New trial ordered for man convicted in killing of woman and her unborn child
NEW HANOVER COUNTY, N.C. (WECT) - The N.C. Court of Appeals has ordered a new trial for a man convicted of killing a woman and her unborn child in a Wilmington hotel nearly six years ago.
Following a two-week trial in December 2019, a jury found Tevin Demetrius Vann guilty of first-degree murder, murder of an unborn child and robbery with a dangerous weapon in the Aug. 12, 2016 slaying of Ashley McLean, who was in the first trimester of her pregnancy.
Despite initially repeatedly denying killing McLean, Vann ultimately admitted to hitting her and taking her cell phone when interviewed by detectives, according to court records. Investigators uncovered evidence indicating the incident stemmed from an argument over payment for sexual services.
In appealing the jury’s verdict, Vann argued the trial court failed to exercise its discretion by denying the jury’s request to review transcripts of testimony from Vann, the detective and the medical examiner after it began deliberations.
In its opinion released Tuesday, the three-judge panel agreed, saying the judge erred in telling the jury: “It’s your duty to recall their testimony… we can’t provide a transcript as to that.” Citing case law, the appeals court said there is error when the trial court refuses to exercise its discretion in the erroneous belief that it has no discretion as to the question presented.
The appeals court also determined the error was prejudicial, which was the basis for its order of a new trial.
Essentially, because Vann recanted his confession at trial and testified that he only admitted to attacking McLean because he believed if he did so he would not be charged with murder, the jury would likely want to review his contradictory confession, the appeals court said in its opinion.
“Defendant’s confession was the only evidence directly linking him to the killing; the remainder of the evidence was circumstantial and placed defendant in the victim’s hotel room but did not link him to the actual killing,” the appeals court opinion states. “Thus, whether the jury believed defendant’s recant of his confession is determinative to the jury’s verdict.”
District Attorney Ben David said he respectfully disagrees with the Court of Appeals ruling and plans to speak with Attorney General Josh Stein about appealing the Court of Appeals decision to the state Supreme Court.
“I will also be reaching out to some of his team in that unit to see if we can’t do everything possible to reinstate the verdict of a New Hanover County jury and uphold the conviction of Tevin Vann for the first-degree murder a community of his peers convicted him of,” David said.
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