The state will seek the death penalty against a Duplin County man charged in connection with the Jan. 5, 2012 murder of Bill Town Road resident Gary Lee West. That ruling came down Wednesday following a Rule 24 conference overseen by Superior Court Judge Doug Parsons.
Terrill Wells, 30, of Teachey, was escorted into the courtroom by armed deputies and led to a seat at the defense table with his attorney Scott Jack of Onslow County. He listened intently throughout the hearing, but never made comment.
Wells is charged with murder, two counts robbery with a dangerous weapon, one count attempted robbery with a dangerous weapon, felony possession of cocaine and felony possession of heroin, all in connection with the Jan. 5 incident that took place at 347 Bill Town Road, Harrells.
He has pleaded not guilty to the offenses.
With West’s mother sobbing uncontrollably on a bench just a few feet from the man charged with killing her son, District Attorney Ernie Lee outlined aggravating circumstances that led the state to treat this as a capital case.
“After careful review of the case, it is the intent of the state to seek the death penalty,” Lee told Parsons, noting that at least one aggravating circumstance existed that precipitated a move toward treating this as a capital case.
“The evidence in this case will show the existence of at least one potential aggravating circumstance, if not others,” Lee said, then ticking off a list of circumstances that the state believes exists in the case.
Among those circumstances, the state alleges that the defendant was engaged in the commission of a robbery at the time of the murder; that the murder was committed for pecuniary, or monetary, gain; and that the murder was part of a course of conduct in which the defendant engaged and which included the commission by the defendant of other crimes of violence.
“We believe those circumstances meet the threshold of a capital case, and that it was especially heinous, atrocious and cruel,” Lee asserted to the court.
Jack told Parsons he disagreed with Lee’s assessment of the circumstances and once again noted that his client had pleaded not guilty and maintained that stance. He also stressed the added requirement that a second attorney be obtained for Wells if it was ruled a death penalty case.
After listening to the attorneys, Parsons noted that the court determined the case to be capital and immediately ordered the appointment of a second defense counsel for Wells, pursuant to state mandate.
No trial date has been set.
Lee said after the conference that it was still too early to determine the start of the trial, stressing that he was still waiting on lab reports from the State Bureau of Investigation, that a second attorney had to now be appointed for Wells and that both the defense and the state had to comply with discovery, all things that had to be done before a date could be set.
Wells is charged in connection with the Jan. 5, 2012 murder of West and myriad other crimes related to the incident.
According to 2012 stories published in The Sampson Independent, West was reportedly beaten and shot during what has been called a home invasion of the Bill Town Road residence. His body was found in the yard of the residence with “obvious signs of trauma to the upper body region.”
Sampson Medical examiner Dr. Carl Barr said following the autopsy that West, 34, suffered a combination of “generalized blunt force trauma” on his face and body and at least one gunshot wound to the torso.
The incident was reported around 2:30 a.m. on Jan. 5 when the Sampson E-911 Center received a call of a home invasion at the Bill Town Road residence. The caller was able to provide a description of the suspect vehicle and a responding deputy stopped that vehicle leaving the area.
Wells and Jennifer Lynn Norris, 22, of Wallace were detained and subsequently charged. Norris was later charged with accessory after the fact and given a $775,000 bond. She and Wells remain in the Sampson County Detention Center.