Crimes of the Cape Fear: Man charged with murder kills witness while free on bond

Many people are simply more afraid of retaliation by criminals if they are caught talking to police than they are of being victimized if they say nothing
Published: Dec. 16, 2021 at 12:34 PM EST
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WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) - In some neighborhoods, not cooperating with police is part of the culture. Even though residents living in high crime areas are more likely to become victims of crime, or to be impacted by the crime around them, the “don’t snitch” mentality pervades. Many people are simply more afraid of retaliation by criminals if they are caught talking to police than they are of being victimized if they say nothing.

But that strategy can backfire, as Creekwood residents learned the hard way nearly a decade ago.

It started with the shooting death of 30-year-old Brian Grant. He lived with his girlfriend, named Ebony, in Wilmington’s Creekwood housing development. Nashid Porter was staying with a friend in a house nearby, and got into an argument with Grant the night of July 26, 2012. The men were reportedly fighting over Ebony. The next morning, as Grant came to the front door to answer someone loudly knocking, Porter was waiting for him, and shot him at point blank range in the face.

“Brian Grant... was a totally innocent victim. Did nothing wrong. Did nothing to provoke this. Was truly shot walking out of the sanctity of his own home. As a father, as a stepdad, the only person there was a 9-year-old girl upstairs. He was completely innocent,” District Attorney Ben David said of the shooting.

“People just stood in silence.”

Despite his innocence, neighbors who witnessed the shooting in broad day light stayed quiet.

“I remember getting out of my car and screaming, “What happened? Somebody tell me what happened!” And people just stood in silence,” Grant’s sister, Dawn McDowell, remembered of arriving at the crime scene just after her brother had been shot. “It was the most horrific thing you could ever think of. Hearing my sister weeping and screaming in the background. Seeing my dad standing there just blank as he looks at a tape around a crime scene. And no one would say anything. Nothing. It was indescribable.”

Witnesses weren’t talking to police either. Grant had not grown up in the neighborhood, and didn’t have many close friends there, so those who saw what happened were unwilling to help investigators bring Grant’s killer to justice.

There were two exceptions. An elderly woman who saw the shooting but died before she could testify in court. And Obadiah Hester. Hester wasn’t in the neighborhood at the time of the shooting, but he knew enough to be helpful. He told police Nashid Porter had been staying with him the night of July 26, and Hester witnessed Porter fighting with Grant the night before the shooting. Police now had motive and opportunity, but they still had to find Porter.

“He changed his cell phone number 17 times. He was on the run for over a month when he was ultimately arrested by U.S. Marshals. We were confident that we were going to have some evidence. Not only did we think that other witnesses would come forward now that he’s arrested, but we had DNA on cigarette butts we were going to be testing,” David explained of building a case.

Freed on bond

Even with Porter behind bars, witnesses still stayed quiet. A year passed, and the DNA evidence finally came back from the lab. None of it matched Porter. His attorney asked the judge to dismiss the charges against him. The judge declined, but because the state had a very weak case, the judge did relax Porter’s bond. Porter was released with an ankle monitor to track his whereabouts until trial.

McDowell said her family sat in court in disbelief, and then outrage, as her brother’s killer was allowed to walk free.

“Because people were not speaking up, [he] was allowed to be out on pretrial release. That in itself was probably the second most horrible thing outside of hearing that my brother had been murdered by him,” McDowell said, remembering that they prayed Porter wouldn’t hurt anyone else. But that’s exactly what he did.

“What happened next was we... receive a call from [pretrial services] that says Nashid Porter’s ankle monitor got cut off in Duplin County. That’s where Obadiah Hester was now living,” David said. “We were alerted by a couple of other witnesses that Nashid Porter confronted Obadiah Hester out there, and initially pretended to be still friends with him and said, ‘I just want to talk to you.’ [Porter] took him behind an abandoned trailer, still wearing this ankle monitor and ultimately shot [Hester] over a dozen times.”

Porter spent another month on the run before investigators tracked him down and charged him for a second murder.

While Brian Grant hadn’t had close ties to the community of Creekwood, Obadiah Hester did. He grew up there. And his many friends and family were angry he’d been killed for simply telling the truth. Their loyalty to Hester outweighed their fear of retaliation for talking to police, and they finally agreed to cooperate with investigators and testify against Porter in Grant’s case, which had previously been so weak. Ironically, Porter’s efforts to silence a witness in Grant’s murder is what ultimately gave prosecutors the elements they needed to take Porter to trial for murder.

The first murder trial

At great risk to himself, Hester’s uncle Patrick Bragg came forward. He’d witnessed Grant’s murder, but had previously been unwilling to talk to police. He was now in prison on drug charges, putting him in a uniquely vulnerable position if he were to be found out as a snitch, but Bragg was determined to testify and get justice for his nephew. Another woman from the neighborhood also agreed to testify, and was placed in protective custody during the trial.

The trial was bizarre.

First, Porter fired four consecutive attorneys appointed to represent him. The judge warned him after he’d fired his third lawyer that if he fired anyone else, he was on his own, but that didn’t stop Porter from insisting on representing himself. In an abundance of caution to protect Porter’s rights, Judge Charles Henry appointed an attorney as standby council in case Porter changed his mind.

Then, Porter, who is Muslim, wore a hooded cloak, and tried to invoke Sharia law in his instructions to the jury. He refused to participate in any of the trial proceedings, insisting instead on staying in his holding cell while the evidence and testimony against him were presented to the jury. The jury found him guilty. Porter was legally required to be in the courtroom during sentencing, and as David was reading the victim impact statements to the jury, Porter chanted over him, trying to drown out the words of those who had been most devastated by Grant’s murder.

“It was one of the biggest spectacles I’ve ever seen, where a defendant who had absolutely no defense left was putting the trial on trial itself,” David recalled.

A second trial

Although he’d already been sentenced to life without parole, Porter still had to stand trial for the murder of Obadiah Hester. That trial would take place years later, in Duplin County where Hester had been executed for telling the truth. A jury there also found Porter guilty in August 2021. Prosecutors were initially seeking the death penalty, but the court gave him another life sentence without parole.

Hester’s mother and grandmother spoke to reporters after the verdict about their grief.

“I suffer every morning. I wake up without my son there for his sons. He has three sons, 16, 9 and 7,” April Williams told WITN.

Duplin County District Attorney Ernie Lee said that even though the judge ruled for life without parole, the only real way they would have won is if Hester was still with his family.

“It just so frustrates me that so many young men and women are out there losing their lives, senselessly. And one thing about out it, once you pull that trigger, you cannot get that bullet back,” Lee said.

The cost of silence

While prosecutors finally got justice, it came too late for Obadiah Hester.

“A second person was killed because no one said anything, and if someone had said something that second young man may still very well be alive with his family,” McDowell told WECT through tears.

Being the lone witness at the early phases of the investigation put a target on Hester’s back. Prosecutors say it doesn’t have to be that way.

“There is strength in numbers, and if many people come forward, it usually doesn’t even require a trial at that point,” David said. “And so one thing I would say is when we have a cloud of witnesses, when we have many people saying we’re not gonna tolerate this in this community rather than just one lone voice like Obe Hester, there is safety in numbers. It’s far more likely to be a plea and not a trial. And there’s not going to be the retribution that we are seeing out there.”

“Everyone is someone’s child, brother, sister, mother, aunt, uncle, mother, father, friend. And it could happen to you,” McDowell said of the grief her family has experienced. “To not say anything that could potentially help someone else... Say something to help a family. Help them get a little bit of justice.”

McDowell understands the fear people face coming forward, and remembers being scared herself sitting in the courtroom trying to get justice for her brother. But she knows all too well that saying nothing can make things even worse, when a killer is left on the streets.

There are many ways that you can help, even if you want to do so anonymously. You can text an anonymous tip to Wilmington Police by texting 847411 and use the keyword WPDNC. You can also send anonymous tips through the WPD smart phone app.

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