Wake County

Wake prosecutors try again to convict man of 7-year-old homicide

James H. Courtney III has faced a Wake County jury before on accusations that he murdered James Carol DeBerry seven years ago on Halloween.

But in December 2010, after a Wake County jury was unable to reach a unanimous verdict, a judge declared a mistrial. Later in 2011, prosecutors decided not to retry the case and dismissed the charges.

Then in 2015, prosecutors brought charges against Courtney again in the same case, accusations that were at the heart of a trial last week in Wake County Superior Court.

Courtney is accused of fatally shooting DeBerry outside an apartment on Shadetree Lane, in which prosecutors contend was the result of a drug-deal dispute. Wake County Assistant District Attorney Boz Zellinger told the jury Monday during closing arguments that DeBerry sold “bad weed” to Courtney.

“You can dislike drug dealers and the selling of drugs,” Zellinger told the jury. “But ... Jamie DeBerry’s life matters.”

Since Halloween this year, when the second trial of Courtney opened, prosecutors brought forward witnesses and evidence to offer their narrative of what happened seven years ago outside the apartment where DeBerry, a father of two, lived with his girlfriend.

DeBerry’s body was found in a natural area just beyond the apartment complex parking lot.

His girlfriend was by his side as he slipped into unconsciousness and then death. While still conscious, prosecutors contend, DeBerry reportedly said that “Jar” and Jar’s “Durham friend” were responsible for shooting him.

“Jar,” according to testimony, is the nickname of David Eric Moses, a Raleigh man who lived in an apartment just above the one where DeBerry lived.

Witnesses told police they saw Courtney, Moses and a black man with dreadlocks before and after the shooting. The witnesses said they saw the man with dreadlocks “running to and from the shooting” and that person was “apparently ... the shooter,” according to a search warrant related to the case.

The witnesses also told investigators that a white pickup truck that matched a 2004 Chevrolet owned by Courtney’s wife was in the parking lot when DeBerry was shot.

Moses initially was charged with murder in the case. But prosecutors dismissed the charges against him about a week after he testified against Courtney in the first trial.

Police filed new charges against Courtney in June 2015 after new evidence surfaced.

Raleigh police filed search warrants in 2014 for the cellphones of Moses and Courtney, and a DNA swab from a man whose fingerprint was found on DeBerry’s vehicle. According to the warrants, the man had been interviewed previously and said he did not know DeBerry and was never in Raleigh. But he later admitted to knowing Courtney.

That man, Ivan McFarland, was arrested soon after Courtney in 2015 and charged with murder in the death of DeBerry.

Edd Roberts, a defense attorney, argued to the Wake County jury Monday that state prosecutors had not met the burder of proof beyond a reasonable doubt in their second trial of Courtney.

Roberts raised questions about several of the witnesses for the prosecution and pointed a finger at Moses,

“David Moses is a drug dealer,” Roberts said. “I mean, is there any doubt in your mind?”

Another witness, Roberts said, had been convicted of defrauding Medicaid of $4,000.

Roberts also challenged the police work, arguing that too many of the items that has been used for the first trial had not been available to the defense for further DNA testing. The items had been returned to DeBerry’s family and not preserved as evidence after the charges were dismissed.

Zellinger countered those arguments, saying the phone calls and DNA evidence helped link Courtney to the crime scene.

Courtney has tried twice unsuccessfully to have the first murder charge expunged from his record. He has other felonies on his record.

Courtney, a native of New York, served time in several maximum-security prisons in New York after he was convicted of robbery, the felony sale of drugs, felony assault, criminal possession of a loaded firearm and possession of stolen property, court records show.

Courtney was arrested and sentenced under a different name, “Hyrum Rodriguez,” and racial identity while in New York. State records in New York listed him as “Hispanic” or “Latino,” court records show.

In 1993, a Durham County judge sentenced Courtney to three years in prison after he was convicted of possession with intent to sell and deliver cocaine.

Anne Blythe: 919-836-4948, @AnneBlythe1