DAY 5: Grooms takes the stand, closing statements begin

Defense attorney Dennis Sullivan began the fifth day of testimony by asking the judge to dismiss the second-degree murder charge that Grooms is facing. The judge denied the motion.
Defense attorney Dennis Sullivan began the fifth day of testimony by asking the judge to dismiss the second-degree murder charge that Grooms is facing. The judge denied the motion.

NEW HANOVER COUNTY, NC (WECT) – Thomas Grooms is on trial in a New Hanover County courtroom for the deaths of David Doolittle and his 17-year-old son, Trey Doolittle.

Defense attorney Dennis Sullivan began the fifth day of testimony by asking the judge to dismiss the second-degree murder charge that Grooms is facing. The judge denied the motion.

The defense called J.W. "Skip" Hedge, an investigator with the District Attorney's office who testified without the jury present on Friday.

He told jurors during a cross examination that he saw a minimum of 25 various types of liquor on Grooms' house boat in Carolina Beach. He also mentioned during testimony that no video surveillance footage was found that would back up what Grooms told officials he did after his date with Joan Grady. Grooms had told authorities that after dinner, he went to his place of business in Southport to sleep. Hedge watched the video from the business and was unable to verify that Grooms went there.


Sullivan called the defendant, Thomas Grooms, to the stand around 10:10 a.m. on Tuesday. Grooms told the jury about his life prior to the incident on April 3, 2011. He explained that he lived in Charlotte and was divorced in 2001 after 20 years of marriage. His youngest son, Josh, passed away when he was 23 because of a "cancer-type illness."

Grooms said that his youngest son was his "camping and fishing buddy." He also described his other son, Kevin Grooms, who testified later in the day.

Thomas Grooms then went on to tell the jury about the day before the Doolittle incident.

While Thomas Grooms testified, Joy Doolittle sat in the audience. He claimed he never ran off the road the way several other witnesses said he did during the trial.

According to Grooms, the other person in the bank photo that showed him getting cash from an ATM was a woman named Pat. She did not testify and was not included on either witness list.

Grooms said he drove Pat to Hampstead twice to buy mephedrone, although he didn't realize that she was buying the drug the first time. He testified that Pat, who he met on, convinced him to snort it.

"I snorted some of it," Grooms said on the stand.

Grooms said he was a little foggy after that and lost track of time. He said he told Pat that he needed to go home after he saw it was daylight, so he got in his car to leave.


"I made the worst decision of my life," said Grooms.

Pat's apartment is in downtown Wilmington, so Grooms took River Road to his home on Carolina Beach.

Grooms said he felt "extremely tired and sleepy" but did not feel impaired. While he was driving he picked up his cell phone to make a phone call and heard a loud noise. Grooms said he pulled off the road to see what happened and saw David Doolittle on the side of the road.

The courtroom fell silent as Grooms testified.

"I thought I was going to throw up," Grooms testified. He said he opened his door and felt like he was about to pass out. By the time he picked up his phone to call 911, someone was already there, he told jurors.

"I certainly wish I hadn't done it," Grooms explained. He told ADA Carriker, "I did not feel like I was too impaired to drive a vehicle."


Prior to the defense resting its case, Olin Baldwin testified that he has known Grooms for 41 years. He told the court that he had never seen Grooms drive while under the influence.

"If anyone was a risk taker, it was me," Baldwin said. "Tom (Grooms) was always the more reserved, conservative type of individual."

Edis Fulghum broke down into tears when he told the jury that he'd been friends with Grooms since second grade.

"Absolutely devastated," Fulghum said when he was asked about his reaction to hearing that Grooms was charged with second-degree murder. "Totally shocked."

Kevin Grooms, Thomas Grooms' son, and Elaine Guarnieri, Thomas Grooms' sister, were the final witnesses for the defense.

"I was destroyed. I was devastated," Kevin Grooms said about his father's charges. "Absolutely destroyed." While looking at Joy Doolittle, he said that the Doolittle family is in his prayers.

Guarinieri said that Thomas Grooms and her are "extremely close." She said, "He's still my little brother," while holding back tears.

Both testified that Thomas Grooms' drinking habits were not a concern and that he'd never driven a vehicle while impaired in front of them.

DA Ben David didn't cross-examine Kevin Grooms or Guarnieri.


Prior to the lunch break, the defense rested its case. Closing statements began after the break.


Sullivan made his closing statement first. He spoke quietly to the jury and asked them to keep the promises they made at the beginning of the trial to decide based on the law, not emotion.

He told the jury that Grooms admitted to killing the Doolittles, but that it's up to them to decide what the appropriate charge will be.

"The state will argue that malice exists in this case," he said. "That is not present here, certainly not beyond a reasonable doubt."

Sullivan told the jury to look at two witness very closely in regard to their credibility—Robert Miller and Thelma Schumaker. He said Miller's anger on the stand was apparent and that Schumaker's testimony about the Mountain Dew and vodka mixture was "inconsistent with other witnesses."

He closed by saying that it wasn't reasonable that Schumaker had a panic attack and that Grooms was in shock after hitting the Doolittles.

"Not guilty does not mean innocent in this case," he said, telling the jury that the legislature intended for a person's first offense to be felony death by vehicle. He said a person's second offense is supposed to be second-degree murder and that this is Grooms' first offense.

"Bad things happen to good people, there's no question that has happened in this case," Sullivan said. "Twice...or three times?"


Ben David presented the closing arguments for the prosecution. He began by saying that two worlds collided on April 3, 2011. He said a world of health and light collided with that of drugs and darkness.

"There's a lot of hearts that are breaking," David said. "There's two hearts that stopped beating. This trial is about what's in that man's (Grooms') heart."

He said, "This defendant crossed a bright line--a white line that separates motorists from bikers. He also crossed a bright line between accident and malice."

While wrapping up his statement, David told the jury, "Experience can be a great teacher and pride can be a real killer. He (Grooms) was proud of the fact that he could drink and drive."


When David was done, the judge read instructions to the jury.

Around 5 p.m. Tuesday, the jury began deliberating. The forewoman for the jury asked the judge to reread the definition of malice, which he did. They originally asked for the poster that DA David used in his closing arguments that defined malice, but the judge said no.

The jury was given until 5:30 p.m. to deliberate.

Because a verdict had not been reached at that time, the judge then excused jury members for the rest of the day.

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