PENDER COUNTY, NC (WECT) - Race could have been a factor in the sexual assault and murder of a 5-year-old girl in a rural Pender County community, according to court documents unsealed this week.
The documents, a series of search warrants filed in connection to the killing of 5-year-old Paitin Fields in November 2017, further implicate the only known suspect in the case, her now-20-year-old uncle, David Prevatte.
WECT attempted to obtain the warrants after Paitin’s murder with the hope to shed more light on the case that had mostly been kept out of the public sphere, but for much of the last year this information had been sealed so as not to “undermine an ongoing investigation,” according to the judge’s order making the documents confidential.
But on Tuesday, a judge unsealed the warrants in response to a WECT request last month.
Paitin was “limp and without vital signs” when her step-grandfather and Prevatte took her to Pender Memorial Hospital on Nov. 13, 2017, according to an autopsy report. She was quickly taken to New Hanover Regional Medical Center, where medical staff noticed signs of sexual assault and strangulation.
The child was declared brain dead on Nov. 15, 2017, as a result of the injuries she sustained.
Although Prevatte wasn’t publicly named a suspect in Paitin’s death until June of this year when he was charged with threatening the lead investigator on the homicide case, the recently-released documents indicate law enforcement officers had their sights set on him the moment they first searched the Watha home he, Paitin, and her grandmother and step-grandfather shared.
Prevatte, who had moved back into the home just days prior, appeared “very nervous” as investigators searched the home the morning Paitin was taken to the hospital, documents state. The child’s grandmother, also Prevatte’s mother, was described as being “beside herself,” while her husband appeared “extremely irritated.”
“The family has not reported any break-ins or other possible explanations of how the child could have received the injuries,” an affidavit in support of a search warrant states. “It is reasonable to believe that the crimes resulting in the injuries occurred in the home.”
Investigators seized several phone charger cords and various articles of clothing, among other items, according to the warrant. Authorities also took cheek swabs from Prevatte and Paitin’s step-grandfather.
Detectives returned to the home two days after Paitin was declared brain dead. The affidavit in support of the second search warrant states Prevatte failed a polygraph exam “miserably” on Nov. 15, 2017, but continued to deny any involvement or knowledge of Paitin’s injuries. A detective also noticed that his fingernails were notably cleaner than they were in his initial interview.
Paitin’s step-grandfather passed the exam, according to the document.
Additional evidence was seized from the home, including a pillow from the couch Paitin was reportedly found on the morning of Nov. 13.
Prevatte moved back into the Willard home on Nov. 10, 2017, after he and his girlfriend broke up, according to court documents. Though not explicitly stated, it appears the couple split over Prevatte’s apparent porn-viewing habit.
“During this affiant’s interview with (Prevatte’s ex-girlfriend), (she) stated her only arguments with David Prevatte are him using her cellular phone to search porn sites,” a warrant requesting the seizure of Prevatte’s ex-girlfriend’s phone states. “When asked, (Prevatte’s ex-girlfriend) stated the porn sites were adult porn.”
But by far the most potentially revealing information was found in search warrants filed in December 2017 for information on Prevatte’s three known Facebook accounts. Those warrants list several factors that support the suspicion of Prevatte’s involvement in Paitin’s murder, including no visible signs of remorse, a “violent temper,” and possible racial motivations – the first inklings of a potential motive.
“Prevatte expresses intense racial hatred, that he wrote on his bedroom wall in the (Watha) house ‘KKK’ and used racial epithets directed at a black employee at the scene during the search of their house – Paitin is a mixed-race child (her biological mother is white and her biological father is black),” the document states.
After publishing this story, a family member contacted WECT to clarify that Paitin’s father is actually of Native American descent.
The warrant also references one of Prevatte’s profile pictures where he is standing in front of a Confederate flag, however, for reasons unknown officials crossed through this portion of the document.
“This affiant is requesting this search warrant be issued ordering the release of Prevatte’s Facebook records to allow investigators to explore whether the victim’s race was a determining issue in her sexual assault and strangulation,” the document continues.
The most recent and final search warrant served in the case was filed in July of this year. Investigators requested the warrant to obtain a DNA sample from Paitin’s grandmother.
Prevatte has not been formally charged in Paitin’s killing. He remains in the Pender County jail on charges related to his alleged threats against the investigator and other unrelated charges.
An inquiry to the Pender County Sheriff’s Office regarding the status of the case was not immediately returned.