McDowell murder trial: Defendant connected to previous homicide

McDowell County Courthouse, located on South Main Street in Marion

DUSTIN CHANDLER/MCDOWELL NEWS

The murder trial of Jerry Ryan Echols, charged in the 2015 shooting death of Nebo man Christopher Wayne English, continued on Wednesday with testimony on the defendant’s arrest, a brief glimpse at his previous criminal conviction and the victim’s autopsy reports.

Taking the stand on Wednesday morning were the two officers – Detective Paul Alkire of the McDowell County Sheriff’s Office and former SBI Special Agent Van Williams – who located Echols after he was named a potential suspect on June 19, two days after English was shot near the intersection of Pinnacle Church Road and Pinnacle Heights Drive in Nebo.

According to Alkire, he and Williams were staking out a parking lot on Pinnacle Church Road when they spotted Echols driving in a black Saturn SUV, pulling out of a driveway on Wheeler Drive. The investigators followed the SUV as it approached Pinnacle Church Road.

“He turned onto NC 226 and ran through a stop sign, so Williams turned on his lights, and he sped up,” said Alkire.

Williams – now a detective for the Sheriff’s Office – confirmed that, saying that GPS and speedometer readings reached as high as 85 mph.

The SUV then turned onto Dysartsville Road, approaching close to the McDowell/Burke county line and finally came to a stop, where Echols stepped out of the vehicle with his hands up. Alkire and Williams searched the defendant and the vehicle. Among items seized included a loaded .380 semi-automatic pistol under the driver’s seat, a glass pipe and a duffle bag in the back seat containing articles of clothing, a handgun magazine with live rounds and a blue plastic container holding multiple marijuana cigarette butts, photos of which were taken by both men and presented to the jury.

Afterwards, McDowell Clerk of Superior Court Melissa Adams took the stand to present a court document indicating a prior conviction on Echols’ criminal record. According to the document, Echols was previously convicted in 2012 after pleading guilty to felony common law obstruction of justice. In that case, Echols and 35-year-old Michael Warlick of Old Fort had been charged in the 2010 Labor Day weekend death of 37-year-old Samuel Edward Effler.

Echols, who was facing one count of accessory after the fact of murder, was allowed to plead to the lesser offense. He was sentenced to 11 to 14 months in prison and was given credit for 727 days spent in pretrial confinement.

Defense attorney Sam Snead, representing Echols, called the pretrial confinement into question.

“Almost two years,” said Snead. “What was the sentence again?”

“11 months to 14 months,” replied Adams.

“So that’s more credit than there is a maximum sentence?”

“Yes, it is.”

Following the afternoon recess, Dr. Jerri McLemore, forensic pathologist based in Wake County, discussed her findings in English’s autopsy. McLemore, who performed the autopsy on June 18 at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center, showed numerous wounds and abrasions the victim suffered via photographs and front and back diagrams.

According to her autopsy report, English had suffered numerous gunshots – located between the front and back sides of the body, the base of his neck, near the shoulder blade and back left armpit – with both entrance and exit wounds as well as facial abrasions and scrapes on the left and right cheek and, more prominently and with more blunt force, on his forehead above the left eye. McLemore indicated that the injury on the forehead could have been consistent with the victim falling to the ground without the ability to brace himself.

Assistant District Attorney Kent Brown, representing the prosecution, asked McLemore about one of the listed gunshot that had nicked English’s spinal cord.

“Does the spinal cord have to be cut in two for us to see notable compromise in respiration and heartbeat and ability to control muscles?” asked Brown.

“No,” replied McLemore.

“Could the nick of the spinal cord that you’ve noted to this wound, was this sufficient to compromise respiration?”

“Most likely.”

The trial of Jerry Echols continues on Thursday, Feb. 28.

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