Judge finds Hargrove competent to stand trial in 2017 shooting

Sept. 13—HENDERSON — Superior Court Judge Cindy Sturges cleared the way for the retrial of Marcus Tyrell Hargrove’s first-degree murder, finding him mentally competent to stand trial after hearing testimony from two psychologists.

Both psychologists — James Hilkey and Nancy Laney — testified Monday that they believe Hargrove has the ability to proceed.

He was interviewed in response to an Aug. 23 incident that disrupted jury selection. Hargrove declined to return to court after a break, and as Sturges explained Monday, because he faces a possible death penalty, he must be in the courtroom.

“In a capital case, there is no option to go to trial in the absence of the defendant,” Sturges said. “They must be physically here, I understand. It is an inalienable right.”

Both psychologists testified that Hargrove does not handle stress well, a problem given that a murder trial of any kind and especially one where the death penalty is a likely outcome is inherently stressful.

Before the Aug. 23 incident, prosecutors, defense attorneys and Sturges had seated four of the required 16 jurors. Twelve people make up a jury and four serve as alternates.

Hargrove is charged in the 2017 homicide of 23-year-old Shaekeya Danielle Gay, who was shot to death outside the Dabney Drive Food Lion in Henderson. Gay had previously sought a domestic violence protection order against him.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Melissa Pelfrey said she and U.S. Attorney Mike Waters expect “a very straightforward case” once the deposition begins, with “no twists and turns.”

Hilkey, the former head of psychological services at Butner Federal Prison, testified that Hargrove’s primary ways of dealing with stress in his life are to withdraw, socially or “get involved in substance abuse.”

He and Laney, an evaluator at the state’s Butner-based Central Regional Hospital, also said they don’t believe the Hargrove matter is an attempt to manipulate procedures.

Rather, he “doesn’t like bad things being said about him in court and is concerned about his ability to control his behavior in court,” Laney said.

But he understands what’s going on, including that there is “a plea deal on the table for life without parole,” Laney said.

Given his need to be on trial, there is medication that can help him cope, along with a number of other things that psychologists know can help such as squeezing a stress ball. Another takes frequent breaks, but both Sturges and Waters saw problems with that.

A typical trial will see the judges order a recess in the morning session and another in the afternoon, with the sessions themselves being adjourned around lunch for an hour and a half sometime around midday.

The problem is anything beyond that could require Sturges to send the jury out of the courtroom, a process that is inherently cumbersome with 16 jurors.

Given the logistics, “five-minute breaks aren’t even realistic,” and even 10 minutes is pushing it, Sturges said, adding that while jurors don’t remain in a courtroom when attorneys take time to discuss issues of law, the defendants like Hargrove we should stay for these discussions.

Sturges also expressed concern that what, from the jury’s perspective, might look like frequent unexplained breaks would actually end up hurting Hargrove’s case. A frustrated jury can become one that tries to “rush to a verdict” instead of deliberating carefully once it’s time to weigh the facts, he said.

Waters, meanwhile, said the case is already “woefully behind schedule” given that the jury should have been empaneled “weeks ago.”

He added that it affects the timing of the next case in the series, a possible allusion to the retrial this fall of Lester Kearney, who faces murder charges in connection with a violent home invasion in the Littleton area that occurred in 2018.

Contact Ray Gronberg at rgronberg@hendersondispatch.com or by phone at 252-436-2850.

Contact Ray Gronberg at rgronberg@hendersondispatch.com or by phone at 252-436-2850.

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