RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – A Wake County jury issued the first death sentence in more than a decade to a man convicted of killing a couple at a Raleigh motel in 2016.
Jurors deliberated for a little longer than three hours before sentencing Seaga Gillard to death row. The jury convicted him Feb. 20 of the December 2016 murders of April Holland and Dwayne Garvey, who had three children together. Holland was pregnant with the couple’s fourth child.
The previous nine people convicted of capital offenses in Wake County received sentences of life imprisonment.
“We only seek the maximum punishment, death sentence, in the most atrocious and heinous cases. We seek the death penalty in less than 5 percent of homicide cases here in Wake County,” district attorney Lorrin Freeman said after the verdict.
“The jury has spoken for the community. This is a case in which, in addition to two people being brutally taken from their families, there were multiple sexual assault victims, and this defendant really had left a path of pillage and destruction.”
As part of the state’s case, prosecutors proved Gillard raped and robbed several prostitutes in the months and weeks before the murders. Evidence from the night of the shootings showed Gillard contacted Holland to hire her for sex work. Garvey intervened before the interaction began.
He noticed Gillard’s accomplice, who has yet to go to trial, and ran to warn Holland. 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, Gillard exited the same motel room before turning around and firing two shots at Holland, who was inside.
“For two years, I just wanted to know why. Why did you have to take them? After this trial, I know we will never get that answer,” Holland’s younger sister Angel said.
“You have no remorse, and I know you don’t care about what you did. I hate you for that.”
Holland and Garvey’s mother gave victim impact statements in between the jury’s sentence recommendation and Judge Paul Ridgeway’s imposition of the sentence. Both held up pictures of their loved ones and told Gillard and the gallery about who the victims were.
Jacqueline Garvey started her statement with the same words Assistant District Attorney David Saacks used to begin the trial three weeks earlier.
“The question that was asked was, ‘Do their lives matter?’ Obviously, they didn’t matter to you,” Garvey said to Gillard.
“Their lives meant nothing to you on Dec. 2, when you chose to take their lives. Then, of course, their deaths became of concern only because you were thinking about your life.”
In the hours after the shootings, Gillard searched the Internet to learn about the punishments for double homicide and fetal homicide. Prosecutors speculated Gillard learned of Holland’s pregnancy through pleas to spare her and her baby’s lives.
Jacqueline Garvey said her son and daughter were beginning to get out of trouble, seeking addiction treatment and looking for work away from the sex industry.
“They would have achieved their goals if you hadn’t came along and took their lives,” Garvey said.
“You unjustly changed and hurt people’s lives forever, especially his children, who will grow up without him and their mother in their lives. You were asking to live, to see and talk to your child, your mother, and your family members,” she said.
“Did you not know that they wanted to live also? But you came evilly thinking only of yourself, your needs, your wants.”
She went on to say that she will find peace through this conviction and sentencing:
You took my son Dwayne and April’s life, not giving them a chance to finish changing their life, to become the parents that they wanted to be. I hate with all my heart that they died in such a manner, but not in vain, because your raping and robbing was revealed through their deaths. So I hope that the four-plus victims that were not able to be found, or were afraid to show up, that they can find some type of peace and justice, knowing that you are no longer on the streets. Because God knows I will. God knows I will.
The Durham-based Center for Death Penalty Litigation advocates for abolishing capital punishment. Executive director Gretchen Engel provided the following statement to CBS 17:
Today’s verdict in Wake County does not reflect the views of the majority of citizens in North Carolina. All it shows is that, if you try ten death penalty cases in a row and exclude from the jury all the people who oppose the death penalty, you can find a jury that will sentence a person to death despite the death penalty’s documented unfairness.
By law, juries in capital trials include only people who support the death penalty, which polls tell us are now a minority in North Carolina. However, even with juries stacked in favor of the death penalty, only two of the past seventeen capital trials in North Carolina have ended with death sentences. In Wake County the ratio is even lower. This is the only death verdict of the past ten capital trials.
Seaga Gillard committed a serious crime for which he should be punished. But was he the worst of the worst? Wake County jurors have rejected the death penalty in cases of rape and murder, including rape and murder of a child. Wake County jurors have refused to impose the death penalty in other double homicide cases and even in a case in which the defendant was convicted of murdering five people. All today’s verdict shows is what we already knew: That the death penalty is imposed arbitrarily, and disproportionately on black men.
Since taking over as Wake district attorney, Lorrin Freeman has pursued the death penalty more than any other prosecutor in North Carolina, costing taxpayers millions of dollars. That is a poor investment, even in this case. Executions have been on hold since 2006 and most death row prisoners in North Carolina have been awaiting execution for more than 20 years. Gillard will now join them, awaiting an execution that is unlikely to ever be carried out.