VERDICT: Thomas Grooms found guilty of 2nd-degree murder
NEW HANOVER COUNTY, NC (WECT) – Joy Doolittle started and finished the state's second-degree murder case against Thomas H. Grooms Jr.
The mother of 17-year-old Trey Doolittle and wife of 46-year-old David Doolittle lost part of her family on April 3, 2011 when Grooms struck them with his silver Buick sedan on River Road in Wilmington.
The father and son were out biking together on that Sunday morning, just 10 days before Trey Doolittle would have turned 18. After a night of heavy drinking and snorting mephedrone, a stimulant commonly known as bath salts, prosecutors said that Grooms got behind the wheel of his vehicle and turned onto River Road.
Calls to 911 dispatch operators starting coming in at 9:28 a.m. Grooms had hit David Doolittle; his head crashed into the vehicle's windshield. A second later, Trey Doolittle was airborne.
David Doolittle was pronounced dead at the scene and Trey Doolittle was taken to New Hanover Regional Medical Center, where his mother was able to say goodbye to him before he was taken off life support.
Trey Doolittle was clinically brain dead, but several of his organs—his heart, lungs, kidneys, liver, pancreas and eyes—were used to help save four other people.
Joy Doolittle described to the court what it was like to tell her other children, twin boys, that their father was dead and to have to drive them from Charlotte to Wilmington to say goodbye to their brother.
She sat in the courtroom each of the six days of the trial and listened to drug experts explain the effects of the drug Grooms had snorted. She reacted when Grooms' ex-girlfriend Thelma Schumaker testified that he frequently drove with a mixture of Mountain Dew and vodka. She cried while listening to the three 911 calls that were made for her son and husband.
The state rested its case after an SBI toxicologist testified that Grooms' blood alcohol level was 0.13, almost double the legal limit. But, Joy Doolittle didn't rest.
She listened diligently to attorney Dennis Sullivan defend his client. She heard Grooms talk about his son Josh, who passed away when he was 23, and even heard him explain that it was the "worst decision" of his life to drive drunk on that day.
Joy Doolittle sat in her seat and paid close attention as Grooms' family members and friends told the jury about the man they know.
"If anyone was a risk taker, it was me," Grooms' friend of 41 years, Olin Baldwin said. "Tom (Grooms) was always the more reserved, conservative type of individual."
She watched Sullivan and District Attorney Ben David each give their closing arguments and shed some tears when David talked about her life going on without her family.
"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."
Grooms was eventually found guilty of two counts of second-degree murder, guilty of two counts of felony death by motor vehicle, guilty of reckless driving and guilty of possession of an open container of alcohol by a jury consisting of four men and eight women from Jacksonville.
Prior to the sentencing, Joy Doolittle was invited by David to speak directly to Judge Paul L. Jones. She told Jones that she gets fever blisters frequently and was prescribed anti-anxiety medication because of the stress of losing Trey and David Doolittle.
While trying to hold back tears, she quietly said, "There seems to be a cloud of sadness."
She ended the trial by telling the judge about the final picture that she took with her son while he was alive. She remembered that Trey Doolittle, a 17-year-old boy who just wanted to ride his bike, had thrown his arm around her neck and was smiling.
"I can imagine feeling it there now," she whispered.
The judge finally made the decision she had been waiting almost a year to hear.
"Vengeance only belongs to one person and that's the Lord," Judge Paul L. Jones said.
Grooms was sentenced to 24-30 years in the N.C. Department of Corrections for the deaths of Trey and David Doolittle.
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