RALEIGH — Jurors who took 23 hours to convict a 32-year-old man accused in a string of robberies, shootings and killings started deliberations Monday over whether he will be the first man sentenced to death in Wake County in nearly seven years.
Armond Devega was convicted Monday of one of two murder counts, attempted murder and six of eight robbery charges in a trial that started nearly eight weeks ago.
Devega was convicted of first-degree murder in the death of Stephanie Powell Anderson, a 39-year-old clerk at a Wilco-Hess gas station in North Raleigh who was shot to death on April 10, 2008, while opening the store.
The jury acquitted Devega of the Feb. 13, 2008, killing of Anthony Dwayne Scarborough.
Devega’s robbery convictions are in connection with a string of hold-ups at fast food restaurants and convenience stores.
After the verdicts, prosecutors and his defense team began presenting evidence for jurors to consider during deliberations over whether Devega should be sentenced to death.
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.
This year, juries across the state have returned three death sentences, one in February in Iredelll County, another in March in Forsyth County and the most recent in April in Johnston County.
In Wake County, the last death sentence was issued in July 2007, when Byron Lamar Waring was sent to death row for fatally stabbing of Lauren Redman.
Since 2006, when a series of lawsuits were filed challenging execution protocols and procedures, North Carolina has had a de facto moratorium on executions.
Nationally and locally, death penalty opponents have pointed to Oklahoma’s botched execution last month and the prolonged death of an Ohio inmate in January as evidence of “cruel and unusual punishment,” and those incidents have renewed pushes to repeal capital punishment.
Two years ago, a Wake County jury found Jason Williford guilty of the first-degree murder in the death of school board member Kathy Taft, but jurors couldn’t come to a unanimous decision if he deserved the death penalty.
If a jury cannot unanimously agree in such a situation, the judge imposes a life sentence.
In closing arguments last week, the defense argued that there was no physical evidence linking Devega to the killings – 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.
Prosecutors argued that evidence linked Devega to the string of crimes, saying the victims offered similar descriptions of their masked robber.
Family members and an ex-girlfriend also identified the Devega in surveillance footage taken at one of the crime scenes, 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.
Wake County Assistant District Attorney Matt Lively told jurors in his closing arguments: “His motive is purely for money.”
Anderson, the Wilco-Hess clerk, was shown pleading for her life on surveillance video taken from the Trawick Road store she intended to open about 5 a.m.
In her closing arguments last week, Wake County Assistant District Attorney Becky Holt said Anderson pleaded “Please Jesus” before she was shot.
But Devega showed no mercy, she said.
“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.
It was unclear Monday why the jury did not convict Devega in that case. They immediately went into the sentencing phase and could not elaborate on their closed-door deliberations.
Devega and Scarborough were incarcerated together in the Johnston County jail, and a grudge between the two followed them beyond the cells there.
Bullets fired in the Scarborough and Anderson shootings, and robberies at a Subway and a check cashing business, all matched the same weapon, according to prosecutors.
But Devega has a speech impediment, according to his attorneys, and victims at the robbery scenes failed to mention that when testifying.