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GREENVILLE — Gregory Parks’ fate is now in the jury’s hands after closing arguments in his murder trial were heard Tuesday.
Jurors deliberated for about two hours before sending the judge a note shortly before 5 p.m.
They wanted to know what the legal definition for “removal” was. Senior Resident Superior Court Judge Wayland Sermons Jr. will give jurors that legal explanation Wednesday morning when they will resume their deliberations.
The jury has sat through nearly four weeks of testimony from both the state and the defense. They also heard riveting closing arguments by Wilson County Assistant District Attorney Joel Stadiem and defense attorney, Tom Sallenger, which took up most of Tuesday’s court proceedings.
The jurors — five white men, three black men, two black women and two white women — headed into deliberations shortly before 3 p.m.
Parks, who is accused of kidnapping and killing Isabel “Chaveli” Palacios, has been standing trial inside a Pitt County courtroom. Police say Palacios was last seen at Parks’ Wilson home on July 31, 2015. After that, she was never seen or heard from again. The 20-year-old’s body has never been found.
Parks, who has entered a plea of not guilty on all charges, testified Palacios walked away from his house around 2:30 p.m. that day after they spent hours smoking crack cocaine. Parks said she told him she was going to find more drugs. He said she had lost her keys and told him she was getting a ride with another man.
Parks testified she walked out the door and toward the street and he went back to his bedroom to sleep after pulling an all-nighter.
But prosecutors allege Parks killed Palacios inside his bedroom. When Wilson police executed a search warrants at Parks’ home on Aug. 4, 2015, they found substantial evidence, they say, including Palacios’ blood and DNA throughout his home.
‘PEOPLE WALK AWAY EVERY DAY’
Sallenger told jurors during closing arguments that the most important witness from the state’s point of view is Ronald Parker, a man who testified he last saw Palacios at Parks’ home around 11 a.m. on the day she went missing. Parker also testified he called Palacios at 2:45 p.m. that day where she sounded distressed.
That call lasted about six minutes. But he didn’t report it to police until three hours later, according to testimony. And Parks’ defense has a real problem with that.
“What did he do during those three hours and seven minutes?” Sallenger argued, adding that police at the time were “disturbed” that his timeline didn’t add up. “He doesn’t try to help her.”
Sallenger said the state hasn’t proven that Palacios is dead either, he said.
“We don’t know where she is,” he said. “If you don’t find a body, how do you know a girl is dead?”
He said a “no-body case is dangerous” because you can’t definitively say what happened.
“People walk away every day,” Sallenger said. “He did not kill that girl and he’s not guilty of all charges.”
Sallenger said Parks was cooperative with police and he talked with them and never “lawyered up.”
“He was consistent with what he said —that she left his house,” he added.
Sallenger said experts couldn’t quantify the amount of blood in Parks’ home. He said there was no alert from cadaver dogs when they searched many areas including Parks’ yard.
“If there is no decomposing body, there is no death,” Sallenger said.
If Parks supposedly killed Palacios, Sallenger asked when he’d have time to dispose of her body while police were conducting surveillance on him.
Sallenger pointed out that the hallway where police say luminol showed “drag marks” and “footprints” tested negative for blood. He also asked: Out of the dozens of swabs forensic analysts tested for blood and DNA, why wouldn’t Parks’ DNA have been found anywhere inside a home he lived for more than 40 years?
Sallenger alluded that analysts with the Wilson Police Department made mistakes in their collection and handling of evidence.
‘THE BLOOD IN THAT HOUSE TELLS A STORY’
Stadiem said the only thing Gregory Parks has been consistent about is the fact he’s been inconsistent with law enforcement since the beginning of the investigation. Because as Stadiem put it, Parks thinks he’s the smartest guy in the room and everybody else is an idiot.
“He tells what each person wants to hear so they will go away,” Stadiem said, referring to statements Parks gave to police. He said Parks placed himself alone with Palacios inside the house.
“He’s alone with her and all this blood evidence,” Stadiem said, adding that Palacios’ blood was found on many items including the carpet padding that was a foot in diameter as well as a purple bathmat. He said blood spatter was found on the walls inside Parks’ bedroom, indicating that he used an object to beat her death.
“You’ve seen the mountain of evidence we have with her DNA and blood,” Stadiem told jurors. “He also initially said she wasn’t injured in the house. The evidence in this house is overwhelming. This is a crime scene.”
Stadiem said Palacios was brutally beaten in that house. He said after the drugs Parks had been feeding her for hours ran out, Parks expected payment in return — sex.
“Chaveli didn’t give in,” Stadiem continued.
Instead, she fought back, he said.
And when women fight back with Parks, he gets angry, Stadiem said.
“The blood in that house tells a story,” he said. “It’s the amount of blood ... she would have not survived. He took away her life.”
He also said that Parks cleaned up her blood after he killed her.
“The person who cleans up that blood has a guilty conscience,” he said.
Stadiem told jurors that Parks has changed his story every time he saw new evidence in the case.
“We are talking about justice here,” Stadiem continued. “Justice demands you check the guilty box. In the end, the defendant sold her ring for $25 because that’s how much she was worth to him.”
Stadiem paused for a couple of seconds.
“I hope she was worth a whole lot more to you,” he told jurors.