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12-Year-Old Johnston Murder Case Divides Prosecutors, Defense Attorneys

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Peter Duane Deaver
JOHNSTON COUNTY, N.C. — A 12-year-old murder case has sharply divided prosecutors and attorneys for death row inmate George Goode. There is no argument Goode was there when the killing happened, but defense lawyers say the scientific evidence shows he did not take part.

Johnston County deputies found Leon and Margaret Batten beaten and stabbed to death outside a Bentonville trailer in February 1992.

"I've prosecuted many homicide cases. These murders were among the most brutal I've ever seen," Johnston County district attorney Tom Lock said.

Three suspects were arrested, tried, and convicted for the crime. Eugene DeCastro was sentenced to death. A jury gave Chris Goode two life sentences while his brother, George, went to death row.

"The only person who didn't have blood on him was George Goode, my client," appeals attorney Diane Savage said.

Savage claims the jury in George Goode's trial was mislead. State Bureau of Investigation agent Duane Deaver, who also testified in Mike Peterson trial in 2003, told jurors he detected bloodstains on Goode's shoes. Savage said the test used was, in no way, conclusive.

"It could be blood. It could be for tomatoes. It could be for horseradish," she said.

Also, the Battens had more than two dozen stab wounds, yet Goode had no blood on his clothes.

"He made it quite clear that it was possible for a perpetrator to stab someone without getting blood on him," Lock said.

"Our experts say that's absurd," Savage said.

Now, the original defense attorneys have signed affidavits admitting they did not know enough about blood evidence. One attorney wrote in his affidavit that his cross-examination of Deaver was "wholly ineffective."

"I'm distressed that defense counsel has chosen to accuse either Duane Deaver or me or any misconduct," Lock said.

Aside from the blood, Lock argues the evidence against Goode is overwhelming, which includes an eyewitness, Goode arrested with the victim's wallet, plus a cellmate who claims Goode confessed to the crime.

Savage still contends that science does not lie.

"To me, it's so clear that I can't imagine them not finally releasing this man," she said.

The attorney general's office announced Friday that DNA testing would be done on Goode's clothing to search for signs of blood again. Goode's attorneys said they are suspicious because they believe all the evidence has been co-mingled. A judge will hear the case in a death penalty appeal April 26.

Some people are now comparing Goode's case to another controversial Johnston County case.

Terence Garner

was released from prison two years ago after a judge threw out an armed robbery and shooting conviction. The same attorneys who helped win Garner's freedom have joined the Goode legal team. Garner currently lives in Wayne County and is still hoping for a pardon from Gov. Mike Easley.

A Columbia University study shows two-thirds of death penalty cases appealed between 1973 and 1995 were successful, but the study of nearly 4,600 cases found problems so severe, that most were retried. Of the death sentences imposed between 1973 and 1995, only 5 percent were carried out.

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Cullen Browder, Reporter
Gil Hollingsworth, Photographer
Kamal Wallace, Web Editor

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