In Warren County Superior Court this afternoon, Judge Henry W. Hight, Jr., granted a motion from attorneys Thomas Sallenger of Wilson and Larry Norman of Louisburg to withdraw from representing Lester Henry Kearney, 35, of Littleton.
Kearney and co-defendant Kevin Burton Munn, 32, of Warrenton, face charges that include first-degree murder in connection with a deadly home invasion and fire at the Lake Gaston home of John and Nancy Alford in 2018.
Kearney and Munn 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 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. Last month, Munn requested to withdraw his plea and have his case move to trial.
Kearney’s court appearance today was scheduled to be a hearing to determine whether his case would be heard in Warren County or moved elsewhere. However, Kearney requested new attorneys, accusing Sallenger, Norman, the prosecution and the court system of withholding evidence that would prove his innocence.
Kearney has maintained his innocence throughout court proceedings in his case and has said that he was stuck in a ditch at the time that the Alfords were attacked. During pre-trial motions earlier this month, Kearney asked for new attorneys, citing problems with communications and not being able to see all evidence. At that time, he requested access to communications-related evidence, such as text messages and Munn’s cellphones, saying that such records would prove his innocence. Kearney also said that, at the time of his arrest, he gave his cellphone to law enforcement, telling them to look at photographs of his car in the ditch, saying that they would prove that he could not have been in Littleton at the time the Alfords were attacked. Keaney also has maintained that he does not know Munn.
This afternoon, Kearney told Hight that his mother had not been able to obtain transcripts of previous court proceedings from the Warren County Clerk of Court’s office and was not allowed to take notes in court. Kearney accused the court system of judicial and prosecutorial misconduct.
“I am innocent,” he said. “I can prove it now.”
Hight advised Kearney not to change attorneys, saying that if prosecutors don’t provide certain evidence, his attorneys could find that out. Hight added that the clerk of court’s office does not have copies of court transcripts, saying that his mother would need to order them from the court reporter.
Hight warned Kearney that he could not guarantee the quality of new attorneys appointed for him, saying that Sallenger and Norman were as good as he could find in the state.
Kearney replied that he wanted to state his innocence for the record and requested an attorney from outside the general area.
Sallenger and Norman requested to withdraw from the case in light of Kearneys statements. Sallenger said that both attorneys had worked diligently on behalf of their client. Norman added that, in reference to phone records, he had to rely on the findings of experts skilled in such matters.
District Attorney Mike Waters told Hight that Sallenger and Norman were among the most reputable attorneys that could be found to represent Kearney. Waters accused Kearney of requesting that his attorneys withdraw from the case in order to delay court proceedings.
“We would like to proceed with the case,” Waters said. “We feel like (Kearney) is guilty. The evidence will prove it.”
In granting the request for Kearney’s attorneys to withdraw, Hight told him that he must work well with whoever is appointed to represent him. A hearing on the status of the case will be held in January.
Tomorrow morning, Hight is scheduled to hear matters relating to Munn’s request to withdraw his guilty plea and have his case move to trial.