Goldsboro, N.C. — The family of a kidnapped Goldsboro teen found dead last month will have to wait to bury his remains after a judge ordered Thursday that the state medical examiner cannot yet release his body.
Phoebe Dee, an attorney for Jerome Jila Butts, 19, one of four men charged with murder in the death of Kennedy Fitzgerald McLaurin, filed motions this week asking Judge Arnold Jones to order the state preserve McLaurin's body until the defense is satisfied that no more forensic testing needs to be performed
It's unclear how long that will take.
Typically, the medical examiner's office turns over remains to family members once it has completed its examination of the body, but the issue centers on the question of whether human remains are evidence – something the North Carolina Court of Appeals is currently considering in a Durham murder case.
In that case, a judge dismissed a murder charge against Michael Dorman after the remains of his alleged victim were prematurely cremated.
Dorman's defense attorney argued that they never had the chance to conduct tests on the remains and that Dorman was deprived of his right to a fair trial.
State attorneys appealed the judge's decision, arguing that evidence is generated from remains and that a body, itself, is not evidence.
Arnold said Thursday that he will revisit his ruling after the final autopsy report is complete and DNA test results in the case are available. If necessary, he said, he will wait on the Appeals Court ruling in the Dorman case.
"We'll take it as it comes," Arnold said. "I don't want to put a time frame on it. This may be a new issue. I don't know at this point."
McLaurin's family was in court for the hearing. They declined to comment afterward.
Investigators have not released the cause or circumstances surrounding McLaurin's death but have said that the crime was neither random nor gang-related.
McLaurin was kidnapped Sept. 9 near his home, prompting state authorities to issue an Amber Alert. Police searched for nearly two weeks before finding his body Sept. 22 on a farm in Seven Springs, about a half-hour southeast of Goldsboro.
Butts, as well as Leonard Eugene Joyner, 21, and Kevin Edward Smith, 18, were arrested Sept. 21. A fourth suspect, Curtis Etheridge, 17, was arrested Sept. 22.
They are being held in the Wayne County jail without bond.