There were only two people in a Shallotte apartment in 2012 when 3-year-old Jaronn McAllister suffered injuries that led to his death–one was granted immunity in exchange for his testimony on Thursday; the other is charged with murder.
Thirty-seven-year-old Jessie Holt was afforded immunity and ordered to testify in the first-degree murder trial of 29-year-old Montey Murray on Thursday in Brunswick County Superior Court.
Murray and Holt, who is Murray’s cousin, were babysitting Jaronn at his mother’s apartment in Shallotte while she worked the overnight shift in Wilmington the night of Feb. 29, 2012, and the morning of March 1, 2012. On the morning of March 1, Jaronn was taken to the hospital in Bolivia, where he was pronounced dead.
When Holt took the stand Thursday, he invoked his Fifth Amendment right ensuring one’s due process and protecting against self-incrimination. Superior Court Judge Ola Lewis ordered that Holt testify, offering him immunity in exchange for his testimony, in accordance with state law.
In a hearing ahead of Holt’s testimony on Thursday, Assistant District Attorney Lee Bollinger requested that Lewis compel Holt’s testimony after Holt pleaded the Fifth Amendment when asked if he knew Murray.
Bollinger argued that Holt’s testimony was “critical in order for the State to obtain justice for this 3-year-old child.”
Bollinger said Holt’s testimony was critical to the case so that Holt couldn’t “cover for this cousin” by not testifying.
Pursuant to state law, if a judge compels one’s testimony, he or she must be given immunity. For a judge to grant immunity to a witness, a District Attorney must request immunity, with notice given to the N.C. Attorney General’s Office.
James Payne, Murray’s defense attorney, did not object to Lewis compelling Holt’s testimony or granting him immunity.
Holt testified that he was diagnosed with schizophrenia when he was a child. Holt’s schizophrenia causes him to hear voices and black out, he said.
“And that’s something you have to deal with and suffer with?” Payne asked.
“Yes. Sir,” Holt replied.
“On March the first you told law enforcement that you had schizophrenia?” Payne asked. “On March 1, you told law enforcement you had not had your medication in five days?”
“Yes, sir,” Holt said.
Holt—who was interviewed five times by law enforcement during the investigation–gave conflicting reports on the witness stand about what he recalled from the night of Feb. 29, 2012, and the morning of March 1, 2012.
Bollinger questioned Holt about the night he and Murray arrived at Candice Young’s apartment to babysit Jaronn. Young, Jaronn’s mother, was dating Murray at the time of Jaronn’s death. Young left for work at about 11:30 p.m., Holt said. He and Jaronn were in the living room, where Jaronn played video games. Murray–Holt said–went into a bedroom and closed the door.
“[I] was just sitting there watching…I was sitting on the right hand side of the couch,” Holt told the jury. “I was sitting on the couch watching Jaronn play games until about 1:30 [in the morning].”
At about 1:30 a.m. Jaronn asked Holt for a Mountain Dew. After that, Jaronn continued to play video games and went into his room. Holt went to sleep and didn’t see Jaronn again.
“Did you ever beat the child up? Did you ever strike the child in the head?” Bollinger asked.
“No sir, I never touched the child,” Holt replied.
The next thing Holt knew, Murray woke him up. “He said that Candice’s son had died at the hospital and we was going to the hospital,” Holt said.
But after Bollinger played interrogation video from April 19, 2012, Holt offered a different account of what Murray told Holt the morning Jaronn died.
“Mr. Holt, you told law enforcement in that interview that when Montey woke you up, he told you what?” Bolligner asked.
“That we were to go…to South Carolina,” Holt said.
“So you did say that it was South Carolina? That refreshes your memory?” Bollinger asked referring to the interrogation video. “Yes, sir,” Holt said.
On cross-examination, Payne played excerpts from a three-hour law enforcement interrogation video from March 1, 2012. After the video was played, Holt then said that Murray told him they were going to the hospital.
“You just told law enforcement…that Montey said, ‘We got to go to the hospital.’ Does that refresh your recollection?” Payne asked. “Yes, sir,” Holt said.
Payne also asked Holt about what happened while he was with Jaronn the night before his death.
“So you…told them you watched a movie, then the baby went to sleep in the bed in his room. And you went to sleep on the couch and Montey was sleeping in the master bed room. That’s what you told [law enforcement] right?”
“Yes, sir,” Holt replied.
Holt then testified that Jaronn woke up later in the morning to use the restroom.
“You just told law enforcement…the baby was sleeping and then he was getting up and he was using the restroom…that’s what happened?” Payne asked.
“Yes sir. It’s coming back to me,” Holt said.
“So…it was about 3…3:30 [in the morning] he got up to use the restroom?” Payne said. “Yes, sir,” said Holt.
Holt testified Jaronn probably stayed in his room for about 40 minutes, then he came out and asked for something to drink at about 4 a.m. Holt said he got Jaronn something to drink, stayed on the couch for 10 to 15 minutes, then got up and walked back into his room.
Holt didn’t wake up until Murray returned to the apartment and told him Jaronn had died, he said.
Holt’s testimony will continue at 9:30 a.m. April 8 in Brunswick County Superior Court.
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