A homeless man will serve more than two decades in prison after pleading guilty to the February 2015 murder of another homeless man in Wilmington.
Stacey Wayne Brown, 48, pleaded guilty Monday in New Hanover County Superior Court to a charge of second degree murder, according to District Attorney Ben David. He was arrested Feb. 1, 2015 and charged with the death of 51-year-old Donnie Ward, whose body was found at a homeless camp in the 2400 block of Carolina Beach Road.
The night of his death, Ward had gone to the homeless camp behind the Hess Station at the corner of Medical Center Drive and Carolina Beach Road to retrieve an article of clothing he had left there, David said. He met with Brown and his co-defendant in the case – 33-year-old Joy Nicole Hood – and another man she was living with at the camp. The four were drinking beer and sitting around a fire pit into the early morning hours of Feb. 1.
At some point, a verbal altercation occurred between Brown, Hood and Ward, David said. Brown knocked Ward to the ground and into the fire pit, where Ward lost consciousness.
“Brown and Hood then kicked and punched Ward in his head and body at least 20 times. Ward never moved during this time, nor did he ever regain consciousness,” David said. “Brown then dragged Ward over to the area of the camp used to dump trash, covered his body with a tarp and left him to die.”
It was Hood’s camp-mate who called law enforcement to the camp after he overheard Brown and Hood talking about the killing, David said. An autopsy revealed that Ward died due to blunt force trauma, consistent with being hit, kicked or stomped. Ward had no defensive wounds.
Brown admitted to the offense while being interviewed by a Wilmington Police Department detective, David said. Brown told the detective he kicked Ward into the fire pit after the victim cursed at Hood. He then pulled Ward off of the fire and beat him to death.
“The family of Mr. Ward has been extremely supportive during the investigation and preparation of this case, and we hope that this outcome will honor his memory,” said Assistant District Attorney Janet Coleman, who prosecuted the case for the state.
Brown has a record of violent assaults, David said. He was convicted of assault on a handicapped person – his father – in December 2002 in Pender County and assault on a law enforcement officer in January 2003. He was most recently convicted of an assault on his wife, as well as habitual misdemeanor assault, in April 2013.
Brown was represented by Assistant Public Defender Thomas Woodrum. Superior Court Judge Phyllis Gorham sentenced Brown to 28 to 34 and a half years in the N.C. Department of Corrections.
Hood, who is also charged with second-degree murder, is scheduled to appear in New Hanover County Superior Court on Aug. 8.