Local News

Investigator found knife in ex-pastor's car

Posted September 30, 2009 9:41 a.m. EDT
Updated October 1, 2009 11:23 a.m. EDT

— A Wake County sheriff's investigator testified Wednesday that he found a knife in Robert Reaves' Chrysler Pacifica nine months after the former pastor was charged with murdering a North Carolina Central University student.

"It would have been the very back passenger seat," Deputy Alfred Sternberg said. "If you go behind that, there's a rail for where that seat is, and that's where it was."

Sternberg said he also found a screwdriver along with the knife, but prosecutors did not offer evidence connecting either item directly to Latrese Matral Curtis' death.

Drivers discovered the 21-year-old's body the morning of Jan. 30, 2008, along Interstate 540 near Louisburg Road in Raleigh. She was stabbed nearly 40 times in the head, neck, chest and stomach.

Reaves is charged with first-degree murder in the case, and if convicted, faces a life prison sentence.

Other crime scene investigators testified in detail Wednesday about their work but said they were unable to find a murder weapon or any blood during an initial search of Reaves' car.

Also on the stand Wednesday was Maryanne Gafney-Kraft, associate chief medical examiner with the North Carolina Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, who described in detail the extent of Curtis' stab wounds.

Among the serious wounds, Curtis had two to the neck and 14 to the chest, including two that exited to the back. Gafney-Kraft said they likely happened outside Curtis' car, noting there likely would have been more blood inside than what was there.

Other wounds that hit skin and muscle could have occurred inside Curtis' car, she said.

There was a small amount of defensive wounds on her hands, leading the medical examiner to believe she might have pinned.

"In my opinion, her arms must have been pinned," Gafney-Kraft said. "If you have 14 wounds to the chest, your arms are going to come up, blocking those wounds."

State trooper Isaac Cooper later testified that he encountered Reaves' car on the shoulder of eastbound I-540 around 1:30 a.m. Jan. 30 with keys in the ignition, hazard lights on and the driver-side window rolled down. Also in the car, he observed what appeared to be a woman's green sweater on the passenger seat.

He then recalled sending a message to another trooper asking if that seemed normal.

"It just seemed strange to me the way the vehicle was left," Cooper said.

Cooper left the scene to respond to another call but noted that around 5:15 a.m. the car was gone. At that time, he noticed a car with its lights on across the highway.

Outlining their case before jurors Monday, prosecutors said Reaves killed Curtis because he considered her an obstacle to his sexual advances on his roommate, Steven Randolph, with whom Curtis had been having a sexual relationship. (Read more about Tuesday's opening statements in the trial.)

Randolph had rebuffed Reaves' advances, prosecutors said, and had felt so uncomfortable living with Reaves that he had purchased a gun and stayed away from their home.

Reaves, who was a minister at Cedar International Fellowship in Durham, claims he was attending a church function the night Curtis was killed.

Wake County Assistant District Attorney Jennifer Lindow said Tuesday that Reaves had no explanation as to why his car was out on I-540, said he wasn't familiar with the area and said no one had his car on Jan. 29 or Jan. 30.