Testimony wraps up on ninth day of Brady murder trial
Published 4:41 am Sunday, October 20, 2019
The evidence portion of a murder trial expected to take three or four weeks with testimony from up to 70 witnesses concluded late Thursday in its ninth day after hearing from only about two dozen witnesses.
On trial for his alleged participation in a 2017 violent escape attempt from Pasquotank Correctional Institution that left two people dead, two with fatal wounds and a dozen others with serious injuries, Mikel Edward Brady II is one of four inmates facing multiple counts of first-degree murder and other charges.
Brady, who has pleaded not guilty to the charges, is the first of the four defendants to go on trial. The other three – Wisezah Buckman, Seth Frazier and Jonathan Monk – are scheduled for trial after the first of the year. If convicted, each could face the death penalty.
Witnesses throughout the past week provided a number of additional details about the October 2017 failed escape attempt with several saying that they saw Brady and three other inmates attack and assault officer George Midgett. Some had to fight back tears and other emotions while relating how Brady hit Midgett in the head with a hammer.
Other officers related how their confrontations with inmates Brady, Buckman, Frazier and Monk outside the building resulted in their own head and stab wounds.
During his Tuesday appearance in court, inmate Travis Kenton, who worked with Midgett as a canteen operator, said he was with officer Wendy Shannon in the warehouse area and both were unaware of the injuries the four had inflicted on two other state employees, Veronica Darden and Justin Smith, earlier that day. Seeing blood on Brady and others, Kenton said he thought it was just colored dye and jokingly asked Brady in jest, “Who did you kill?”
It was shortly after that when Brady attacked Shannon. Fearing for his own safety, Kenton ran outside past Midgett and yelled for Midgett to run.
Midgett had already testified Monday about how he tried to convince the inmates to surrender when Brady and the others attacked him. Kenton added that when he was led back inside the building, he said he saw Midgett on the floor, but the injuries were so bad and there was so much blood, he did not recognize Midgett.
Kenton was transferred to another prison that night.
Others witnesses recalled that when Brady and Frazier were cornered by officers outside, both said “You are going to have to kill us.”
According to repeated testimony, the four were not ready to surrender and were prepared to die. Running away, they climbed nearby security fences. First Buckman and then Monk got caught on the fences and officers subdued them. Brady and Frazier made it to the outermost fence before they were caught.
On Wednesday, jurors viewed several minutes of video footage recorded during the 2017 escape attempt.
According to SBI special agent Jennifer Matherly, there are many more than 200 hours of video. The video shown in court focused primarily on the movements of Mikel Edward Brady II.
Watching several minutes of silent action video, just as in previous videos, some family members were not able to watch it all.
In this case, however, even while knowing what was about to happen, the silence was broken by a gasp from someone in the audience when the footage showing officer George Midgett being attacked was shown.
Some parts of the video show the four gathering supplies and making preparations for their break-out attempt.
Other testimony was about the weapons and other items recovered at the scene by police. According to SBI crime scene investigator Robert Evans, he and other officers searching the scene found, among other things, hammers, scissors, a pipe and a 2×4 with nails in it. Also found were two PCI shirts with reddish and brown stains, each imprinted with a different employee’s name.
To provide jurors with a better view of the items, several boxes of physical evidence were spread out and displayed on a table. Jurors walked around the table to view the items without comments or questions.
Also presented were more than 100 of the 650 photographs taken the day of the escape attempt that provided views of the loading dock area, storage room, sewing shop and elevator where the bodies of correctional officer Veronica Darden and maintenance mechanic Geoffrey Howe were found. Several of these photos proved just as graphic as the videos shown earlier. Unable to sit through them, several family members waited outside the courtroom.
On Thursday, the prosecution team of District Attorney Andrew Womble and Assistant DA Kimberly Pellini wrapped up their case with a 95 minute video interrogation of Brady with investigators recorded shortly after the 2017 escape attempt and about 100 autopsy photographs.
During the video, a shirtless and handcuffed Brady said he thought he was a model inmate up until the time of the escape attempt, but with a 40 year sentence, he had nothing to lose. He went on to say he was frustrated with the correctional system and how some of the officers treated inmates. At one point he referred to guards as “adult babysitters.”
Brady said also that things didn’t go as planned, but he started planning the escape about three months earlier, initiated conversations about an escape with other inmates, made plans for the escape and related how some employees would have to be “taken out.” He also related how one officer ran a tight ship, so they picked a different shift to “stack the deck” in their favor.
During the video, Brady described the attack on Darden, someone he considered to be a “mother figure” to him. He added that he felt bad about hurting her, but had to put that aside to continue the escape attempt. He also related how he jumped on Smith to finish him off and used a radio to make a disturbance call. When Shannon asked about the blood on Brady’s clothing, he hit her in the head until she stopped moving. When he turned around, Howe was there. Since he had nothing to lose, he used a hammer to attack Howe and hit him until he stopped moving. Brady said he was surprised when Midgett appeared.
While describing how he and Frazer tried to climb the institution’s fences, Brady said he just wanted to die.
Although the video was clear, excessive background noise made it difficult to hear Brady and State Bureau of Investigation agent Paul Munson, who conducted the interview along with FBI agent Chris Hedges.
A little over 50 minutes into the video, Superior Court Judge Jerry Tillett called for a recess, saying something needed be done about the volume. The use of extra speakers, however, was of little if any help.
When the video finished, speaking from his notes taken during the interview, Munson answered several prosecution questions that clarified the information Brady gave during the interview two years ago.
Then Dr. Zachary O’Neill, who performed autopsies on Darden, Smith, Shannon and Howe, testified.
According to O’Neill, Darden died from her wounds, which included blunt force trauma above right eye, multiple injuries to the top and back of head consistent with a blow from a hammer and stab wound in right side of the back that went in 3 and 1/2 inches into the chest cavity and right lung.
The autopsy of Smith showed he received wounds to the head, face, neck and body with 42 impact injuries to the head and face, along with 64 stab wounds to the torso, arms and hands that injured his lungs, liver and spleen. There were also skull fractures consistent with hammer blows.
Because Shannon went to the hospital and succumbed to the injuries she received several days after her attack, some of her injuries show partial healing during the span between her injuries and death. However, according to Dr. O’Neill, her cause of death was from blunt force trauma to her scalp and face with skull fractures and aspiration pneumonia, a type of lung infection that is due to a relatively large amount of material from the stomach or mouth entering the lungs.
The fourth employee to die was Howe, who survived until Nov. 6, when he died from blunt force injuries the head and face. O’Neill said Howe had at least 13 healing injuries to the face in addition to traumatic injury around the eye along with skull fractures to the top and base of the head and extensive fractures to the face. O’Neill added that Howe underwent brain surgery to relieve excessive pressure from swelling and attributed his death to blunt force injury complications.
O’Neill had photographs supporting photographs from each autopsy.
At the end of the day’s evidence and testimony, Womble advised the state had finished its case. The defense, without cross examination of Munson or O’Neill, said there was no evidence from the defense.
Defense attorney Thomas Manning did, however, make a G.S. 15A-1227(a) motion for dismissal for insufficiency of evidence to sustain a conviction.
Judge Tillett overruled that motion, but did rule in favor of reducing one assault charge and dismissed inciting a riot.
The case is scheduled to continue Monday morning with closing arguments and jury instructions.