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Murdered, pregnant prostitute ‘matters,’ prosecutor says as death penalty trial begins

Trial in Raleigh death penalty case begins Monday

The death penalty trial of Seaga Gillard, accused of fatally shooting a pregnant woman inside a Raleigh hotel room in December of 2016, began on Monday, Feb. 11, 2019 at the Wake County Justice Center.
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The death penalty trial of Seaga Gillard, accused of fatally shooting a pregnant woman inside a Raleigh hotel room in December of 2016, began on Monday, Feb. 11, 2019 at the Wake County Justice Center.

The case of a prostitute shot dead in the door of her Raleigh hotel room opened Monday with prosecutors insisting that she matters as a victim despite her criminal profession.

April Lynn Holland was roughly 12 weeks pregnant when she was shot in the chest and head at America’s Best Value Inn, where her boyfriend and father of their children Dwayne Garvey was also slain in December 2016.

The state is seeking the death penalty against Seaga Gillard, 31, whom prosecutors accused of seeking out Holland as a customer paying $140 and then shooting her after an accomplice shot Garvey in the hallway.

Read the story from Day 2 of the trial: https://bit.ly/2DwCrbN

“Do they matter?” asked Wake County Assistant District Attorney David Saacks. “Do Dwayne and April matter? Will they be offered the same consideration, will they be offered the same justice that any one of us would expect? ... We are confident that they will, and that they do.”

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April Lynn Holland and Dwayne Garvey, who were shot to death on the second floor of the America’s Best Value Inn at 3921 Arrow Drive, off Blue Ridge Road near the Crabtree Valley Mall, before dawn on Dec. 2, 2016. The next day, police charged Seaga Edward Gillard, 28, and Brandon Xavier Hill, 29, with first-degree murder in the double homicide. Courtesy of the Garvey family

The case highlights the underworld of prostitution but also the increasing rarity of the death penalty in North Carolina. The state has not executed an inmate since 2006, and more than two years have passed since a jury last imposed death as punishment.

A recent poll conducted by Public Policy Polling showed 51 percent said North Carolina should or probably should replace the death penalty with life in prison without possibility of parole. Of those polled, 70 percent said they believe it is either very or somewhat likely that innocent people have likely been executed.

But out of 100 counties statewide, Wake is the only one to seek death sentences in each of the past three years, according to the Center for Death Penalty Litigation. Since 2016, Wake has held a quarter of the 12 capital trials across the state.

Wake County District Attorney Lorrin Freeman said last month that her office seeks the death penalty in fewer than 5 percent of all homicide cases, reserving it for “the most egregious.”

Much of Gillard’s trial will hinge on video footage. In his opening statements to the jury Monday, Saacks described the Wake Forest man arriving at the hotel near Crabtree Valley Mall with Brandon Hill, also known as “B.”

Holland was to have a customer in the room just before 5 a.m., and when two men arrived, Garvey texted her and said, “I saw two dudes,” and later, “You OK?”

The couple had several children together, but Saacks said they were not living with them and not at the hotel the night of the shooting. Holland texted Garvey, “It’s OK,” and to wait by the hotel vending machines.

Video footage then shows Garvey running outside the hall and banging on room 220, Holland’s room, in an agitated state, Saacks said. Hill then arrives, also agitated and carrying a gun to confront Garvey, who backed away with his hands up.

Seven shots were fired, Saacks said, and Garvey stumbled away toward the lobby, where he collapsed and died. Footage then shows Gillard emerging from the room with Holland, putting up his hand and then running out to the parking lot with Hill.

“You’re not going to wonder what happened,” he said. “That’s for you and all the world to see.”

Raleigh police officers testified they found Holland in her room, naked except for her socks. They discovered seven $20 bills and an unwrapped condom inside the room with her.

Police circulated pictures from the surveillance footage and quickly got a call identifying Gillard at home in Wake Forest. They found messages on both his and Holland’s phones discussing terms for their “business encounter,” Saacks said. He had also done a Google search for the penalty for double homicide and fetal homicide.

Hill later eluded police at the hotel where he worked, then rode as the passenger in a car chase into Durham with speeds topping 100 mph, Saacks said. Hill jumped and ran from the car after it ran over “spike sticks” to puncture the tires. He was soon arrested in Florida and charged with murder.

Raleigh attorney Edd Roberts, one of two lawyers representing Gillard, cautioned jurors against drawing quick conclusions from the hotel video. He described events at the hotel as “chaos” that started in the hallway and “evoked more chaos” inside Holland’s room.

“It’s not a planned, premeditated killing,” he said.

Testimony continues Tuesday.

Josh Shaffer covers Wake County and federal courts. He has been a reporter for The News & Observer since 2004 and previously wrote a column about unusual people and places.

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