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GREENVILLE — The defense in Gregory Parks’ murder trial this week recalled several state’s witnesses to the stand, including Ronald Parker, who prosecutors say last saw Isabel “Chaveli” Palacios at Parks’ Wilson home on July 31, 2015.
Parker, dressed in all black as he spoke from the stand for a second time, had also previously testified he called Palacios around 2:45 p.m. that day and she was in distress. That call lasted roughly 6 minutes.
Jurors are midway through the third week of the murder trial where Parks is accused of kidnapping and killing the 20-year-old woman. No one has seen or heard from Palacios since July 31, 2015. Her body has never been found.
Parks, who has entered a plea of not guilty on all charges, denies any involvement or knowledge in the young mother’s disappearance. Parks has said that Palacios left his home around 2:30 p.m. that day with a Hispanic man after she couldn’t find her car keys. Palacios and Parks had been using crack cocaine for several hours prior.
Parks’ attorney, Tom Sallenger, asked Parker what was said during that 2:45 p.m. phone call on July 31, 2015.
Parker said he heard Palacios scream for help. He also heard a “grunt” sound, which he said wasn’t sexual in nature but sounded like Parks was forcing her to do something. Parker testified that Parks got on the phone and said Palacios was OK and they were just playing around. He said he remained on the line for a couple of minutes.
Sallenger asked Parker how he knew it was Parks’ voice if he had never met Parks. Parker said he was with Parks and Palacios in the early morning hours of July 31, 2015.
Sallenger spent a significant amount of time poking holes in Parker’s testimony, including the three-hour time lapse, between the 2:45 p.m. “distress” call when he talked to Palacios and the time he and his cousin called 911.
“Why didn’t you immediately call?” Sallenger asked.
“I panicked,” Parker said. “I was high, riding around smoking weed. It just seemed surreal. I didn’t know if it was a joke.”
Parker claimed instead of calling 911 then, he immediately went to Parks’ Ward Boulevard home. He also said he went around to the back of Parks’ home where he picked up something to poke at the back window which had been broken. That’s when he saw a blood smear on a curtain, he said.
“I was trying to figure out where Chaveli was and what was going on,” Parker testified. He later testified he was outside Parks’ home for at least an hour before the police arrived.
Jurors also watched a nearly two-hour long interview Parker had with detectives at the police station where detectives questioned his timeline.
Parker had known Palacios for some time. They two were friends, he said. He had seen Palacios earlier at a bootlegger’s house and she had invited him over to Parks’ home later. Parker testified under cross-examination by prosecutor Joel Stadiem that he went by Parks’ home between 2 and 3 a.m. on July 31, 2015. He said Palacios was locked inside Parks’ house and Parks wasn’t home at the time. Parker said the only way to get out of Parks’ home was with a key from the inside deadbolt.
Sallenger later asked Parker why he didn’t call the police if he was so worried about Palacios being locked inside the house. Parker said he talked to Palacios through the glass of the side door and asked if she wanted to get out. She said she was OK but to come back later, which he did.
When Parker came back to Parks’ home around 5:30 a.m., that’s when he saw two men outside the home. They didn’t want any trouble with him but were trying to get money Parks owed them for drugs, according to testimony.
About an hour later, Parker and Palacios left in his car because she wanted him to find her crack cocaine. Instead, he drove around the block. Parker has said that he didn’t know Palacios was smoking crack cocaine again because she hadn’t done it for several months. But she did smoke marijuana, he said.
When Parker and Palacios went back to Parks’ home, the two had sex and he fell asleep, he said. Palacios was still hanging out with Parks and doing crack cocaine, according to testimony.
Parker testified he left around 11 a.m. on July 31, 2015, which is the same time Parks told police Parker left.
“Did you ever walk inside that residence ever again?” Stadiem asked Parker. He said he never did.
Parker also described seeing a baseball bat inside Parks’ home while talking with police during an interview. That baseball bat, which others had seen inside Parks’ home, according to previous trial testimony, has never been found.
According to phone records, Parker tried to call Palacios right after the 2:45 p.m. “distress” call. But he didn’t get an answer. Police arrived for a welfare check after Parker and his cousin called them.
Police searched the home, but didn’t find Palacios. Parks had allowed police inside.
Parker said he went back after police responded the first time to Parks’ home with the intention of looking for Palacios. This time he brought several Hispanic men, who knew Palacios, with him.
While they didn’t go inside Parks’ home, one of the men called police around 10:45 p.m. Police responded to Parks’ home again for a welfare check.
Parks himself called 911 because of the men outside his home, according to records and testimony.
Parks allowed police to come into his home again, but they didn’t see Palacios anywhere, according to testimony.
Parker tried calling Palacios several times in the following days, but she never answered. He said his calls went to voicemail, which was confirmed through cellphone records.
Parker also testified he went with Palacios’ family in the days after she was reported missing to search for her. He said he also told family members what he knew at the time and how he was with her leading up to when he left Parks’ home.
A SIENNA VAN
On the following day — Aug. 1, 2015 — Parker said he drove by Parks’ house. He still wanted to know if Palacios was there. Her vehicle was still in the driveway.
Parker said he noticed a two-tone Toyota Sienna van in Parks’ driveway. He had tried to call Palacios several times that day and had not heard from her. The van caught his attention.
He said he saw a woman and a man get out and walk inside Parks’ home.
Sallenger asked him why he had driven past the house.
“Because Chaveli was still missing,” he said.
Palacios’ family officially reported her missing on Aug. 4, 2015, the same day police executed a search warrant on Parks’ home.
POLICE AND K-9S
Several police officers who responded to Parks’ home on July 31, 2015 and detectives who had a part in the investigation also retook the witness stand. Parts of their testimony revealed Parks had mailed at least two letters to officers involved in the case.
N.C. K-9 Emergency Response Team members also testified Tuesday. They said their highly trained and certified K-9s never detected human remains or a scent of human remains in the area police sent them to search, including outside of Parks’ home.