Reaves gets life for murder

A Wake County jury convicts him in the 2008 death of an NCCU student.

Staff writerOctober 10, 2009 

— Robert Lee Adams Reaves, a former pastor who called himself "the bishop," was found guilty Friday of the first-degree murder of an N.C. Central University student.

Latrese Curtis, the 21-year-old student, was found stabbed, bloodied and lifeless on the edge of Interstate 540 in January 2008.

Her family wept Friday after a Wake County jury returned the verdict.

Sherman Jones, the victim's father, said the two-week trial tried his emotions. As he sat in the courtroom, he relived the horrible day when he found out his 21-year-old daughter was dead. He could not eat or sleep. Now, he hopes, there will be some solace in a verdict.

"There's no more waiting, no more wondering," Jones told reporters outside the courtroom Friday. "Maybe now, we can go on with our lives. ... This man, he's a predator. ... He was tried for one murder, but he killed three or four of us. He killed our daughter, he killed me, my wife and he killed himself."

Judge Don Stephens sentenced Reaves to life in prison without parole.

Defense lawyers said they plan to appeal.

"I'm disappointed in the verdict," said George Kelly, a defense attorney who tried to plant a seed of doubt in jurors' minds. "But this case has more aspects to it than any other case I've tried. ... There is evidence in this case in which a jury could go either way."

Prosecutors contended that Reaves killed Curtis in a jealous rage. They argued that Reaves fatally stabbed Curtis after his housemate, Steve Randolph, a college student who was struggling financially, rebuffed his sexual advances.

Curtis, a newlywed, was having an extramarital affair with Randolph, a former N.C. Central University basketball player. Curtis and Randolph had a sexual liaison on Jan. 29, 2008, at the home shared by Randolph, Reaves and Reaves' sister.

Prosecutors argued that Reaves followed Curtis from his home that night, forced her car off the road and stabbed her dozens of times before leaving her body under the Rolesville exit sign on I-540.

Depicted as predator

Throughout the trial, prosecutors tried to portray Reaves as a predator who approached young men at shopping malls and tried to lure them into sexual encounters with him by offering them internships or housing at little or no rent.

On Friday, before sentencing, Assistant District Attorney Howard Cummings told the judge of other incidents the prosecutor's office had learned about but could not introduce during trial. Investigators recovered a wallet in Reaves' home that had been taken from a man that he had made sexual advances toward in an adult bookstore on Capital Boulevard. In South Carolina, Cummings said, Reaves had forced a young man to have sex with him at knifepoint, but the victim in that case did not want to testify.

Prosecutors said Reaves thought Curtis was an obstacle to a sexual relationship he hoped to spark with Randolph. They portrayed him as a man who secretly stalked Randolph and his close friends, placing threatening and ominous phone calls to them and going so far as to slash the tires on their cars.

'Wrong man' argument

The defense team, in closing arguments Wednesday, tried to persuade the jury that Wake investigators nabbed the wrong man -- that Randolph, not Reaves, had motive for the killing. Randolph did not want to worry about the possibility of an unwanted pregnancy with Curtis, defense attorneys said.

"He didn't want to lose his future," said Kelly, a defense lawyer, in his closing arguments.

Kelly also pointed out that Randolph had a knife collection that included a cane sword, but investigators never tested them for blood or DNA evidence. Throughout their closing arguments, Kelly and defense lawyer Margaret Lumsden tried to poke holes in the state's case by questioning whether investigators had used proper procedures and protocols to gather and test evidence.

In the jury room, jurors wrote out a timeline on large sheets of paper taped to the wall. They laid out details about phone calls, car and van sightings, and witness's whereabouts.

"You're talking about putting somebody away for the rest of their lives," said Reymond Lozares, a tool and dye maker from Knightdale who served on the jury.

About 11:30 a.m. Friday, the jury took its first vote. Reaves was guilty of first-degree murder, all agreed.

"When we were in that room, we were happy with our decision," Lozares said. "I know that when every single one of us left that room, we all could sleep at night."

anne.blythe@newsobserver.com or 919-932-8741

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