The trial is under way in the case of a Castle Hayne man charged with attempting to kill a New Hanover County Sheriff’s deputy in August 2013.
Darius Terrell Hester, 26, faces charges of attempted first-degree murder and possession of stolen firearm in New Hanover County Superior Court.
Hester is accused of removing a handgun from the waistband of his pants and attempting to fire the weapon at Deputy Joshua Adam Cranford in the area of Rock Hill Road in Castle Hayne on the morning of Aug. 16, 2013, according to Assistant District Attorney Connie Jordan.
In opening statements Tuesday afternoon, Jordan said that Cranford was on routine patrol in the area of Apple Valley and Walnut Hills in Castle Hayne when he encountered Hester on Rock Hill Road. While patrolling the area, the deputy noticed a vehicle had pulled off from the side of the road, leaving the defendant behind, she said.
“There had been a number of breaking and enterings in the area recently and there had been a recent home invasion,” Jordan said.
Hester was walking near the road with headphones on and was listening to music. Cranford, because of the high-crime area and recent break-ins, pulled up behind the defendant, turned on his blue lights and “popped” the patrol vehicle’s siren once to notify the defendant he was there, Jordan said.
When the deputy encountered Hester, he asked for his name and identification, but the defendant did not have any form of physical identification on him, Jordan said. Cranford asked Hester to stand in front of the patrol car as he ran Hester’s name though a law enforcement computer.
Twice during that time the defendant moved to the side of the car while the deputy was checking his name, “making [Cranford] very uneasy,” Jordan said.
When the deputy walked Hester back to the front of the car, dispatch notified the deputy Hester had been previously charged with carrying a concealed weapon. At that point, Deputy Cranford asked the defendant to lift his shirt but Hester refused multiple times, Jordan said.
“Deputy Cranford could tell by the hang of his shirt that…there’s something in the waist area of the defendant’s pants, consistent with what Deputy Cranford knows looks like a weapon,” Jordan said.
When Cranford continued to ask Hester to lift his shirt, Jordan said, “the defendant pulls his shirt to the side, pulls out the gun, points it at the officer and pulls the trigger.”
The gun did not fire because there wasn’t a round in the chamber, Jordan said. It was at that point the defendant ran from the deputy.
“Deputy Cranford, not knowing if he’s moving away to get distance to re-engage, because it was so unexpected in the first place…fires because he doesn’t want this armed man to go to someone else’s home or cause problems to someone else,” Jordan said.
A bullet hit Hester in the right shoulder, Jordan said. Cranford chased Hester to a nearby dirt road, where he apprehended Hester and then found the weapon about 20 yards away from where he caught the defendant.
Attorney Geoffrey Hosford in his opening remarks told the jury that Hester pulled out the weapon to hand it to the deputy, with no intention to fire it.
Hester lives on Rock Hill Road with his family and was walking down that road when he was stopped by the deputy, Hosford said. Hester followed the deputy’s orders and was “polite and cooperative” even though Cranford said Hester had done nothing wrong, he added.
“This case is about a rookie deputy who panicked…who didn’t follow his training and shot an unarmed 23-year-old kid with no record in the back,” Hosford said. “Darius Hester lifts up his shirt to give [Cranford] possession of the weapon and pulls it out of his pants.”
Hosford said that when Hester saw the deputy panic upon seeing the weapon, he ran away from the deputy and tossed the weapon aside as fled.
“This young man is going to tell you that there was no round in the chamber. This young man is going to tell you that the safety was on…he knew how the weapon worked,” Hosford said. “He had fired it before. He’s going to tell you that he didn’t want to shoot himself carrying it in his pants. That gun was not ready to be fired. And that young man did not try to fire it.”
The deputy fired his service weapon six times from 25 or 30 yards away, Hosford said.
According to the New Hanover County Sheriff’s Office, Cranford has been employed with the New Hanover County Sheriff’s Office since January 2009. Following the incident, Cranford was placed on administrative leave pending an investigation by the State Bureau of Investigation into the shooting involving Hester.
In September 2013, District Attorney Ben David determined Cranford was justified in his use of force in the shooting. The deputy has since returned to full duty. Hester has remained at the New Hanover County Jail under a $1 million secured bond since the incident.
Testimony in the case will continue in New Hanover County Superior Court this week. Check back later for an update on this case.