A woman who admitted to driving her boyfriend from Georgia to Garner so he could shoot and kill another man two years ago pleaded guilty in a Wake County courtroom Friday.
Ciara Jefferies of Savannah, Ga.,was initially charged with being an accessory to first-degree murder and being an accessory to an assault with a deadly weapon with the intent to kill. But prosecutors reduced the charges to aiding and abetting in exchange for her guilty plea and her testimony in her boyfriend’s trial last month.
Wake County Superior Court Judge Donald Stephens sentenced Jefferies to 15 to 30 months in prison and gave her credit for the 24 months she has spent in prison waiting for her trial. As she walked in the courtroom, handcuffed in a white and gray striped jail suit, she smiled at her 7-year-old daughter sitting in the front row with other members of her family.
Stephens said he held Jefferies in jail without the option of posting bail for her own protection, because she was a key witness to the prosecution’s case against her boyfriend, Ramon Black.
Black, also of Savannah, was convicted in Wake County on Aug. 7 of first-degree murder for shooting Kyevon Gales, 37, one evening in July 2013. Black was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. He has appealed.
Evidence presented to the jury suggested another man wired Black $200 around the time of the killing to rent a car to drive from Savannah to Garner. Black and the man, Marion Sharpe, kept in contact throughout the time Black and Jefferies were in Garner until the killing was carried out, according to phone records presented at the trial.
Prosecutors said Sharpe had been in an altercation with Gales in Jacksonville a couple of months earlier when Gales allegedly stabbed Sharpe in a nightclub.
Police initially had no suspects in Gales’ death. But after hundreds of hours of interviews, reviews of video surveillance, monitoring phone calls, search warrants, and trips to Jacksonville and Savannah, police arrested Black and Jefferies a month after the murder.
Mr. Sharpe put out a ‘contract’ to have Gales killed and associates of Sharpe were able to track Gales to Garner.
Email from Garner Police Chief Brandon Zuidema to Town Manager Hardin Watkins
Gales had recently moved to Garner with his wife and was a barber at Diamond Kutz Barbershop in the Forest Hills shopping center on Fifth Avenue. He was said to have been fleeing Jacksonville in fear of retribution from the stabbing, according to an affidavit filed by prosecutors in July.
Emails from Garner Police Chief Brandon Zuidema and court filings suggest Sharpe hired Black to kill Gales.
“Mr. Sharpe put out a ‘contract’ to have Gales killed and associates of Sharpe were able to track Gales to Garner,” Zuidema told town manager Hardin Watkins in an email message.
According to prosecutor Jimmy Wilson, Black made two trips to Garner from Savannah. On his first trip on July 25, 2013, he stayed at a hotel in the 40/42 area of Johnston County with Jefferies. They waited for Gales outside Diamond Kutz but could not find him.
Black and his girlfriend left and came back a few days later and stayed at a hotel in town.
Wilson said Black met up with someone in a white van and left Jefferies in a parking lot at the Food Lion on Fifth Avenue. He said Jefferies briefly went into the Food Lion for a drink.
He said Black asked Jefferies to identify Gales in the Food Lion, which she did. As Gales left walking to the Westchester Apartments across the street, Black followed him, Wilson said.
She’s 25 years old. She has a college education. She seems to be articulate. She seems to be bright. It would cause one to question how in the world she got involved in something like this.
Wake County Superior Court Judge Donald Stephens
Jefferies testified she saw her boyfriend walk in the direction of Gales in the parking lot of the apartments and then heard one shot. She said Black returned to the car and told her to drive back to Savannah. The Westchester Apartments is across the street from the police station.
In court Friday, Judge Stephens said he was “taken aback” when he learned of Jefferies’ story and background.
“She’s 25 years old. She has a college education. She seems to be articulate. She seems to be bright,” Stephens said. “It would cause one to question how in the world she got involved in something like this. And is generally not the type of person you would see sitting in the courtroom under these circumstances.”
The prosecution believed that it was possible Jefferies did not know her boyfriend was going to kill someone.
Zuidema wrote in an email to the town manager that it was the most-involved homicide case and investigation that he had seen in his career. Garner police continue to investigate the white van.
Sharpe was killed June 30. He was found at his home in Jacksonville with a gunshot wound, and investigators in Onslow County have ruled his death a homicide. It is unclear whether the two cases are connected.