RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – Prosecutors told jurors Tuesday that the two best witnesses in a capital murder case are surveillance video and the defendant’s cell phone.
Closing arguments began Tuesday morning in the trial of Seaga Gillard. He faces two counts of first-degree murder for the December 2, 2016 shootings of April Lynn Holland and Dwayne Garvey.
The couple had three children together, and Holland was about 12 weeks pregnant according to a report from the Office of the Medical Examiner.
Surveillance video from the America’s Best Value Inn on Glenwood Avenue shows a man identified as Brandon Hill shoot Garvey seven times outside a motel room.
Seconds later, a man identified as Gillard exits the same motel room before turning around and firing two shots at April Holland, who was inside.
The jury deliberated from 2:15 p.m. until about 4:30 p.m. Tuesday and is expected to resume considering the case on Wednesday.
Defense attorneys Jonathan Broun and Edd Roberts did not acknowledge Gillard as the man who killed Holland.
“What we know is there was an agreement between a man and April Holland to have sex for money. An offer was made for $140. That’s on the text. That’s not disputed,” Broun said in the final argument heard by the jury.
“The phone that made calls and texts was at the America’s Best Value Inn. A man approaches the door, he knocks on the door, the door is opened, presumably by April Holland, and the man goes inside.”
Multiple witnesses identified the man as Gillard, and jurors saw video from several cameras which show two men at the motel.
Assistant District Kathryn Pomeroy presented evidence that GPS tracking on Gillard’s phone shows him arrive at the motel right before the shooting and leave immediately afterward. Pomeroy also reviewed a timeline of texts and Google searches on the phone which lines up with the homicides.
Phone records reveal searches for information about shootings in Raleigh, with visits to local media websites for stories about the victims and a report that police were looking for two suspects.
Prosecutors said Gillard researched penalties for double homicide, while the defense argued that a visit to a website with information about the punishment for “fetal homicide” was clicked through a link, rather than the result of a direct search with those key terms.
The defense said that Gillard cannot be found guilty of the murder of Dwayne Garvey, as video shows Hill shoot Garvey seven times. Gillard’s attorneys also said that the shooting of Holland does not qualify as first-degree murder because of a requirement for premeditation and deliberation.
“One thing is certain, which is it’s not a deliberate killing. It’s not a deliberate act,” Roberts said.
“In less than 10 seconds, nine shots are fired from two guns, and two people are lying dead. Ten seconds. At the end of the day, it was chaotic, it was random, and it was tragic. But it was not first-degree murder.”
Roberts’s co-counsel Jonathan Broun said the firing of two shots that killed April Holland was tragic and senseless, but he said it was reaction without reflection. Broun said the shooting was the result of impulse and not deliberation.
Assistant District Attorney Pomeroy said Gillard may not have gone to the motel with intentions of killing anyone, but he was prepared to do so if necessary.
She said Gillard and Hill had a pattern of behavior to attack vulnerable women and to carry guns in case something went wrong and they needed to make sure they left no witnesses.
Pomeroy said Gillard heard Hill and Garvey yelling in the hall. She said Gillard heard shots, and rather than seeking cover from gunfire, he joined his armed accomplice in the hall to run away.
“He chose to turn back around. He chose to raise his gun. He chose to aim his gun at April. He is making choices. He is making decisions. That is premeditation,” she said.
“He chose to pull the trigger. He chose to re-aim at April. He chose to pull the trigger again. Those choices are clear evidence of. You don’t shoot somebody two times and it not be premeditation and deliberation.”
Two women testified last week that Gillard and Hill raped and robbed them in incidents prior to the December 2016 shooting deaths. Both victims said they advertised sexual services online and agreed to meet their clients at cheap motels. The victims each said they expected one man to show up, but two men arrived and both were armed.
The two women identified Gillard by his voice and tattoos. One said he and Hill took turns raping her for two-and-a-half hours. Both women were restrained using the cord of the motel room’s phone, as well as bindings fashioned from the linens. Officers found the victims’ IDs and other personal cards in a bag stored at Brandon Hill’s home, which also had stolen Durham Police Department uniforms and weapons inside.
Prosecutors claim Gillard and Hill planned to commit the same robbery and sexual assault against Holland as they did against the two other women, but Garvey was there to try to protect her.
“Contact a woman advertising for prostitution. Who do you want to go after? You want to go after the vulnerable. Tell her it will only be one person, and then two show up,” Pomeroy said.
“Walk in and both of you have guns. Why do you have guns? In case something goes south,” she said.
“April stood no chance against them. They go in, they commit robberies, they sexually assault them, and they steal their belongings. They also steal their identifications. I don’t know if it’s trophies or what, or if it’s to terrorize them and tell them ‘we know where you live.'”
Pomeroy said no one died in the previous cases because no one interrupted Gillard and Hill. She said Garvey noticed something awry when he saw Hill in the motel’s hallway, and he intervened before Gillard could rape and rob Holland.
The defense told jurors that even if they believe the testimony of the other two women who said they were attacked by Gillard and Hill, the jurors cannot conclude the suspects intended to do the same to April Holland.
“It does not automatically mean that the next time somebody goes and sees a prostitute, that they would have the exact same plan. What happened in October of 2016 does not dictate what happened in December 2016,” defense attorney Jonathan Broun said.
“It does not automatically have the same plan beforehand at all. The only way you can even begin to think that there was a plan for a robbery, a plan for a rape, would be to assume that people always act exactly the same, and human nature tells us that is simply not the same case.”
The defense attorneys said the prosecution has failed to show premeditation and deliberation for the murder of April Holland, and that Brandon Hill is responsible for the murder of Dwayne Garvey. The defense said nothing was taken from the motel room, not even the $140 in cash paid for the prostitution transaction, so there was not a robbery. Gillard’s attorneys also said the only violence committed against Holland was the two gunshots, so there was no evidence of an assault prior to the shooting.
Shortly after 1:30 p.m. Tuesday, Judge Paul Ridgeway began giving jurors instructions about the law and what they must determine in order to reach a verdict.