WRAL Investigates

Jury selected in wrongful-death suit against Angier pastor

Posted December 4, 2018 12:57 p.m. EST
Updated December 4, 2018 6:09 p.m. EST

— It took almost five hours Tuesday for a Harnett County court to seat a jury in the wrongful-death lawsuit against a pastor who shot and killed his son-in-law at his Angier home in 2013.

Pat Chisenhall, pastor of the Abundant Life Worship Center in Angier, told authorities he shot Christian Griggs after his son-in-law threatened him and his daughter and attempted to break into his home through a window.

Griggs' parents, who filed the suit against Chisenhall, dispute those claims. They say Griggs was at the home to pick up his then-4-year-old daughter from his estranged wife.

Griggs, an Army veteran, was shot six times – once in the stomach, once in the shoulder and four times in the back.

The Griggs family has asserted in court filings that the investigation into their son's death, conducted by the Harnett County Sheriff's Office, was flawed, and they're pushing for an external investigation.

Harnett County District Attorney Vernon Stewart did not press charges in the case. Chisenhall's lawyer has argued the shooting is covered by North Carolina's Castle Doctrine, which protects people who injure or kill in defense of their homes, workplaces or vehicles.

The case was the subject of a five-part investigative series published and aired last week by WRAL News.

Potential jurors were questioned throughout the day Tuesday about military service, firearm ownership, their views on religious leaders and interactions with law enforcement. The proceedings grew contentious at one point in the afternoon, when defense counsel Robert Levin sought to dismiss all three black members of the potential 12-person jury.

Christian Griggs was black. Pat Chisenhall is white.

Robert Jessup, attorney for the Griggs family, challenged the move on racial grounds. After Levin provided causes for dismissal, the judge allowed him to strike two of the three potential jurors. When they're officially empaneled Wednesday for opening arguments, the group will include two black jurors out of 12. Two alternates were chosen; both are white.

Jessup and Levin declined to comment after court adjourned Tuesday afternoon.

The day's proceedings followed a closed-door hearing late in the day Monday between Superior Court Judge Beecher Gray and lawyers from both sides. Gray sealed the motions during the jury selection process, but unsealed them Tuesday afternoon after an attorney for WRAL News filed a motion for access.

Gray said he was initially concerned about tainting the jury pool, concerns that were moot once the jury was selected.

The trial is expect to last through early next week.

The wrongful death suit seeks more than $250,000 in damages from Chisenhall, which the Griggs family says it will direct to Christian Griggs' daughter.