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Ex-pastor's defense casts doubt on state's case for murder

Posted October 7, 2009

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— A defense attorney for Robert Reaves tried to cast doubt on the state's case Wednesday by saying evidence suggested the former pastor's basketball-player roommate is a better candidate for having stabbed Latrese Curtis to death.

There was no blood in Reaves' car and investigators found a knife in the back of his car nine months after Curtis died that was never tested, attorney George Kelly told jurors during closing arguments.

Robert Reaves Ex-pastor's fate in hands of jury

Reaves' roommate, Steven Randolph, also had a knife collection and would have been more capable of holding back a woman fighting for her life than his client, Kelly said. Reaves is physically handicapped, they said, with a bad left hand.

Randolph is bigger and stronger, they suggested.

"She knows the end is coming. She's fighting. She's alive," he said. "Who's the better candidate – a basketball player, an NBA hopeful, or Robert Reaves, with a left hand and arm useless?"

Prosecutors have argued, however, that Reaves killed the 21-year-old North Carolina Central University student in a jealous rage because she was an obstacle to Reaves' sexual advances toward Randolph, with whom Curtis had been having sex.

Motorists found Curtis' body along eastbound Interstate 540 in Raleigh near the Louisburg Road exit on the morning of Jan. 30. She had been stabbed nearly 40 times in the head, neck, chest and stomach.

"The motive in this case was not a rebuffed sexual advance at all. (Reaves) approached Randolph. Randolph refused. (Reaves) moved on," Kelly said. "It was not a motive to kill. It was not a relationship. There was not an emotional bond whatsoever."

Prosecutors argued that Reaves' DNA couldn't be excluded from evidence taken from Curtis' steering wheel, but defense attorneys posed the question Wednesday of whether that could have been transferred from Reaves' home through Curtis. She had been at the home, visiting Randolph, on the night of Jan. 29.

A DNA sample taken from under Curtis' fingernails did not match Reaves, his other attorney, Margaret Lunden, said.

"That's undisputable. She scratched and broke her nails on somebody, but it was not Mr. Reaves," Lunden said. "There is simply not enough evidence to link Mr. Reaves to this crime scene. Scientific evidence weighs against it."

Prosecutors are not seeking the death penalty in this case, meaning that Reaves would face life in prison if he is found guilty of first-degree murder. Jurors also have the option to convict Reaves of second-degree murder.

Other defense and prosecution arguments centered on the timing of phone calls and home alarm records that pinpointed where Reaves might have been at the times before and after Curtis' death.

Part of the state's case was based on a state trooper's testimony that he saw Reaves' car at 1:36 a.m. on Jan. 30, around the same time that defense attorneys said Randolph told investigators that Reaves' car was at home. Reaves had told investigators no one else used the car.

Defense attorneys argued it was impossible for their client to have committed the crime, but they never explained how Reaves' car might have gotten on I-540 if Reaves was home at the time.

Another argument: a possible murder weapon found in Reaves' car nine months after an initial search. Prosecutors never connected the instrument to the wounds on Curtis' body, but a state pathologist testified it would have been possible for the knife to have inflicted the wounds.

Defense attorneys, however, said it was too small and implied that it was planted.

"There's just as much evidence in this case that it came to be in the car later than it was there already," Kelly said.

But Cummings scoffed at that argument, calling it nothing more than speculation. It was his job, he said, to present the facts and to let the jury decide.

"I’m not going to tell you this is the murder weapon. What I'm going to try to convince you was that it was found sometime later," he told jurors while holding the knife. "I'm sorry. I don't know why it was found later. Here it is. You can look at it. You can decide what that is."

38 Comments

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  • JustOneGodLessThanU Oct 8, 2009

    "[the defense] never explained how Reaves' car might have gotten on I-540 if Reaves was home at the time."

    You're done, Pastor.

    Start begging for mercy. LOL

  • jglyn43 Oct 8, 2009

    After hearing both sides I'll now say I do have reasonable doubt. There is something that's not right here.

    The boyfriend does seem credible on the stand but he was screwing around with a married woman as well as alot of other girls so honesty is not that high on his list.Plus the testimony he gave regarding what the pastor wanted to do to him. But after refusing his advances he measures his manhood in front of the pastor and allows the pastor to touch him to make sure he did not have anything. AM I OR ANYONE WITH GOOD COMMON SINCE SUPPOSE TO BELIEVE THIS NONSENSE THAT NOTHING NEVER HAPPEND BETWEEN THE TWO OF THEM? Give me a break! I find it very hard to belive that this pastor if he is guilty would flip out and go kill this woman over a man he has not had a sexual relationship with previously.

    Again not saying he's innocent but I could not convict this guy because I have too much doubt.

  • itsmyownopinion Oct 7, 2009

    It's my understanding that if someone is expected and they don't arrive, you can call the Highway Patrol and report it as
    "an overdue motorist" which is not the same as filing a missing person report. I don't know why the husband would wait to report if she called and told him she was on her way home. I don't have a problem with him going out looking for her, but he could have made the call first. He must have been suspicious of something else.

  • Pisano Oct 7, 2009

    @didisaythat - Correction, I should have said regardless of the decision, the SO did a poor job. The reason I feel this way is from watching the testimony of the lead investigator. He was clueless and even forgot his notes! How do you as a lead investigator forget your notes for a murder trial, this is inexcusable. I can only imagine what evidence they might have missed or were not allow to introduce into evidence due to incompetence.

    I think the prosecution did a good job of showing disproving Reeves alibi with his own sisters testimony, showing he was capable of committing the crime, had motive and could place him at the scene. The defenses arguments of the arm injury without proof of the real extent of it, trying to shift blame while never confirming his alibi or disproving the evidence other than to say "wasn't me" shows they have nothing. An innocent man should easily be able to address these things.

  • Professor Oct 7, 2009

    HOW MANY CHURCHES MEMBERS WILL BE WRITING HIM WHILE HE IS IN PRISON? ONCE HE IS THERE, THE MEMBERS WILL FORGET HIM AND NO ONE WRITES. SAD.

  • Professor Oct 7, 2009

    WON'T BE LONG, HE WILL BE WEARING THE ORANGE JUMP-SUIT. HE WILL FINE IN IT. LOL LOL THE GUILT IS WRITTEN ALL OVER HIS FACE. IF HE IS FOUND NOT GUILTY, THE FAMILY SHOULD GO AFTER HIM WITH A CIVIL LAWSUIT.

  • Professor Oct 7, 2009

    STOP PROTECTING AND STANDING UP FOR THIS MURDERER. HE IS GUILTY!

  • Professor Oct 7, 2009

    THIS SO-CALLED MINISTER LIKE THE WOMEN AS WELL AS MEN. CHURCHES DO NOT WANT THAT. I CAN ASSURE YOU. HE IS GUILTY!!

  • Professor Oct 7, 2009

    GUILTY GUILTY GUILTY

  • didisaythat Oct 7, 2009

    Pisano, why is it if he is found "not guilty"....remember they do not say they find him innocent...that it is because the SO did a lousy job of investigating?? There are several different intitiies involved in the investigation. You can only take the facts that are able to be discovered and give the best case as to why the person is guilty. Then hope that 1 out of 12 people do not get fooled by misdirection by the defense.

    Just whay I understand from seeing some of the trial on WRAL. The pastor appeared to be controlling of the roomate. He would have motive to kill the girlfriend. His vehicle is at the scene. He, as far as I understand, had "wounds" on his body. What motive would the roomate have? I can speculate, but there is no stated motive for him. He has a decent alibi and the defendant does not. Another said it best when they mentioned the laim arm...why not have a doctor testify about that. These FACTS add up to guilt.

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