Accused killer William Lowell McCrory is one step closer to freedom, or to a long prison term, depending on how a Fifth Circuit Court jury interprets evidence entered against him this week, and McCrory’s own testimony.
McCrory, 46, is on trial for second-degree murder in the stabbing death of Brent “Kerby” Kerr, who was 44 at the time of his death early in the morning of Oct. 26.
A jury began deliberations on his fate Thursday at about 4:15 p.m.
Judge Clifford Nakea scheduled the jury for several days of deliberations.
Three days of testimony by prosecution and defense witnesses concluded Thursday afternoon, with both the defense and prosecution resting their cases.
In a last-minute decision, McCrory decided Thursday he had to say something to defend himself, and told the court he had never met Kerr, and that Kerr had never been in his Bronco, and he had no idea how Kerr’s blood ended up in his vehicle.
The defendant claimed he passed out the night of the stabbing, not Billy Pierce, as Pierce testified Wednesday.
Pierce testified earlier that McCrory had asked to borrow his Schrade Bearclaw pocketknife, saw McCrory head-butt or push Kerr, and heard him stab Kerr in the pouring rain outside Kerr’s van that was parked near Island Liquidators in Nawiliwili on the night of Oct. 25. All three men lived out of their vehicles in the Nawiliwili area.
Pierce told the jury Wednesday that he passed out while McCrory was driving to the North Shore, and that McCrory’s Bronco ran out of gas near Rainbow Gas Mart in Wailua. McCrory forced him, Pierce said, to help shove Kerr’s body into naupaka bushes along Kuhio Highway adjacent to Coco Palms. The body was found on Oct. 26, he testified.
McCrory testified that he told police that he didn’t think Pierce was the kind of guy to kill someone. But he also testified that he didn’t have anything to do with Kerr’s murder.
“I didn’t think he was the type to blame me either,” McCrory said.
Itamura had Pierce admit on Wednesday that he lied to police so he wouldn’t get in trouble or ruin his reputation.
McCrory testified to the chain of events said to have occurred on Oct. 25 and 26, which were consistent with other witness’ testimonies, for the most part.
In the afternoon of Oct. 25, he drove to Kapa’a to pick up $210 that was owed to him. With the money, he bought items for a barbecue at Kalapaki Beach Park.
McCrory said he and Pierce later went to Christine Taniguchi’s house to pick up her husband, Austin, their drinking buddy. She testified earlier that she doesn’t like drinkers and she is separated from her husband because of his drinking problem.
McCrory said he didn’t ask her for a knife as she told the court; nor did she clean a bloody cut on his foot. Taniguchi said her husband was asleep and the two men returned to Kalapaki Beach where they drank more. McCrory asked Pierce for some aspirin for a headache, he testified. The aspirin turned out to be Valium pills, McCrory claimed, and said the sedative caused him to fall asleep the night of the murder inside his Bronco.
He said his next memory was being woken up by Pierce that same night so they could drink more beer and go cruising to a beach at Anahola.
McCrory said that on the way back from the beach, the Bronco ran out of gas near Rainbow Gas Mart between 3 and 4 a.m. The two appear on a surveillance videotape from the gas station that was submitted as evidence. When they finally got gas, they drove back to Kalapaki Beach Park.
Kerr’s body was found the morning of October 26 by a passerby, who spotted his body in the naupaka.
McCrory said that morning he had a funny feeling he was in a fight while sticking up for a friend, but didn’t remember any details.
He did tell his former roommates, Joe Palmer and Melanie Atkins, that he had a bad feeling that he might have been in a fight.
On Oct. 28 police went to Kalapaki to investigate because of reports that McCrory’s a Bronco similar to that spotted near the body the night of Oct. 26 had been spotted at Kalapaki. They searched and impounded McCrory’s vehicle when they found blood stains in it. After questioning him and Pierce, McCrory was arrested for murder.
An expert witness for the prosecution, Dr. George Riley of the Fairfax Identification Lab in Virginia, testified that blood samples from stains in McCrory’s vehicle (carpet, door panels and steering wheel) matched the DNA of both Kerr and McCrory.
Blood from Pierce was not taken, and was not compared with blood found in the Bronco, according to Riley.
Pierce was never arrested or charged with any crime although his knife was the weapon determined to have been used in the stabbing.
Hair lifted as a clue from the Bronco proved inconclusive because there were not enough cells to extract genetic material. The pocket knife did not retain enough blood for successful DNA testing.
The defense called three witnesses Thursday, after the prosecution had called more than a total of 15 over Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.
Defense witness Leila Schmidt testified that as she and three other people drove home from Kalapaki Beach around 2-3 a.m. on Oct. 26, she saw two men arguing on the roadside near the spot where the body was found adjacent to Coco Palms.
Schmidt, who admitted she had been drinking at Kalapaki prior to heading home to Anahola, though she said she didn’t know McCrory, Kerr or Pierce, testified that the vehicle behind her was following them from the beach with their high beams on, and as they approached Wailua Bridge with her headlights also on, the area was illuminated enough to see the two men arguing as they passed the bridge. She said that she gave a statement the day after the murder to Mike Broyles, an investigator from the Public Defender’s office.
Schmidt identified Kerr as one of the men who she saw arguing at Wailua, after Broyles showed her photo lineups and single mugshots. She did not pick McCrory out of the photos.
Her testimony that she saw Kerr alive at a time he was supposed to be dead already contradicts the prosecution’s case.
In his closing statement, Itamura said that Kaua’i Police Department detectives “got really excited” and that they got Pierce to change his story.
“They had Billy Pierce. Billy Pierce was their key,” he said.
According to Itamura, KPD detectives ignored other simple investigative procedures such as interviewing witnesses (like Schmidt) and taking fingerprints from the vehicle.
Mike Soong, lead prosecutor in the case, told the jury in his closing argument that McCrory had a motive – he told Christine Taniguchi he wanted to kill someone. McCrory had the means, Soong said, he had a Bronco to drive and access to Pierce’s knife, and he had an opportunity to carry out the crime. Pierce couldn’t have done it because he was drinking all day, Soong said.
The maximum penalty for second-degree murder is life imprisonment with the possibility of parole. The jury will continue deliberations today beginning at 8:30 a.m.
Staff Writer Kendyce Manguchei can be reached at kmanguchei@ pulitzer.net or 245-3681 (ext. 252).