Attorneys claim evidence withheld in double-murder trial that se - WECT, weather & sports Wilmington, NC

Attorneys claim evidence withheld in double-murder trial that sent man to death row

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Norfolk Junior “Fuzzy” Best was convicted for the 1991 murder of an elderly Whiteville couple. Norfolk Junior “Fuzzy” Best was convicted for the 1991 murder of an elderly Whiteville couple.

Norfolk Junior "Fuzzy" Best has been waiting on death row at Central Prison in Raleigh for 21 years. 

In 1993, a jury convicted the now 59-year-old black man of murdering an elderly white couple in their Whiteville home.  

An artery in 82-year-old Leslie Baldwin's neck was cut. His 79-year-old wife, Gertrude, died of blunt-force trauma to the head.  

Money was missing from his wallet and her purse.  

The state said Best's fingerprint was on a paring knife found beside the man's body and that his DNA matched a semen sample taken from the woman.  

But now, attorneys representing Best are asking for a new trial. They made their case in a motion for relief filed in January in Bladen County Superior Court, where Best was tried. 

They said documents that had been hidden in the state's files shows prosecutors concealed evidence, presented "bogus" DNA results and misdirected the jury regarding the time of death. 

After being appointed to Best's case in 2010, Raleigh attorneys Michael Unti and Sharon Smith received evidence they said had never been made available to the defense: lab notes from forensic examiners at the State Bureau of Investigation, as well as the Whiteville Police Department's investigative file, which included information about alternate suspects. 

Much of the physical evidence in the case, including clothes the Baldwins wore when they were killed, was found in the attic of Whiteville city hall. None of the biological evidence had been properly preserved, according to the motion. 

"I was astonished to tell you the truth," Unti said about learning evidence was being stored in the attic. 

During the trial, prosecutors insisted the Baldwins were killed between 10:30 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 30, 1991 and 1 a.m. Sunday, Dec. 1. But the motion alleges the state knew the condition of the bodies made that time of death impossible.  

Unti and Smith claim the state concealed evidence that one of two white suspects in the case was seen lurking around the Baldwin's home at a time consistent with the actual time of death and that unidentified Caucasian hairs were found at the crime scene and on the victims' bodies. 

Best's attorneys said despite the lack of evidence tying him to the crime, their client became the target of the investigation when investigators learned he had done yard work for the Baldwins. 

"Once focused on Best, law enforcement ignored key evidence pointing to other suspects and the prosecution opposed all efforts by defense counsel to obtain full discovery," the motion states.  

Unti and Smith say the defense and the jury were unaware that two other suspects reportedly confessed to involvement in the killings and that a key prosecution witness had given contradictory statements to police regarding how much money Best had in his possession.  

The state denied Best's appeal in 1998. Later that year, he filed a Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus in U.S. District Court. Those proceedings have been stalled since 2002 pending resolution of Best's claims that he is exempt from the death penalty on account of mental retardation.  

Unti said a Superior Court judge will determine if the claims outlined in the motion for relief warrant a hearing. 

Neither Whiteville Police Chief Jeff Rosier nor District Attorney Jon David responded to requests for comment.

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