin Hurd spoke for the first time. He didn't say he killed three people in February 2008 but he did say what happened was terrible.
The jury in the Justin Hurd trial took about 15 minutes to deliberate whether he should live or die.
"We the jury unanimously recommend that Justin Dwayne Hurd be sentenced to life imprisonment," said the court clerk, three times shortly after 5 o'clock.
During closing arguments, the prosecution argued Justin Hurd shouldn't get mercy because he gave no mercy to Kevin Young, Kinshasa Wagstaff or Jasmine Hines.
"Here's the thing about mercy," said defense lawyer Carl Grant during his closing, "Mercy should not be denied because you have found that Justin Hurd is that bad. Mercy should be given because you are that good."
Hurd's DNA at both crime scenes convinced the jury to convict. But to sentence him to death the jury needed to know if Hurd played a major role in the killings.
"If you can't go over this hurdle you don't go any further and that's as far as they could get," explained prosecutor Clayton Jones after the verdict.
Hurd did address the court. He said his heart goes out to all the families affected including his own.
Jasmine Hines' mother and Kinshasa Wagstaff's sister, Melanie Miller didn't speak publicly but she did speak to prosecutors.
"They weren't out for vengeance. They are very happy that he's not going to get out. They are not at all disappointed that he didn't get the death penalty," said Jones.
Outside the courthouse, Hurd's defense lawyers spoke.
"If you're looking at a potential execution and the jury comes back and says life, obviously there's some relief there but if your committed position is that you're innocent it's kind of like a Pyrrhic victory, just start up the appellate road," said Alan Bowman.
The sheriff said Justin Hurd will be sent Thursday night to the central prison in Raleigh. Hurd will live in prison for the rest of his life, serving his three life sentences back-to-back.
During the trial, the prosecution argued Justin Hurd was an enforcer for a drug cartel sent to kill Kevin Young, a drug dealer. Looking at the evidence the prosecution concluded the night of the murders, Hurd had to rely on Plan B because Plan A failed. Plan A was to kill the victims, cover up their tracks with a fire and drive away in the victim's SUV filled with evidence from the house.
Prosecutors said vapors from the all the gasoline caused an explosion trapping a parked SUV behind a bowed garage door. The door couldn't be opened by firefighters the night of the fire. And prosecutors said Hurd couldn't open it either and drive away. That meant Hurd and his partner Nate Sanders had to use the white Toyota Camry parked in the driveway to get away.
Surveillance video from two gas stations showed Nate Sanders buying gasoline cans before the fire on Patricia Ryan Drive and after the fire. Witnesses at the second gas station said Sanders left in a van and a white car was seen following him. The white car was later abandoned in Huntersville and parked next to Jasmine Hines' body.
Law enforcement eventually tracked the men they believed were connected to the killings, Nate Sanders was found murdered in Ohio wearing a bullet-proof vest and Hurd was found in his home state of Ohio a year after the murders.
In 2008, investigators discovered the SUV in the garage of Kinshasa Wagstaff's home filled with three trash bags. Four water bottles in the trash bags had Justin Hurd's DNA. Prosecutor Clayton Jones told the jury killing people must of made the defendant thirsty. Jones also hypothesized killing made the defendant have sweaty hands. He said Hurd's hands were so sweaty they washed away the DNA of all the drivers on the white Camry's steering wheel and left only Hurd's DNA.
The defense did not present any evidence until the sentencing part of the trial. Hurd's lawyers argued the credibility of the prosecution's witnesses, like the jailhouse snitches, was questionable. Alan Bowman told the jury this case is about DNA. And the DNA proves Hurd was there but doesn't say when. Bowman argued it's possible Hurd and victim Kevin Young knew each other socially. Hurd could have driven the car or drank water because of that relationship not because he killed the three victims.
The jury took about four hours to deliberate whether Hurd was guilty of three murders, kidnappings and arson. They came back with the guilty verdicts and Hurd showed no emotion but shook his head ever so slightly saying no.
For the sentencing phase, the prosecution presented no additional evidence. The defense presented two family members, two people who met Hurd at the detention center and a prison expert.
Hurd's mother, Kimberly Mitchell, presented many photos of her son but didn't share much about him. Hurd's uncle, Timothy Pope said Hurd's paternal grandfather never approved of his parents' interracial marriage. And when Hurd was four or five years old his parents divorced. Pope said Hurd was basically raised by his grandparents. He also said Hurd was a good dad to his two sons.