Closing arguments presented in the first Wake County capital case in 2 years

ablythe@newsobserver.comMay 12, 2014 

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Armond Devega, a Raleigh man accused of killing two people in a string of robberies in 2008, is escorted into the courtroom Monday morning. In closing arguments, the defense argued that no physical evidence links Devega to the homicides.

CHRIS SEWARD — cseward@newsobserver.com Buy Photo

— Jurors who have spent the past seven weeks in a Wake County courtroom listening to the trial of a 32-year-old man accused in a string of robberies, shootings and killings are set to begin deliberations Tuesday in the death-penalty case.

Prosecutors and defense attorneys spent Monday stitching together testimony with the 777 pieces of evidence presented in the trial of Armond Devega.

Devega is charged with two counts of first-degree murder in connection with the separate deaths in 2008 of Anthony Dwayne Scarborough and Stephanie Powell Anderson.

Scarborough, who had been an acquaintance of Devega’s from the Johnston County jail, was fatally injured during a home invasion on Feb. 13, 2008, at Tartan Circle in Raleigh.

Powell, a clerk at a Wilco-Hess gas station in North Raleigh, was shot to death early on April 10, 2008, while opening the store but not the safe inside it.

Devega is also accused of attempted murder and eight robberies at fast-food restaurants and convenience stores in Raleigh.

In closing arguments Monday, the defense argued that no physical evidence links Devega to the homicides – no fingerprints, no DNA. In a series of arguments, the defense team contended that law enforcement officials rushed to judgment by linking a string of robberies through bullets found at the scene.

Law enforcement officers then linked the robbery evidence to Devega’s gun and used that as ammunition against him in the murder cases, the defense team said.

“There’s not a shred of evidence connecting Armond Devega to these crimes, not a shred,” said Jim Glover, one of the defendant’s attorneys.

Prosecutors argued otherwise, saying victims of the masked robber who demanded money from the convenience stores and restaurants offered similar descriptions.

Family members and an ex-girlfriend also identified the defendant in surveillance footage from the crime scenes that were released to the media before his arrest, but after the robbery spree, prosecutors said.

When the robberies started in January 2008, prosecutors said, Devega had lost money while gambling, and his bank account had dwindled to nothing.

Matt Lively, an assistant district attorney who helped prosecute the case, told jurors in closing arguments: “His motive is purely for money.”

Anderson, the 39-year-old Wilco-Hess clerk, was shown on surveillance video from the Trawick Road store she intended to open about 5 a.m. that April day, pleading for her life.

Becky Holt, the assistant Wake County district attorney, recounted Anderson’s words for the jury on Monday.

“ ‘Please Jesus,’ she begs,” Holt said.

Holt said the defendant showed no mercy.

“As she lies on the floor ... bleeding the last bit of life, he stands over her and says, ‘Where are the keys? Which key is it?’”

The killing of Scarborough, prosecutors contend, did not fit the pattern.

The men knew each other from being incarcerated together in the Johnston County jail, and a grudge between the two followed them beyond the cells there.

Prosecutors argued that Devega believed Scarborough was responsible for his being robbed of $7,000 during a poker game.

On Feb. 13, 2008, prosecutors argued, the defendant and three others pushed their way into the Tartan Circle apartment where Scarborough lived and demanded drugs and money. Prosecutors contend the intruders bound Scarborough with duct tape and wrapped a gag around him, then shot him twice with one blast to the head at point-blank range.

“I told you I wanted you to be skeptical of what we say. I’m talking about the lawyers,” Glover, a defense attorney, told the jury on Monday afternoon. “This is a long trial, a long case, and if you’re going to make any sense out of the evidence you need to focus on that evidence, not what the lawyers say.”

Glover questioned the contentions of prosecutors that Devega was a big loser at the poker table he often shared with Scarborough.

Part of the code of the game, Glover said, was that anybody who lost big during a game received “walking-away money” so he would not go home totally broke.

“So why are we talking about big gambling losses when there is no evidence, no motive,” Glover said.

Bullets fired in the Scarborough and Anderson shootings, and robberies at a Subway and a check-cashing business, all match the same weapon, according to prosecutors.

Philip Lane, another member of Devega’s defense team, argued that victims at robbery scenes failed to mention the speech impediment that distinguishes Devega.

If convicted, Devega could be the first defendant in Wake County in two years to face the possibility of capital punishment.

The trial comes at a time when questions have been raised nationally about the death penalty and execution methods. North Carolina had one death sentence in 2013 and none in 2012.

Blythe: 919-836-4948; Twitter: @AnneBlythe1

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