Crime

Court documents unsealed in search for Faith Hedgepeth’s killer

This note was written on a take-out fast-food bag found on the bed near the body of Faith Hedgepeth.
This note was written on a take-out fast-food bag found on the bed near the body of Faith Hedgepeth. CHAPEL HILL POLICE DEPARTMENT

Two days before the second anniversary of Faith Hedgepeth’s violent death, Durham County court officials unsealed documents in the search for her killer.

The documents reveal that investigators initially identified several men of interest in the case, including two former boyfriends of Hedgepeth’s roommate, Karena Rosario.

One of them, Eriq Takoy Jones IV, resented Hedgepeth’s influence and threatened to kill her if Rosario did not get back together with him, according to a report one of Hedgepeth’s friends provided investigators. Jones had been ordered to stay away from Rosario’s apartment after she sought a domestic violence protective order in July 2012.

Investigators found Hedgepeth’s body shortly after 11 a.m. Sept. 7, 2012, at the Hawthorne at the View apartment she shared with Rosario on Old Durham Road in Chapel Hill. Her body was hanging off the bed, face up, clad only in a black shirt that was pulled up over her head, according to a search warrant released Friday that provided more detailed information than officials previously have revealed.

On Sept. 6, 2012, according to the warrants, Jones had texted an acquaintance and also posted a message to someone on Twitter “asking them to forgive him for what he was about to do.”

Three days after Hedgepeth’s death, he changed the cover photo of his Facebook page with the following statement: “Dear Lord, Forgive me for all of my sins and the sins I may commit today. Protect me from the girls who don’t deserve me and the ones who wish me dead today.”

The next day, warrants show, officers searched Jones’ Jeep and apartment, seizing clothing, bedding and miscellaneous papers and “items.”

Blunt-force trauma

Hedgepeth’s head was bludgeoned so severely that medical examiners concluded blunt-force trauma was the cause of death.

The autopsy report, also unsealed Friday, detailed cuts and bruises on her arms and legs and blood under her fingernails.

It says a bottle that was normally kept in the kitchen was found in the bedroom with tissue fragments and DNA on it. Search warrants say a wine bottle and a Bacardi bottle were collected into evidence at the scene.

With blood pooled in the bedroom and splattered on the wall and closet door, investigators were able to collect DNA evidence.

A DNA profile was generated from semen collected in a sexual assault kit, and investigators believe the DNA belongs to the killer, Chapel Hill Police Chief Chris Blue said Thursday.

“Investigators have excellent evidence in this case, and we are making a public appeal for any information that will help us tie that evidence to Faith’s killer,” Blue said. “This is not a cold case. It has been and remains an active investigation.”

The chief highlighted details in the case with the hope of prompting someone, possibly even the killer, to come forward.

“If the killer is out there hearing this message,” Blue said, “know this: We will catch you.”

Text messages

The information released Friday shows a series of texts exchanged between Hedgepeth’s phone and the phone of Brandon Edwards on the day her body was found.

Edwards, according to a warrant, had also dated Rosario. They were “just” friends at the time but had previously had a physical relationship, according to information provided to police by Marisol Rangel, a close friend of Hedgepeth’s who was at the apartment when the body was discovered.

Edwards, according to police, spent the night of Sept. 5 on the couch in the apartment that Hedgepeth and Rosario shared on the Durham-Orange county border. He told police he left there on Sept. 6 at 11 a.m. and then had contact with Rosario and Hedgepeth at the Thrill nightclub on Rosemary street later that evening and early on Sept. 7.

At 3:40 a.m. Sept. 7, a text message was sent from Hedgepeth’s phone to Edwards’ phone.

“Hey b. Can you come over here please. Karena needs you more aha. You know. Please let her know you care.”

A second message went from Hedgepeth’s phone to Edwards at 3:43 a.m. “Than.”

A message popped into Hedgepeth’s phone at 4:16 p.m., according to an application for a warrant on Sept. 11 to search a white 1997 Honda Accord belonging to a Ronnie L. Edwards.

It is unclear whether Brandon Edwards and Ronnie Edwards are related. In a search of the Honda Accord, investigators took four swabs: two from a back seat cushion on the driver’s side and two more from the door frame on that same side.

Police not talking

Chapel Hill police and other court officials have declined to answer questions about the court documents.

For two years, they fought to keep the warrants and autopsy report sealed, contending their release would jeopardize the case.

It is unclear whom investigators continue to watch as “persons of interest.” There have been no arrests, but many interviews and efforts to collect DNA to compare with evidence from the crime scene.

Investigators tried to get DNA swabs from Reginald Leonard Jackson II, a Greensboro resident who had been exchanging texts with Hedgepeth before her death, according to warrants released Friday.

They also sought a swab from Jacob Beatley, a resident of West Longview Street in Chapel Hill in June 2013, where Rosario told investigators she went at 4:30 a.m. Sept. 7, hours before discovering the gruesome scene in her apartment. Rosario told investigators that a friend, Jordan McCrary, gave her a ride to the Longview Street home, where she stayed until midmorning.

Police questioned a man named David Bell seen leaving the Thrill with Hedgepeth, also according to warrants. He told investigators that he did not know her well, but had danced with her at the club after going there with a group of friends from Durham.

It was unclear on Friday whether the men ever provided police with DNA or whether investigators sought further details from them.

Another warrant, dated Oct. 18, 2012, was for Hedgepeth’s financial records with the State Employees Credit Union. Police hoped to find out how and where Hedgepeth had been spending money before her death, and if there was anything unusual going on, the warrant states.

Roughly a week later, investigators sought another search warrant, this time for two Lenovo laptop computers belonging to Rosario and Hedgepeth.

The warrants give a glimpse of the crime scene.

A white, fast-food bag was found on the bed with the unintelligible and mildly profane message – “I’M NOT STUPID BITCH” “JEALOUS.”

The documents released Friday also offered details about Hedgepeth’s roommate Rosario meeting officers at the door shortly after 11 a.m. in response to the 911 call. Chapel Hill investigators secured the crime scene and returned two days later to search the apartment, along with the white Nissan Altima registered to Hedegepeth’s mother in Warrenton.

According to a search warrant, investigators collected “swabbings,” undergarments and other clothing, bedding, an IBM laptop, paperwork, pens, notecards, bathroom items and a key from the crime scene. They returned the next day to collect additional clothing, the warrants state.

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