A hearing will be conducted in Warren County Superior Court at 1 p.m. on Monday, Nov. 25, to determine whether Lester Henry Kearney, 35, of Littleton, will be tried here or at a courthouse outside the county. The hearing was scheduled as Kearney appeared before Judge Henry W. Hight, Jr. Wednesday afternoon for pre-trial motions.
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.
On Wednesday, Kearney’s attorneys, Thomas Sallenger of Wilson and Larry Norman of Louisburg, expressed concerns that many people in Warren, Vance and Franklin counties may be familiar with circumstances related to the case.
Hight also heard concerns related to the selection of jurors for the case. The judge noted that in similar cases in the past, a large jury pool of around 500 people was selected and then divided into panels of 12 to be assessed by prosecutors and defense attorneys. If the trial was moved, jurors were brought in to that location.
After some discussion, the defense attorneys and District Attorney Mike Waters agreed to develop a questionnaire for prospective jurors. After completing the questionnaire, prospective jurors would be brought before attorneys for both sides one by one for questioning.
Hight denied a defense motion for pre-trial release and bond reduction, as well as a motion for Kearney to be transferred from Central Prison in Raleigh to Franklin County to make it easier for Sallenger and Norman to meet with him.
Kearney requested access to Kevin Munn’s cellphones and others seized in relation to the case, including his own, saying that photographs and texts will prove that he had nothing to do with Mrs. Alford’s death and the fire at the Alfords’ home.
Kearney repeatedly stated his innocence, saying that his vehicle was stuck in a ditch at the time of the incident, and he was using his cellphone to call for help.
Co-defendant Kevin Munn is scheduled to appear in court on Thursday at 9:30 a.m. for motions that include a request to withdraw his April 2018 guilty plea. Munn pled guilty to first-degree murder in exchange for serving a life sentence instead of facing the death penalty, and testifying in other matters relating to the case. Prosecutors previously indicated that they would try both men’s cases as potential death penalty matters.