Judge Henry W. Hight, Jr. on Thursday afternoon continued proceedings until Nov. 26 regarding a request made by Kevin Burton Munn, 32, of Warrenton, to withdraw a previous guilty plea in connection with a deadly home invasion and fire at the Lake Gaston home of John and Nancy Alford in 2018. The case will be heard beginning at 11 a.m. in Warren County Superior Court.
Munn and co-defendant Lester Henry Kearney, 35, of Littleton face charges that include first-degree murder in connection with the case.
The two men are accused of breaking into the Alfords’ Wildwood Point Subdivision home on March 9, 2018. According to law enforcement reports, Mrs. Alford was kidnapped by one of the men and forced to withdraw money from a bank before driving the suspect back to her home. There, the couple were beaten and bound, and left to die after their home was set on fire. Mrs. Alford died at the scene. Her husband managed to escape and was hospitalized.
In April 2018, Munn pled guilty to first-degree murder in connection with the death of Mrs. Alford in 2018 and of Vance County businessman Tommy Ellington in 2017. Munn made the guilty plea in exchange for serving a life sentence instead of facing the death penalty, and testifying in other matters related to the case.
On Oct. 23 of this year, Munn’s attorney, Mary Darrow of Raleigh, asked Hight to allow Munn to withdraw his previous guilty plea on the grounds that he felt pressured by his previous attorney, Boyd Sturges of Louisburg, to make a guilty plea in order to avoid the death penalty and did not fully understand the court process. At the time he continued the case, Hight advised Munn to review the evidence against him and seriously consider whether he wanted to withdraw his plea.
On Thursday morning, Darrow told Hight that after meeting with Munn twice since the Oct. 23 hearing, Munn wished to move forward with his request to withdraw his plea.
Munn took the witness stand, testifying that he met with Sturges only twice before making his plea. Munn added that Kearney had threatened his life as well as the lives of his family and showed up on his property more than once.
Munn said that on the day that he entered his guilty plea, he told Sturges that he did not want to plead guilty and wanted a different attorney. However, Munn’s mother was present, and Sturges expressed concern that he would be sentenced to the death penalty.
Under cross-examination by District Attorney Mike Waters, Munn gave testimony that refuted statements related to the Alford case that Kearney made in court the previous day, when he said he did not know Munn, and related to some of his own previous statements.
Munn said that Kearney told him that he broke into the Alfords’ home after being told that there were a lot of guns inside the residence, and, after finding little money there, left and returned to the home with a gas can and set it on fire. Munn said that Kearney brought him Mrs. Alford’s car and told him to get rid of it. Munn said that he drove the car to the mountains and, after finding out that a “chop shop” he previously used was no longer open, bought some gas and called a friend identified as “T.J.” to pick him up. Munn said that T.J. arrived with Munn’s sister, Kristina Saferite, and, about that time, set Mrs. Alford’s car on fire. On Thursday, Munn testified that he never told T.J. and his sister why he asked for a ride.
According to law enforcement reports after Munn and Kearney were arrested, Mrs. Alford’s 2011 Mercedes Benz was found abandoned and burned in Haywood County.
Darrow called Sturges to the witness stand, where Sturges testified that he met with Munn six times, not two as Munn had stated, for a total of nine hours. Sturges said that after reviewing available evidence, including Munn’s statements to the N.C. State Bureau of Investigation and DNA evidence, he advised Munn to accept a plea agreement because he felt that the state had enough evidence that jurors in Warren or Vance counties could find him guilty, and expressed concern that the state would be able to build a better case. Sturges added that a private investigator was not able to confirm the alibi that Munn had presented. Sturges noted that Munn made the guilty plea of his own free will.
Munn noted in his testimony that his work brought him to the site of Mrs. Alford’s office and to the grounds of the Alford home. However, Munn maintained his innocence in both the Alford and Ellington cases.
For the remainder of Thursday’s court session, much of the testimony focused on the Ellington case.
In connection with the Ellington case, Munn testified that he tried to break into Tommy Ellington’s home in September 2017, but found that he could not enter through the front door, living room or kitchen. He said that after finding a door where he could enter, he searched several rooms and articles, including a pair of Mr. Ellington’s pants. When he was about to go through a jewelry box, Mrs. Ellington approached him with a gun. Munn testified that he said that he was sorry and left the house. He admitted that Mrs. Ellington had the right to shoot him, but showed mercy.
In response to statements that his DNA was found on Ellington’s pants pocket at the time of his death in October, Munn replied that the DNA was there due to the break-in.
SBI agent Lynn Gay testified about the process of investigating the Ellington and Alford cases and his role in supervising the investigating agents. He said that, when the SBI was investigating the Ellington case, Mr. Ellington was found outside his home with a pants pocket sticking out, something that Gay described as being unusual.
Assistant District Attorney Melissa Pelfrey played a video recording of Munn being interviewed by a number of law enforcement officers. Munn was shown testifying that Kearney asked him for information about the location of Ellington’s house because he had been told that a number of guns were there. Munn told law enforcement that, while it was still dark one morning, Munn and Kearney met at a Henderson location with the understanding that Kearney would follow Munn to Ellington’s house and would tap his brakes twice at the driveway. Munn said that he followed Kearney’s instructions and that when the two men pulled their cars beside each other further down the road, Kearney told Munn that he did not need any more help from him. Munn said that he drove home.
He told law enforcement officers repeatedly that he did not remember every detail related to what happened due to drug use over the years.
Following the video, which lasted nearly two hours, Pelfrey presented Hight with a video of Munn meeting with law enforcement about the Alford case.
At Munn’s request, Darrow presented Hight with videos of law enforcement interviews with Munn on the day of his arrest, and Burges’ interview with Munn on the day that Munn gave his plea.
Hight said that he would review the videos outside the court session.