Third defendant guilty in Carter murder

Published 10:33 pm Friday, August 19, 2016

The third and final defendant in the September 2014 murder of downtown businessman Donald Carter Sr. was found guilty Friday.

A jury deliberated for about six hours before finding 35-year-old Leon Jerome Hayes guilty in the crime. After hearing additional evidence, including testimony from the Carter family and Hayes himself, they recommended a sentence of 59 years.

The trial was delayed Thursday afternoon when Hayes, who had been wearing a suit during the trial, stripped to his underwear in the holding cell and refused to get dressed again. He was brought into the courtroom, absent the jury, in blue boxer shorts for an admonishment by Judge Carl E. Eason Jr.

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The trial proceeded without a hitch on Friday, albeit with sheriff’s deputies guarding Hayes more closely than before. Hayes also wore leg shackles throughout the trial.

Carter was gunned down outside his furniture store early in the morning of Sept. 22, 2014. Prosecutors said Hayes and another man, Katron Shawndell Walker, attempted to rob Carter in an altercation set up by a woman, Naomi Nichelle Lambert, who had been with Carter and others that night. Carter took the group to Taco Bell for food and then back to his store on East Washington Street, where they talked and drank.

Walker and Hayes hid outside in the shrubs and ambushed Carter when the group emerged from the store just after 1 a.m.

Walker confessed to the crime during his interview with police and said he shot Carter when the businessman resisted the attack. But Walker also said Hayes was the one who got him involved in the scheme, and Hayes was the one who hid the gun under an abandoned house on St. James Avenue after the shooting.

During the weeklong trial, Hayes’ defense attorney, Jack Randall, questioned the credibility of prosecution witnesses and pointed out no DNA was found on a number of items left at the scene.

After the verdict, Randall asked the jury to consider giving Hayes the minimum sentences allowed by law, which would have equaled 50 years.

Hayes also took the stand to testify and said he knew Carter growing up.

“I would like them to know I’m sorry for their loss,” he said, asking Randall to step aside so he could see the Carter family. “It was never nobody’s plan to go out and hurt your brother that night. Who shot him, they done that on their own.”

Prosecutor Narendra Pleas, who worked the case along with Tom Shaia, described for the jury Hayes’ criminal record, which spans from juvenile court convictions of grand larceny — at the age of 13 — and breaking and entering, assault and destruction of property to adult convictions of unlawful wounding, domestic assault and battery, threatening to burn and conspiracy to rob.

The victim’s brother, David Carter, and two of his children, Beth Carter Brown and Donald Carter Jr., all testified about how the murder has affected their family.

“Some might say, ‘Well he didn’t have much longer to live,’ but life is precious,” David Carter said. “His life was precious to me. I encourage you to count my brother’s life as worthwhile.”

“If those men would have asked him for the money, he would have given it to them,” Carter continued. “They didn’t have to kill him.”

Brown spoke of how the murder affected her mother, who had a stroke about nine months after the crime.

“The murder of my father has a waterfall effect on my whole family,” she said. “It feels as if the murder of my father has robbed my mother of her quality of life.”

Donald Carter Jr. said he still briefly thinks it’s his father every time he sees a gray head of hair on East Washington Street.

“We still remember him every day,” he said. “He did a lot of good for a lot of people.”

Brown said the family has heard many stories about her father’s generosity since his death. They found canned goods in his trunk that he kept to give out to people in need. They learned he had given a single mother furniture when she needed to move. They heard of money he loaned or simply gave to people in need.

“He was so civic-minded, and he was all about promoting Suffolk and promoting kindness toward others that needed kindness,” Brown said.

The jury recommended 20 years for first-degree murder; 20 years for murder by mob; 10 years for attempted robbery; one year for conspiracy; three years for use of a firearm in attempted robbery; and five years for use of a firearm in murder.

Hayes will be formally sentenced Dec. 12. A bench trial on another charge of possessing a firearm while a convicted felon is set for Jan. 5.

Walker is serving 62 years for the crime, and Lambert is serving 22 years.