RALEIGH — Regynald Brown had three daughters when he was found almost three months ago inside a roll-out garbage cart, bludgeoned to death.
Jacquelyn Adams, the mother of his 5-year-old, had helped round up a search party the first week of December, after not hearing from the 37-year-old Wake County man for weeks.
On Wednesday, a group of teenage boys, all similar in age to Brown’s 13- and 15-year-old daughters, were in Wake County District Court facing criminal accusations related to the homicide.
Brown had been down on his luck, picking up construction work when he could. He had been living with friends and in a tent that he pitched near the Walnut Creek Trail leg of the Capital Area Greenway in Southeast Raleigh.
But he kept in touch with his youngest daughter and her mother, talking with them on the phone several times a week and stopping over for dinner at least once a week.
On Dec. 8, after weeks of no contact, a male friend found his decomposing body inside the city-issued garbage cart hidden inside a tunnel along the greenway trail.
Three 15-year-old boys and a 14-year-old boy are accused of murder in the case. Another 15-year-old has been accused of aiding and abetting after the homicide.
Because the boys are not yet 16, they are considered juveniles under North Carolina law. Their names are kept secret, a public and legal acknowledgement of their youth.
On Wednesday, Judge Robert Rader, Wake County’s chief district court judge, found that investigators and prosecutors had enough evidence to try one of the 15-year-old boys with first-degree murder and transferred his case to adult court.
The hearing on Wednesday revealed that two other teens have worked out deals with prosecutors in exchange for their testimony against the boys investigators contend were the ringleaders in the beating death.
The case of one of the teens will remain in juvenile court.
The other teen’s case will be transferred to adult court as part of an arrangement with prosecutors through which he eventually will face second-degree murder, instead of first-degree, which could yield a sentence of life in prison.
Through hours of testimony on Wednesday, details of what happened in late November or early December began to emerge.
The teens all lived near each other and often hung out together in the park, at someone’s home or along the greenway trails nearby.
The older boys affiliated with each other under the gang name BMS, or Big Money Swag, and laid out challenges for the younger ones “to earn stars” — a loose ranking system, or hierarchy grounded in robberies and attacks on the homeless in their midst.
Though the accused teens have provided a series of inconsistent stories since their detention in December, the overarching outline remains similar.
Sometime in late November or early December, one of the boys decided they would go as a group to the Walnut Trail, where some of Wake County’s homeless congregated, and rob them.
Brown, who got around town on a bicycle, was coming along the trail, according to testimony, and two of the boys hid behind a wooden bridge rail and others climbed high enough on another structure that they were not in plain view.
One of the boys, according to several of the stories, threw a rock that was at least the size of a baseball onto Brown’s head. They knocked him off his bike and then began beating him.
Two of the boys have been singled out as throwing more punches and kicking Brown in the head. They had done this on the same trail before, according to Assistant District Attorney Katie Pomeroy.
“It literally shocks the mind to imagine doing this for sport,” she said.
The teen who struck a deal with prosecutors so his case would remain in juvenile court testified Wednesday that he and another boy left in the middle of the attack, went home to his father’s house, got a snack, stayed there about five minutes and then went to the park where they "just talked about stuff."
Mike Klinkosum, a defense attorney representing one of the boys whose cases could be transferred to adult court, asked the witness on Wednesday:
“So you just saw a guy get jumped and beaten and you were just ‘talking about stuff’?” Klinkosum asked with incredulity.
“Yes,” the 14-year-old boy said.
The boys left Brown on the trail, none of them calling emergency dispatchers for help, according to testimony.
Then several of them returned several days later to hide his body.
Samuel Evans, a man who lives in the neighborhood near the accused, testified that he saw two boys rolling a city-issued trash cart down the street toward the greenway trail around the time that Brown had been reported missing.
The hearings Wednesday highlighted difficulties prosecutors could have in adult court with the many shifting stories the teens have told..
One of the teens who testified in the morning session described only one defendant as the main assailant, leaving questions about who the principal organizers of the attack were.
Further testimony was scheduled for Tuesday afternoon to give defense attorneys more time to go review new testimony as they argue that prosecutors do not have enough evidence to try their clients as adults.