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Prosecutors on Monday dropped murder charges against a man accused of killing four people inside a Wilson County home on Christmas Eve 2016.
Dereck Eugene Harris, 31, was slated to stand trial Monday in the quadruple homicide, but prosecutors dismissed all four first-degree murder charges without prejudice, citing uncooperative witnesses and circumstantial evidence.
In August 2017, Harris was charged in the slayings of 47-year-old Selby Gene Outland, 54-year-old Tammy Lynnette Pearce, 28-year-old Paul Shane Pearce and 23-year-old Dominique Nicole Privette.
Tammy and Paul Pearce were mother and son, and Outland and Privette, respectively, were their significant others.
Wilson County Assistant District Attorney Joel Stadiem told the court that the case was circumstantial and there were issues with witnesses leading up to Monday’s start of the trial.
Certain witnesses were served and had not shown up for trial, and another witness changed his or her story last week, officials said.
“The state feels like it cannot proceed in this manner,” Stadiem told the court, adding that prosecutors hope additional evidence will be found so they can re-indict or refile charges at a later time.
Stadiem also said current evidence shows there is more than one perpetrator in the case. And he hopes that all will be caught and tried. When those charged go to trial, they are deemed innocent until proven guilty and the burden is on the state to prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, a person is guilty of a crime.
‘HE’S MAINTAINED HIS INNOCENCE’
Harris’ attorney, Philip Lane, said his client was relieved Monday.
“He’s maintained his innocence from the very beginning,” Lane told The Wilson Times after the court proceeding.
Harris’ family and friends left the courtroom after the proceeding. Cheers erupted in the hallway.
“My brother is free,” Harris’ sister, Tasha Hinnant, said outside the courthouse a few minutes later, standing alongside their older sister, Deirdre Harris.
“We were confident,” said Harris’ grandmother, Sharlotte Boykin. “God is good.”
Harris currently has unrelated pending misdemeanor charges including assault on a government official and resisting a public officer, court records indicate.
Relatives had planned to post Harris’ bail on those charges Monday, according to court proceedings.
Victims’ family members were also present during court Monday. Attempts to reach those family members were unsuccessful as of press time.
Harris was arrested and charged about eight months after the killings. Harris was known to the some of the victims, Wilson County Sheriff Calvin Woodard told The Wilson Times at the time of his 2017 arrest. Woodard also said the motive in the killings was a drug debt that involved Harris and one of the victims. Woodard declined at the time to say which victim that was.
Harris was convicted of misdemeanor hit and run and operating a vehicle without a license in Wilson County in February 2007, according to the N.C. Department of Public Safety Division of Adult Correction. In July 2008, he was convicted of misdemeanor communicating threats.
His most recent conviction was in 2016 for speeding to elude arrest and misdemeanor hit and run, records show.
“We will continue pursuing any leads that arise from the case to bring closure to the family,” Woodard told The Wilson Times on Monday. “Deputies have attempted to locate witnesses that provided information on the case; however, a couple of witnesses thwarted the deputies’ efforts on locating them. As additional investigatory techniques, information and evidence become available, we will continue our efforts in bringing those responsible to justice for the families.”
CHRISTMAS EVE 2016
Neighbors reportedly heard gunshots around 1 a.m. on Dec. 24, 2016.
Nearly 12 hours later, the victims’ family members found bloodshed inside the home in the 2200 block of Banks Lane near Wilson and called 911.
All four victims were found shot to death inside Tammy Pearce’s home, which is located east of U.S. 301 off N.C. 42 East just outside the city limits.
Some were shot multiple times, including Privette, who was shot nine times, according to their autopsy reports. Privette, who suffered from gunshot wounds to her neck, back, chest and arms, was found lying on a mattress in the living room, according to her autopsy. The victims were found in four separate rooms and were wearing pajamas.
Autopsies also indicated 9mm and .38-caliber cartridge casings were found at the scene.
Tammy Pearce, who was found lying on her right side on the bed in the bedroom, suffered from a gunshot wound to the head and gunshot wound to the left area near her clavicle, according to the autopsy. Paul Pearce suffered from a gunshot wound to the back of his neck. He was found supine on the kitchen floor, according to his autopsy. Outland died as a result of gunshot wound to the head and right arm, his autopsy report indicates. He was found behind the bathroom door.
The home’s front door was also kicked in.