RALEIGH — Jurors convicted a Raleigh man of murder on Thursday in the first homicide case in Knightdale’s history.
Travis Sherman, 23, was found guilty of first-degree murder for the 2010 robbery of the Knightdale Domino’s and the bludgeoning death of its manager, 23-year-old Kenneth Ring. Dan Dolan, Sherman’s attorney, immediately told the judge he would appeal.
Ring’s father, Dan, sat in the front row and pumped his fist when the verdict was announced. Judge Paul Ridgeway then allowed Dan Ring to take the stand to address Sherman.
“My son didn’t get a trial,” Ring said, visibly trembling as he looked at Sherman. “You gave him the death penalty ... he didn’t deserve. And now you’re gonna pay with your ass.”
Sherman’s sentence will be decided at a later date. A life sentence is expected.
An intense fortnight
The verdict ended two weeks of trial that, at times, made the Wake County courtroom seem like a daytime reality television show – with frank testimony about drugs, alcohol and sex.
At the center of it all was the Knightdale police department’s handling of the town’s first homicide.
Sherman was accused of coordinating the robbery with Nico Bowers, his roommate and a Domino’s delivery man, who’s awaiting his own murder trial.
Prosecutors said Sherman snuck into the back door of the Knightdale Domino’s around midnight on Jan. 8, 2010, and struck Ring on the head twice with a baseball bat as Ring sat in a small office with his back to the door.
But investigators never found a murder weapon, an eyewitness or any forensic evidence linking Sherman to the crime.
The prosecution’s main piece of evidence came from an interrogation in September 2010 when Sherman admitted to being a “lookout” in the robbery. Defense attorneys contended Sherman’s admission was a lie, born from his fear of interrogators who intimidated him into the claim because they had botched the crime scene investigation.
Knightdale police found a tire iron in the Domino’s – which a forensic expert said could have been the murder weapon – but it remains missing because police “didn’t consider it evidence,” Knightdale Sgt. Tracy Solomon said.
Defense: A ‘shoddy’ probe
Dolan, Sherman’s attorney, called the Knightdale police investigation “shoddy.” The crime scene was contaminated, Dolan said, by a police officer who cut himself and bled on the chair Ring was sitting in, and another who created a “makeshift desk” within the taped-off area. Also, surveillance video of Sherman’s interrogation at the Knightdale police department is incomplete; audio and video footage sometimes goes dark for as long as a minute.
Dolan also pointed out that police initially suspected a third man, Christopher Thomas of Wilmington, of planning the robbery with Sherman and Bowers.
Sherman, in the 2010 interrogation, said he stood at the back door of the Domino’s as a lookout while Thomas ran in with a baseball bat. Police arrested Thomas in Ring’s murder, but the charges were later dropped. Two woman – Ashley Klinger and Meghann Ennis, who each mothered a child with Thomas – testified at Sherman’s trial that Thomas couldn’t have been involved in the robbery that night because he was with them in Bunn having sex.
Prosecutors relied on testimony from two witnesses who claimed that Sherman confessed to killing Ring.
Tracie Whitehouse, Bowers’ mother, said Sherman confessed to her the summer after the murder. Timothy Crandell said Sherman passed notes to him confessing to the crime while they were in prison together.
Defense attorneys discounted their claims because each was poised to gain personally from Sherman’s guilty verdict. Whitehouse, Dolan said, is “trying to protect her son (Bowers).” Also, she was granted immunity from aiding and abetting charges because she didn’t report Sherman to authorities after his alleged confession.
Crandell is merely “trying to get out” of prison, Dolan said. No surveillance video shows the inmates passing letters, and letters presented to jurors were never verified by witnesses in the prison.
But Dolan’s arguments failed to sway the jury.
After the guilty verdict was read, Sherman’s grandmother, Pat Brown of Wendell, wiped tears from her eyes as she stared at the carpet beneath her feet.
“My heart goes out to them,” Brown said after hugging Dan Ring. “I’m so, so sorry for what has happened.”
Meanwhile, on the front steps of the Wake County courthouse, Dan Ring lit a Winston cigarette and pondered the outcome of the jury’s three-hour deliberations.
“My son is in a jar on my dresser. Nothing’s gonna bring him back,” Ring said, flicking ash onto the cement while biting his lip.
“But now, the person responsible is behind bars, ... and I feel like there’s been legal justice.”