RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – Jurors in Wake County capital murder trial learned the defendant researched potential punishments for killing a pregnant woman in the hours after a deadly shooting.
Seaga Gillard, 30, is charged with the murders of 22-year-old April Lynn Holland and 28-year-old Dwayne Garvey. Investigators found the victims’ bodies on Dec. 2, 2016, at America’s Best Value Inn on Arrow Drive. Holland was about 12 weeks pregnant. She and Garvey had three other children.
During opening statements, Wake County Assistant District Attorney David Saacks told jurors about evidence found on Gillard’s cell phone.
“Right after this murder happened, the defendant’s phone was used to search a lot of various news outlets about this murder, looking for homicides in Raleigh,” Saacks said.
“When the news broke, (he read pages about) the story on the phone. When the victims were identified, searching about the victims. ‘Two men are wanted in this murder.’ Searching about the search for the two men. On this phone, all kinds of searches about this murder,” he said.
“And then at the very end, there are two very peculiar searches. “One is a search for ‘what can you get for a double homicide in North Carolina?’ And then after that, there’s a search about, and some research about, ‘what states have fetal homicide laws?'”
Saacks said investigators also found messages about a sex-for-hire transaction for $140.
The other participants in that text conversation were Holland and Garvey. Prosecutors said Holland turned to prostitution to make some money, and Garvey was her partner and protector. Attorneys said Holland posted advertisements on a “notorious” website.
“She found a customer, and unfortunately it was the last customer she would ever see. That customer turned out to be this defendant,” Saacks said as he pointed to Gillard.
“The big question is do (Holland and Garvey) matter? Do they matter? Because of who they are, who they were, what they were doing? Do they matter? All of you, all of you told us in jury selection that yes, a prostitute could be the victim of a crime,” he said.
“Even if you happen to disagree, or start to rethink that answer, how could anyone think that murder would be an appropriate and deserving consequence of what they were doing?”
Raleigh Police who responded to the initial 911 call testified that they found Holland naked in the motel room, shot twice. One officer said there were seven $20 bills on a table and an unused condom on the floor, with its wrapper discarded.
Prosecutors said Gillard shot and killed Holland less than 10 seconds after Xavier Brandon Hill shot Garvey seven times.
Surveillance cameras at the motel recorded both shootings. Saacks said Hill came to the motel with Gillard but went to a different area of the building while Gillard and Holland were alone in the room. Garvey went to a vending machine, which attorneys said was the routine while Holland was with a customer.
At some point, Garvey and Hill crossed paths. Saacks said there were text messages between Garvey and Holland about something being wrong. The video shows Garvey runs to the room and bang on the door. Then Hill comes around the corner with his gun drawn and fires seven shots which all strike Garvey.
“What kind of gets lost in some of that melee that’s going on between Hill and Dwayne Garvey, is what happened to April Holland with this defendant (Gillard),” Saacks said.
“Shortly after Hill is done firing all those seven shots, you see this defendant come back out of the door of 220 where he was with April, and as you can clearly see he looks and sees what’s going on, all of a sudden he faces back, puts up his hand, for a couple of moments, and then runs out with Mr. Hill down that side hallway back towards the front where the parking lot is,” the assistant district attorney said.
Gillard’s defense attorneys said he is on trial for a murder he did not commit. Edd Roberts said Hill killed Garvey, so Gillard should not be charged with that homicide.
“Both subjects in this case have been charged with both killings,” Roberts said.
“You have to not only weigh within your mind is Mr. Gillard guilty of the killing that the state is saying he’s responsible for (April Holland), but also is he guilty of the killing that they say Brandon Hill is responsible for (Dwayne Garvey), because there’s two counts of murder that you have to consider,” he said.
“When you see the evidence and the evidence comes out, these killings did not happen after some kind of discussion between the two people. There’s no ‘hey we’re going to do this when the things go bad.'”
Roberts said neither shooting was premeditated or planned.
When discussing the camera that shows the hallway outside Holland’s motel room, the defense did not name Gillard, but said instead that “somebody” came out of the room. Roberts said the video shows an arm raise while the hand and a gun are out of view. He acknowledged investigators found two shell casings. An autopsy confirmed Holland was shot twice.
Roberts said what happened between the man and Holland was likely in response to hearing the seven shots that killed Garvey.
“Think about the john that’s inside that room. Think about his mindset and what he’s processed. He doesn’t know who’s out there with a gun. He doesn’t know whether April Holland’s protector has a gun,” Roberts said.
“He’s likely at the door trying to frantically assess the situation. ‘Am I going to walk out there into gunfire?’ He likely has, that john, likely has his gun out.”
Testimony continued Tuesday morning in the trial. Jurors heard from five witnesses on Monday. One is a motel employee, two were other customers who stayed there the night of the shootings, and two are Raleigh officers who responded to the shots fired call.
Death penalty cases are uncommon in Wake County. District Attorney Lorrin Freeman’s office averages one a year. Death sentences are even rarer. The last time a Wake County jury backed capital punishment in a case was in 2007.
After a jury recommended a life sentence in a 2018 capital case, Freeman said she will continue to seek the death penalty in the worst of the worst cases.