Jury: Castle Hayne man not guilty of attempted murder of sheriff’s deputy

PortCityDaily.com is your source for free news and information in the Wilmington area.

Darius Terrell Hester

Darius Terrell Hester

A Castle Hayne man was found not guilty of an attempted first-degree murder charge on Friday afternoon.

Darius Terrell Hester, 26, was found not guilty by a New Hanover County jury of the attempted first-degree murder of New Hanover County Sheriff’s Deputy Joshua Cranford in the area of Rockhill Road and Ruby Lane in Castle Hayne on Aug. 16, 2013.

The jury of seven white women, four white men and a Hispanic man returned the not guilty verdict after two hours of deliberation. The trial began in New Hanover County Superior Court on Tuesday afternoon.

The jury did find Hester guilty on a charge of possession of a stolen firearm in the case. Superior Court Judge Phyllis Gorham sentenced Hester to 6-17 months in the N.C. Department of Corrections with credit for time served. He has been in the New Hanover County Jail under a $1 million secured bond since the incident in Castle Hayne more than two years ago.

The incident occurred when Cranford was on routine patrol and stopped Hester walking near the road. The deputy stopped Hester because it had recently become a hot spot for crime, according to Assistant District Attorney Connie Jordan, who prosecuted the case. During the course of the stop the deputy, suspecting a weapon was tucked into Hester’s pants, asked the man to lift his shirt.

Hester lifted his shirt and moments later the deputy fired multiple shots at him. The evidence the state presented during the trial aimed to prove Hester pointed the weapon at the deputy in attempt to kill him. But the defense argued Hester tried to hand the deputy the weapon, with no intent to fire the handgun.

“You have two different versions of events; you have Deputy Cranford’s and you have Mr. Hester’s. They are the only two that knows what happened out there,” said Hester’s attorney Geoffrey Hosford.

Jordan argued that Hester made an attempt on Cranford’s life when Hester removed the gun from the waistband of his pants, pointed the weapon at Cranford and pulled the trigger.

Law enforcement is on the scene of a reported shooting near Rock Hill Road and Ruby Lane in Castle Hayne. Photo by Christina Haley.
Law enforcement on the scene of the shooting near Rock Hill Road and Ruby Lane in Castle Hayne. Photo by Christina Haley.

The weapon did not fire because there was no bullet in the gun’s chamber, according to evidence presented by both the state and defense.

“Deputy Joshua Cranford almost lost his life. And we are here this week because of the actions of the defendant – Darius Terrell Hester,” Jordan said in her closing arguments.

Jordan said the deputy fired because he didn’t want Hester to turn and fire, or have an armed suspect go to someone’s home, causing trouble for someone else. One of the deputy’s shots hit Hester in the right shoulder. Cranford chased Hester to a nearby dirt road, where he arrested Hester and then found the weapon yards away.

“Darius Hester made the decision that he was not going to come clean about that stolen gun that he was hiding on his body. He had minutes to decide what he was going to do. And his decision was to not come clean, he was not honest to that officer about having that gun,” Jordan said.

While holding up the gun Hester was suspected of carrying at the time of the incident, Jordan said to the jury, “There is an inference that is drawn when a weapon such as this is used. If the defendant intentionally attempts to inflict a wound upon the victim with a deadly weapon, you may infer that he did it unlawfully and he did that with malice…every adult knows how dangerous a firearm is.”

But Hosford said that Hester pulled the weapon from his pants, with no intention to fire, and then ran because he saw the deputy panic.

“This young man saw the officer’s look in his eye. Saw he was panicked. Saw him reach for his weapon, and ran…because he thought the officer was going to shoot him. And in fact, that’s what happened. He did shoot him,” Hosford said. “He had absolutely no motive to pull the gun out and pull the trigger at the deputy. No motive because none of that makes any sense…the deputy had his name, he took that information and radioed it into dispatch and Darius Hester knows that.”

Hester was taken to New Hanover Regional Medical Center for treatment of the gunshot wound to his shoulder. Hosford said the bullet penetrated his shoulder, breaking the bone.

“He’s bleeding. He’s gasping for breath. He thinks he’s going to die…Deputy Cranford put him there. Not with one shot, not with two shots – six shots [were fired],” Hosford said.

Cranford has been employed with the New Hanover County Sheriff’s Office since January 2009, according to records with the New Hanover County Sheriff’s Office. Following the incident, Cranford was placed on administrative leave pending an 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.

“We are thankful for the jury’s time and attention,” Hosford said following the verdicts. “Obviously the family is happy and he is happy.”

Since Hester was given credit for the time he has served in jail, he will be released from the New Hanover County jail on Friday.