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Jury convicts man in killing

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A Wilson man was convicted Friday evening in the April 2017 shooting death of 31-year-old Harry Beecher.

A jury found 24-year-old Ramone Malone-Bullock guilty of first-degree murder following a three-day trial in Wilson County Superior Court.

Jurors deliberated for more than six hours before rendering their verdict around 7:45 p.m. Friday. Beecher’s mother, Roycelia Pender, cried as Superior Court Judge Lamont Wiggins read the verdict aloud. Wilson police Detective Justin Godwin, who worked the case, put his arm around her for comfort as the tears flowed.

“I know justice was served for my son,” Pender said after the trial, surrounded by relatives and friends. “I know it was served for him.”

Beecher’s family and friends sat through the intense trial this week that included Malone-Bullock taking the stand in his own defense Thursday afternoon.

Beecher’s mother said while the trial was hard, it was extremely difficult to listen to Malone-Bullock’s testimony.

“I knew he was lying,” she said. “But I dealt with it and justice has prevailed.”

Malone-Bullock’s relatives and friends also cried. He was stoic as Wiggins told him he would be sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Beecher left behind a son who is now 10 years old.

“I can call my grandson and let him know that the killer is locked away for life,” Beecher’s mother said.

Prosecutors say what started as a birthday party for a young child on April 1, 2017, turned deadly shortly after midnight when a card game led to a dispute over money between Malone-Bullock and Beecher at a Lincoln Street home. Witnesses testified that Malone-Bullock left the party, but came back and killed Beecher in cold blood.

Beecher died of a single gunshot wound the chest, according to court testimony. Malone-Bullock testified that he didn’t kill Beecher and claimed his cousin William Saxton did. But prosecutors said Saxton and Beecher didn’t know each other and Saxton had no motive.

THE STATE’S CLOSING ARGUMENT

Wilson County Assistant District Attorney Joel Stadiem said the case came down to pride, anger and disrespect.

Witnesses alleged that Malone-Bullock and Beecher got into a heated argument that April night. A fight ensued; punches were thrown. Several people at the Lincoln Street home claimed they had to separate the men to break up the fight. And Malone-Bullock was angry. One witness testified Malone-Bullock said he was going to kill Beecher. Prosecutors say Malone-Beecher left that party, dropped his girlfriend off a gas station and headed down U.S. 264, then retrieved a gun and came back to kill Beecher.

Stadiem said Malone-Bullock had the motive. He was angry. He had been disrespected.

“The person with the motive, opportunity and access to the firearm is the defendant,” Stadiem told jurors.

Stadiem also said while some witnesses weren’t forthcoming with detectives until subsequent interviews, one witness was — Alex Umstead, who told police less than two weeks after the killing occurred what he saw that night.

And it was Malone-Bullock pulling the trigger, Umstead said, not Saxton.

Stadiem also said Malone-Bullock made several mistakes including telling police during his first interview that he wasn’t even at the party on Lincoln Street nor did he know Beecher. He also made the mistake of bringing his cousin, Saxton, into the case.

“He accidentally told police where the murder weapon was,” Stadiem said.

Stadiem said Malone-Bullock didn’t anticipate his friends would turn on him by talking to police and later testifying against him.

“That’s not supposed to happen in his world,” Stadiem told jurors. “He assumes everyone had the same code he did… you don’t talk to police. Family first.”

Devanta Jamal Battle, another witness to the killing, claimed earlier this week during trial that Malone-Bullock asked him to take Saxton out in May 2018. While Battle did try to kill Saxton, the plan failed. Saxton survived the shooting.

Stadiem also questioned why Saxton would be the one to drive across town to kill someone he didn’t know.

“He’s got to put someone else pulling the trigger,” Stadiem said, referring to Malone-Bullock.

He continued by saying Saxton cooperated with police and told him where the gun was and how to find it. He had sold the gun to a friend and gave police all the information regarding the transaction. Stadiem said a guilty person wouldn’t have done that. A guilty person would have gotten rid of the gun.

THE DEFENSE’S CLOSING ARGUMENT

Malone-Bullock’s attorney, Tom Sallenger, said the case was about tracking the shell casings.

Police recovered three casings, one of which was from the Packhouse Road home where Malone-Bullock’s cousin Saxton lived. The other shell casing was found at the scene of the crime on the 600 block of Lincoln Street.

A firearms expert testified earlier this week that those shell casings came from the gun police recovered, which Saxton initially owned.

Sallenger told jurors the three men who testified they saw Malone-Bullock shoot and kill Beecher weren’t credible witnesses and received plea deals from the state in exchange for their testimony. Those witnesses — Battle, Elliot Santiago and Umstead — initially told police they weren’t at the Lincoln Street home when the killing occurred.

“Next we learn the case is being investigated and these people make additional statements,” Sallenger said, explaining that their stories changed.

Sallenger told jurors that when police first interviewed Malone-Bullock’s cousin, Saxton, he told them repeatedly that he didn’t let anyone borrow his gun. But when the ballistics tests came back showing that his gun was used in Beecher’s killing, he had some explaining to do.

He told jurors that if Saxton didn’t loan anyone his gun, then that must mean one thing — he was the one who shot and killed Beecher.

Eight months after Beecher’s death, Saxton told police he did let his cousin, Malone-Bullock, borrow the gun. Sallenger said he had to tell police something because it didn’t look good for him.

“I’ve got to put that gun on my cousin because I’m going to be like everybody else in this case,” Sallenger said.

Sallenger also pointed out that Saxton had later told police that Malone-Bullock returned his gun near daybreak on that Sunday, April 2, 2017, which would have been about five hours after the killing occurred.

“Well, folks, it was impossible physically,” Sallenger said.

Sallenger said the evidence showed that Malone-Bullock couldn’t have returned the gun to his cousin’s house on Packhouse Road at that time because police were interviewing him.

Police had already stopped Malone-Bullock in his girlfriend’s vehicle, which had been seized and towed to the city of Wilson’s operations center for evidence collection. Sallenger said that detail proved Saxton was lying.

“The injustice in this case is that the wrong person is here for trial,” Sallenger said.

If the jury found Malone-Bullock guilty of first-degree murder, Sallenger said, then the “wrong person would be serving time.”

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