SALISBURY, NC (WBTV) - A man who beat his ex-girlfriend to death with a baseball bat while her six grandchildren slept upstairs has pleaded guilty to the 2012 killing.
Gary Cureton entered the guilty plea in order to avoid the death penalty and will spend the rest of his life in prison.
Joan Marie Lark, 49, was beaten to death in her home at 110 W. Spencer Street in East Spencer in January 2012.
The Rowan County Sheriff's Office Criminal Investigations Division responded to the scene and conducted the investigation, along with the North Carolina SBI and East Spencer Police Department.
During the investigation, detectives were able to develop Lark's ex-boyfriend, 54-year-old Gary A. Cureton, as a suspect in the case. They began looking for him.
Detectives say the assault happened inside the home in the early morning hours before the grandchildren woke up.
At approximately 1:30 p.m. on the same day, Rowan County detectives located Cureton at a home on Concord Lake Road in Kannapolis. Inn court on Friday it was revealed that when Cureton was arrested, he was covered in blood, and was wearing one of Lark's jackets and her rings on his fingers.
Cureton was charged with murder, first-degree burglary, and robbery with a dangerous weapon, and pleaded guilty to all three of those charges.
In court, Rowan County District Attorney Brandy Cook said that Cureton and Lark had ended their relationship on January 1 of 2012, and that in the days following the break up, Cureton had sent threatening messages to Lark.
Phone records showed that Cureton called Lark 702 times between January 1 and January 26, and that the messages he left were growing increasingly violent.
"I don't like the way you did me. I love you Joan. Girl, you just don't know how hurt I am," one message said. "Don't sleep tonight, I'm watching you," and "You're getting ready to get hurt. This ain't no threat, this is a promise, I am going to get you."
Even so, Cook said that on the day before she was murdered, Lark told a coworker at the VA Medical Center that she was not afraid of Cureton and that she did not believe that Cureton would harm her.
Family members spoke in court on Friday, many directly addressing Cureton.
"I don't hate you," Lark's mother Catherine Chambers said. "I still don't. I wish I could hate you but I can't. God is gonna have to deal with you because I can't."
Before leaving the courtroom in tears, Lark's daughter Brandy said "Nothing is going to bring her back. Gary, I don't hate you, it just hurts."
"Just let the court have its way with him, I can't have my way with him," Lark's sister said. "That was my sister and she had a life, she was supposed to be here with me. I will see my sister again because I believe in the Lord. Gary, you didn't take her away from me like you think she did. My sister is alive in my heart."
Cureton's attorney pointed out that Cureton admitted being high on cocaine at the time of the murder, and that he has had a long history of drug abuse and health problems.