Murder retrial set to start Monday
by Kellen Moore
One of three men accused in the 2005 murder of ASU student Stephen Harrington is getting a fresh shot at justice.
Neil Matthew Sargent, 31, was convicted in 2008 of first-degree murder, first-degree kidnapping, robbery with a dangerous weapon and burning of personal property.
He was spared from the death penalty but was set to spend his life in prison without parole for his role in Harrington’s death. The 19-year-old victim was found with his face duct-taped and his body partially burned in the trunk of his Subaru on Sleepy Hollow Lane in Foscoe on Nov. 8, 2005.
A state medical examiner determined that Harrington had died of asphyxiation from the duct tape over his mouth and nose.
Kyle Quentin Triplett, 28, and Matthew Brandon Dalrymple, 27, also were convicted in connection to the murder. The men were acquaintances and known for dealing and using drugs together, according to court documents.
During Sargent’s trial, Judge Ronald Payne ruled that the defense could not present as evidence a statement Dalrymple made to police in 2007. That statement tended to point to Triplett, not Sargent, as the instigator and leader of the attack, according to court documents.
In August 2010, the N.C. Court of Appeals ruled that the court had erred in that decision and that the omission might have led the jury to reach a different verdict.
“Triplett testified that (Sargent) was the leader with respect to the murder, kidnapping, robbery and burning of personal property,” Judge Martha Geer wrote in the majority opinion. “Dalrymple’s statement would have painted a very different picture, with Triplett initiating the attack and murder and being substantially in control with respect to the remaining offenses.”
The Court of Appeals reversed the convictions and called for a new trial for Sargent. The N.C. Supreme Court affirmed that decision in March 2011, setting the stage for a retrial to begin this week.
According to documents filed in this case,
Triplett, an inmate at Mountain View Correctional Institution in Spruce Pine, is expected to
testify on behalf of the state.
Dalrymple, who is being housed at Gaston Correctional Center, is expected to appear as a witness for the defense.
Sargent has been in the custody of the Watauga Detention Center for many months under the court’s orders, Sheriff Len Hagaman said.
Sargent’s attorney, Mark Killian, indicated in a Sept. 13 notice that he intends to offer the defense of duress.
“The defendant would allege that any and all actions taken by this defendant during the course of the alleged crimes were taken because the defendant was in fear for his life and the life of Brandon Matthew Dalrymple and other relatives,” the notice states. “This fear was caused by the threats and actions of Kyle Quentin Triplett both during and after commission of the alleged crimes by Triplett.”
District Attorney Jerry Wilson said he expects the new trial to last a week to 10 days. The death penalty will not be an option.
Wilson said he has done several retrials within the 24th District and that they can sometimes be more difficult as the case gets old. At the same time, attorneys have already had a practice run with the original trial, he said.
“It’s more difficult for the simple reason that you’ve been through it once and you don’t have the same fire in your belly that you did the first time,” Wilson said.
Visit WataugaDemocrat.com this week for updates on the proceedings.