By W. James Payne Law Firm

BOLIVIA — Jurors heard testimony from a key witness Thursday in Brunswick County Superior Court during the trial of a 29-year-old Wilmington man accused of killing a 3-year-old Shallotte boy more than three years ago. Brunswick County Detention FacilityMontey Andrea Murray

It marked the third consecutive day of witness testimony in the trial of Montey Andrea Murray, who faces first-degree murder and felony child abuse charges in the death of Jaronn Ladale McAllister.

A day after Jaronn’s mother, Candice Young, testified, three witnesses took the stand, including Jessie Lamont Holt, the only other person inside Young’s apartment with Murray and Jaronn on March 1, 2012, the day the boy died.

Holt testified he was spending time with his family, including Murra, who is his first cousin, in Andrews, S.C., the night of Feb. 29, 2012.

Holt said he and Murray smoked marijuana before leaving Andrews and while heading to Young’s Cardinal Pointe apartment on the north side of Shallotte. He said they reached the apartment sometime before 11 p.m. and they spent the night with Jaronn while Young was at work.

Holt, who also testified he is schizophrenic, said he was sitting on the couch watching Jaronn play video games while Murray was in the master bedroom with the door closed.

After several hours passed, Holt said, he fell asleep on the couch about 1:30 a.m. and didn’t wake up until Murray roused him, saying “Candice’s baby had died at the hospital,” he said.

Assistant District Attorney Lee Bollinger, who is prosecuting the case with fellow Assistant District Attorney Quintin McGee, asked Holt if he ever assaulted Jaronn.

“I never touched the child,” Holt testified. “I never put a hand on him.”

Bollinger also asked Holt if two puppies Murray brought with him from Andrews ever harmed the child in any way. Holt, who had spent a lot of time with the puppies before Murray brought them back to Brunswick County, testified the puppies were gentle and never hurt anyone, including small children.

Bollinger also asked Holt if he saw Murray strike Jaronn on March 1, 2012.

“No, sir,” Holt answered.

Holt said he poured Jaronn a cup of Mountain Dew just before 1:30 a.m. After Jaronn played more video games and took a few sips of his drink, Holt said, the boy went into his bedroom.

Holt testified that was the last time he saw Jaronn.

Many times throughout Holt’s testimony, his answers to questions conflicted with recorded interviews with law enforcement officers days after Jaronn’s death.

At one point, he told Bollinger that Murray frantically woke him up the next morning and said, “We’ve got to get back to the hospital.”

However, Bollinger played footage in which Holt told Shallotte Police Chief Rodney Gause and then-detective Ed Marti that when Murray woke him up that morning, he said, “the baby had died and we had to go to South Carolina.”

There’s been much debate from both sides in the early stages of the trial as to whether Murray was traveling back to the hospital or to South Carolina before he encountered officers outside Young’s apartment moments after Jaronn had been pronounced dead at Brunswick Health Novant Medical Center.

When Murray and Holt hurriedly left the apartment, they encountered Braxton Strickland, a Shallotte police officer, who ordered them to stop because officers wanted to question them.

Holt testified he stayed in place, but Murray told the officer, “If you comin’ with me you need to come on.”

A recording of the chase shows Murray in a silver Mercury Mountaineer leading officers north on U.S. 17 North. Murray failed to stop until Brunswick County Sheriff’s Office Capt. Sammy Turner performed a PIT maneuver — or precision immobilization technique — on Murray’s SUV.

While Strickland got into his Shallotte police cruiser to follow Murray, Holt testified he went back into the apartment to hide six bags of marijuana he and Murray had brought with them from Andrews. Holt also testified it was Murray’s weed, but Holt was “holding it because he asked me to.”

Holt later pleaded guilty to misdemeanor drug charges in Brunswick County District Court after showing the police where it was hidden inside Young’s apartment a day after Jaronn died.

Jurors also heard Holt testify he was always willing to speak with investigators after the child’s death and did so without ever invoking his right to counsel.

During cross-examination, Payne noted several inconsistencies with Holt’s testimony as a state’s witness and the previous stories he told investigators during interviews after Jaronn’s death.

Payne introduced several recorded interviews into evidence that showed direct contradictions between Holt’s testimony and his answers to questions from law enforcement officers in the days after Jaronn’s death.

Payne asked Holt if Murray took a suitcase with him when they left the apartment together the morning of Jaronn’s death.

Holt testified that Murray definitely had the suitcase, but a recorded interview with Holt and law enforcement showed that Holt told officers he remembered Murray leaving the suitcase inside the apartment.

“Are you as sure about the suitcase as you are whether (Murray) told you (that) you were going to South Carolina and not the hospital?” Payne asked.

“Yes, sir,” Holt replied.

Payne also noted Holt told investigators he was schizophrenic and off his medication for five days leading up Jaronn’s death.

Holt testified his illness would often cause him to black out.

Initially, Holt invoked the Fifth Amendment and wasn’t going to testify, but the court granted him immunity — meaning he couldn’t be prosecuted based his testimony during this trial— after the state said his testimony was “necessary and critical for obtaining justice for the family and the 3-year-old child,” Bollinger said.

“There were only two people inside the home (on the morning in question). By simple subtraction, that just leaves one person,” Bollinger said, referring to Murray.

“Mr. Holt would tell the jury he had no part in inflicting any injuries to the child,” Bollinger said during the hearing. “We ask the court to grant immunity and to compel his testimony in the interests of the (victim’s) family and this 3-year-old child.”

Payne did not object to Bollinger’s application for immunity from the court.

Murray and Holt were babysitting Jaronn at Apartment 207 on 12 Paisley Drive while Young was at work Feb. 29, 2012, court records show.

The state medical examiner’s office ruled Jaronn’s death a homicide, citing the cause as internal bleeding from blunt-force injuries to his abdomen.

The autopsy report noted Jaronn was in cardiac arrest when he arrived at the hospital and had bruises on his chest before receiving CPR at the hospital, though no one tried to resuscitate him before then.

Jaronn, who weighed 35 pounds, had nine bruises on his head and between 20 and 40 bruises — some of them up to an inch in diameter — on his lower chest and abdomen. There were five lacerations to his liver, which caused hemorrhaging.

Murray has been in jail since March 2012.

Payne is scheduled to resume his cross-examination of Holt when court resumes Wednesday, April 8. The Brunswick County Courthouse is closed for Good Friday, and Payne has an obligation in federal court Monday, April 6, and Tuesday, April 7.

Sam Hickman is a staff writer for the Beacon. Reach him at 754-6890 or [email protected].