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Prostitute killed in Raleigh hotel was molested as a child, her family says in court

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.

April Holland had been working as a prostitute for years before she was shot to death in a Raleigh hotel room in 2016, a downward spiral that began with her sexual assault at age 7 or 8, her sister testified Tuesday.

The death penalty case continued Tuesday against Seaga Gillard, the 31-year-old man accused of murdering Holland, 22, and her boyfriend Dwayne Garvey, 28. Gillard had been a customer on the night of the couple’s slaying at America’s Best Value Inn, according to testimony, charged in their deaths along with Brandon Hill, aka “B.”

The case took an emotional turn as Angel Holland tearfully described her older sister’s descent into sex work, saying that the abuse as a child changed her and led to her dating much older men.

This testimony drew objections from Gillard’s defense lawyers, who called it irrelevant to their client’s guilt or innocence and potentially prejudicial. But Superior Court Judge Paul Ridgeway overruled the objections, calling it important that the jury understand the context that placed Holland in hotel room 202.

After the younger Holland spoke, Garvey’s mother Jacqueline took the stand, saying that she cautioned her younger son against a relationship with a prostitute. Holland had earlier testified Tuesday that her sister had been working in prostitution before she met Garvey in roughly 2011, and that both he and her family knew about it.

“Yes, I was very upset,” said Garvey, the victim’s mother. “But at the time he didn’t think there was very much in that. He was just protecting.”

She said that Holland and Garvey got closer, fell in love and had three children, now ages 5, 4 and 3. Holland was pregnant with a fourth child at the time of her death.

The children were in custody of the Department of Social Services before Jacqueline Garvey adopted the oldest two. Holland and Dwayne Garvey were not allowed to contact them, Garvey’s mother said.

“We’d text,” she said. “I’d send pictures.”

Gillard and Hill are accused of shooting the couple in 2016 after Holland posted classified ads advertising herself as a prostitute. Prosecutors say Hill shot Garvey multiple times in the hotel hallway before Gillard emerged from the room, captured on the hotel’s surveillance camera. Raleigh police testified they found Holland naked inside the hotel room door, lying in a pool of blood.

Before jurors saw photographs from the crime scene Tuesday, they saw a picture of Holland and Garvey in a portrait with one of their babies.

Garvey’s family has previously described Holland as “the love of his life.”

They met in 2011 while living at the Pines of Ashton apartments near WakeMed in Raleigh. Dwight Garvey told The N&O in 2016 the couple’s families did not initially accept their romance because it was interracial.

“He was defying everybody for her, and she was defying everyone for him,” said sister-in-law Ravien at the time.

The state has not executed anyone since 2006.

Testimony is expected to last several weeks.

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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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