Nathan Holden, a 32-year-old man accused of murdering his in-laws and attempting to kill his wife in Wendell in 2014, did the shootings and beatings he is accused of, his attorney acknowledged Tuesday.
But at the start of Holden’s trial in Wake County Superior Court, Elizabeth Hambouger, a member of his defense team, contended that the crimes were not pre-meditated and that he is not guilty of first-degree murder.
On April 9, 2014, Holden went to the home of Sylvester and Angelia Taylor and left a trail of death, bullets, injury and children in anguish, prosecutors contend.
His actions left a family in turmoil.
“Everyone in this room can agree that what happened is a tragedy,” Hambouger told the jury Tuesday morning. “But this case is not a whodunnit; this is not about what happened. Nate Holden is the one who is responsible for the deaths of Mr. and Mrs. Taylor. He did shoot his wife. What we want you to understand is how things got to this point within this particular family. This case is about why this happened, and it is about Nate Holden’s state of mind at the time it happened.”
Nathan Holden met Latonya Holden, the Taylors’ daughter, when he was 14 or 15 years old, his attorney said. The two had three children together and were married for a decade.
In late 2013, the marriage was coming apart, and Latonya Holden told her husband she wanted a divorce and moved in with her parents in Wendell. The separation was not easy for either of them, prosecutors and defense attorneys said at the start of the trial Tuesday.
The two had struggled over custody issues, and Latonya Holden was troubled by his verbal threats to kill her and harm their children.
With those threats as a base, Latonya Holden persuaded a Wake County judge to issue a domestic violence protective order in January 2014. In that application for protection, she let Wake County officials know her husband had a gun, but a Wake deputy failed to confiscate it when he went to Nathan Holden’s home to serve the order.
On April 9, 2014, the Holden children and their grandmother started out the day doing typical things. Angelia Taylor took her granddaughter to church. The Holdens’ son, a teenager at the time, went to school and returned to his dad’s home where he had been staying.
The two went to a Sonic burger restaurant, got some food and then headed toward the Taylors’ home.
Jason Waller, an assistant Wake County district attorney, told the jury during his opening statement that the boy went inside, where his two sisters were. His grandmother was in the front of the house with one of the girls. The boy’s mother was in a back bedroom.
Prosecutors contend that Holden shot Angelia Taylor first inside the house as one of the children watched. They say he turned his gun on Sylvester Taylor next, fatally wounding him as he came running toward the house from the yard.
While hearing pleas for help from her mother, and shots fired close by, Latonya Holden huddled her children, ages 8, 9 and 15, inside a closet and told them to stay there.
“Latonya did what any mother would do, she took her attention and focused it on her kids,” Waller told jurors. “She did everything she could to keep them safe. She put them in the closet, told them that she loved them, because she didn't know if she was ever going to see them again.”
What happened next led to the attempted murder charge that Nathan Holden also faces.
Holden went into the bedroom where his wife was, hit her on the head with the butt of his gun, Waller said, then fired a shot at her face. The bullet struck Latonya Holden’s tooth, an obstacle that likely prevented a fatal wound to the head, the prosecutor said.
“At that point, she literally gets down on her hands and knees and begs for her life,” Waller said. Holden fired two more shots, one that pierced his wife’s chest and another found later by investigators.
Waller said after the shooting, Nathan Holden went to the closet where his children were, opened it and handed a phone to his son.
The children called emergency dispatchers for help, and Nathan Holden fled with the gun to the field behind his house, where investigators later found him.
When law enforcement officers arrived at the Taylor home in Wendell, one of the girls cried out, “Help, help, my mommy is hurt,” an investigator testified.
The death penalty trial, being presided over by Wake County Superior Court Judge Paul Ridgeway, is expected to last for weeks.
“We are not here to justify these acts,” Hambouger told the jury in her opening statement. “What was done was completely out of character and done without deliberation whatsoever.”