BEAUFORT — The prosecution painted a grim picture of robbery ending in double murder as proceedings got underway Thursday in the trial of a former Navy corpsman accused of gunning down a father and son at their home off Taylor Farm Road in 2012.
“Back there at night it is dark, it is remote, it is secluded,” Assistant District Attorney David Spence said during opening remarks in superior court, clueing in the jury on what was to come. “… They had no means of escape. They were trapped.”
As the prosecutor opened his case, defendant Jhaden Davis, now 26, sat listening intently, occasionally taking notes or speaking with his attorney, but revealing very little to the sparsely filled superior courtroom.
He has spent the last five years in jail since his 2012 arrest and faces life without the possibility of parole if convicted of the two counts of first-degree murder.
The state accuses Mr. Davis of ambushing 20-year-old Albert Correll as he returned from shopping the night of June 2, 2012, and shooting him and his father, Duane Correll, 50, in the yard of their home just outside Beaufort town limits.
Authorities have long said they believe a feud over money led to the incident that left the pair dead.
Members of the public sitting behind the prosecution audibly wept in the courtroom Thursday as Mr. Spence opened the trial by playing the 911 recording of Duane Correll’s emergency call.
He can be heard frantically telling the communicator he had been shot in the chest and was in desperate need of help.
“My son is shot … my God. Oh, my God,” Duane Correll says, giving his address to first responders before presumably losing consciousness and leaving the line unattended.
The contents of the call and opening remarks are not evidence to be considered, Judge W. Douglas Parsons told seated jurors before proceedings got underway.
Those 14 individuals, 12 jurors and two alternates, were selected early this week to weigh merits in the case, including the two charges of first-degree murder and additional counts of armed robbery and conspiracy to commit armed robbery.
Mr. Davis, changed out of his detention center orange jumpsuit and into a blue striped shirt, slacks and glasses, showed no emotion during the 911 call.
His attorney, Richard McNeil, kept things brief during opening remarks, asking the jury to listen carefully for inconsistencies, determine witness credibility and keep an eye out for physical evidence – or a lack thereof – in the case.
“You don’t want to rush to judgment,” Mr. McNeil noted.
Mr. Davis is not expected to take the stand in his defense.
Witnesses began testifying shortly after 10:30 a.m., including investigators with the County Sheriff’s Office, the U.S. Coast Guard’s investigative service and the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.
Among Thursday’s witnesses was Charles Edgerton, a real estate appraiser and broker who recovered the alleged murder weapon while diving off Emerald Isle in 2015.
“I thought it was kind of something unique to find down there,” Mr. Edgerton told the court, describing his discovery of what he thought was a toy gun as he dove for stone crabs along the pilings of the Emerald Isle high-rise bridge.
Not thinking the weapon was real, he soaked the gun in a vinegar bath to relieve corrosion before discovering his find was a 40-caliber P944 Ruger handgun.
According to the prosecution and an ATF agent who testified Thursday, Mr. Davis allegedly purchased the gun from his uncle in February 2012.
As the weapon was set before several witnesses and the jury for inspection, the prosecution argued salt water corrosion has taken its toll on the weapon, wearing away the first two digits of the serial number.
Investigators with both the U.S. Coast Guard and ATF involved in recovery of the handgun testified they determined the number to be a match for a numbered Ruger handgun case collected by law enforcement in 2012.
Mr. Spence said the case was hidden near Mr. Davis’ rented home off Ann Street.
The gun was too corroded to be fired by investigators, according to authorities.
The prosecution plans to call a slew of witnesses over the coming week, Mr. Spence confirmed, including the girl whose car was allegedly used to get the Correll’s Taylor Farm Road home and Mr. Davis’ then-roommate who allegedly witnessed the murders.
That man, dishonorably discharged Navy corpsman Joseph Pirrotta, has accepted a plea deal in response to charges stemming from the double murder.
He is expected to testify for the state next week.
Contact Jackie Starkey at 252-726-7081, ext. 232; email firstname.lastname@example.org; or follow on Twitter @jackieccnt.