Members of a Wake County jury were presented Tuesday with two very different versions of convicted killer Nathan Holden.
Prosecutors painted a picture of a man who, after shooting his in-laws to death and attempting to murder his wife, exchanged gunfire with deputies who eventually took him into custody in an open field behind his home in Wendell.
But Holden’s defense attorneys called on witnesses who talked about a quiet, earnest young man, who despite being raised in a home riddled with substance abuse and domestic violence, grew up to be a leader who tried to be a good dad, loved his children and was deeply hurt by the prospect of losing his family.
Tuesday marked the beginning of the sentencing phase for Holden, who the day before was found guilty of first-degree murder for the killings of his in-laws in Wendell in 2014. He also was found guilty of attempting to kill his wife, Latonya Holden, while the couple’s three children hid in a bedroom closet.
Nathan Holden will be put to death or he could spend the rest of his life in prison. His attorney, Elizabeth Hambouger, told Wake County Superior Court Judge Paul Ridgeway that the death penalty should not be under consideration because Holden had not planned in advance to kill his wife’s parents, Sylvester and Angelia Taylor, and to beat and shot her at the Taylor home.
The juror agreed on the question of premeditation, but found Holden guilty of first-degree murder anyway, because the crimes were committed during the course of another felony – the attempt to kill his wife.
Ridgeway denied Hambouger’s motion to remove the death penalty as a sentencing option.
Wake prosecutor Matt Lively told jurors
that sheriff’s deputies who arrived at the Taylor’s home the night of the shootings were told by the Holden children that their father had shot their grandparents. Nathan Holden had fled the home and the sheriff’s deputies radioed an alert for law enforcement authorities to be on the lookout for the gunman.
Lively said that while officers used a search warrant to collect evidence from the Taylor home, deputies with the sheriff’s special response team used a armored truck with a hydraulic battering ram to crash through the front door of Holden’s home on Holden Acres Lane. Lively and co-prosecutor Jason Waller called to the stand nearly a half-dozen deputies who testified that Holden had fled across an open field behind his home and into a stand of woods, where he fired multiple gunshots at the deputies who returned the gunfire.
After the gunfire, the deputies shone their flashlights in an area and spotted Holden lying prone on the ground, with a handgun nearby.
Sheriff’s Deputy Roy Woodlief took Holden into custody and loaded him onto a gurney and into an ambulance.
“He was just as quiet,” Woodlief told the jury. “We looked at one another and he said, ‘I’m not intimidated by you. Shoot me. If I had an AR-15 I’d shoot me.’ He was peering at me, casual-like.”
Defense attorney Jonathan Broun told the jury
that Holden was the son of teen parents. His mother had a “severe” substance abuse problem that began at 10 when she started drinking. She eventually became addicted to crack. Holder’s father regularly cheated on his mother and beat her so much that violence was a regular part of life, Broun said.
Broun said Holden was so upset by the beatings and his mother’s problems that he took her to get drug treatment.
“He tried to overcome his past,” Broun said. “He married his high school sweetheart and got his barber’s license.”
Delmonte Jefferson, executive director of the African American Tobacco Prevention Network in Atlanta, worked in the late 1990s with Wake County Human Services, where he started My Brother’s Keeper, an afterschool program for African American boys.
Nathan Holden participated in the program.
“Nate was quiet,” Jefferson told the jury. “At the same time, he was one of the leaders. The other young men looked up to him.”
Nathan Holden was not yet 15 when he was one of 16 boys in the program who traveled to Ghana, West Africa.
Jefferson described him as a “model participant” who helped raise money for the trip by getting involved in fundraisers such as car washes, church-sponsored bake sales and soliciting door-to-door donations.
“Nate went to Africa, and it was quite an experience for him,” Jefferson said. “What stands out, one midnight we had the boys on Cape Coast and they could see the old slave castles. Nate and the other boys, they were there crying, standing on the shores where their ancestors had come from.”
Jefferson told the jury that the man convicted of double murder was “not the Nate” he knew.
Holden had remained nearly void of any visible emotion during the proceedings, but he smiled when he saw Jefferson.
“I came up here to try and save his life,” Jefferson said during a court recess.