A North Carolina man was found guilty of murder, elevated aggravated assault and robbery after killing a Millinocket businessman and wounding his wife in a 2017 home invasion.
The jury of five men and seven women convicted 39-year-old Christopher Murray after deliberating for about 4½ hours Friday following four days of testimony.
Murray, of Red Springs, North Carolina, was one of three people charged with robbing and shooting Wayne Lapierre, 59, and his wife, Diem (pronounced Yem) Lapierre, now 34, in the basement of their Massachusetts Avenue home Dec. 19, 2017. Wayne Lapierre died of bullet wounds three days later in a Bangor hospital.
One of the other three charged in the home invasion, Alexis Locklear, pleaded guilty last week to robbery for her role in the home invasion and testified this week against Murray. Her plea agreement with the Maine attorney general’s office calls for a charge of felony murder to be dropped and for her to be sentenced to time served. The third person charged, Tony Locklear, Alexis’ father, pleaded guilty earlier in January to the same charges Murray faced.
Diem Lapierre was not at the courthouse when the verdict was announced.
Murray showed no emotion as the verdict was read. His mother and other relatives who have sat behind Murray each day of the trial also sat quietly while the verdict was announced.
Murray’s mother, Orita Murray of Clearfield, Utah, told reporters before leaving the courthouse that her son did not get a fair trial because all the jurors were white, and she said that Locklear had been “bought off with a plea deal.”
“I do not think it was a fair trial,” she said. “That testimony Alexis gave, anybody could tell she was lying. If I was told I’d get free, I’d lie too. Maine, I’m telling you, you’re wrong.”
Orita Murray said she feels sympathy for Diem Lapierre, but that her son deserves a new trial.
Defense attorneys David Bate of Bangor and Jeffrey Toothaker of Ellsworth said they would appeal the verdict to the Maine Supreme Judicial Court in Portland.
“The jury seemed to disregard the very issues we were trying to highlight,” Toothaker said.
One of those issues was that Murray participated in the robbery under duress because he heard Tony Locklear had threatened his daughter, Toothaker said.
“Because Alexis Locklear changed her story about those threats during her negotiations for a plea deal, the jury could not consider them,” he said.
Toothaker said the verdict would have been different had jurors considered whether Murray, who was dating Alexis Locklear, participated in the crimes because he was afraid of Tony Locklear.
Deputy Attorney General Lisa Marchese told reporters that she would ask for “a very significant sentence” for Murray but did not say Friday how many years she would recommend.
Wayne Lapierre was a licensed medical marijuana grower who also owned storage facilities, a plowing and excavation company, and other businesses in the Millinocket area.
Murray went to the house to rob Lapierre with Alexis Locklear, 22, of Maxton, North Carolina, and Tony Locklear, 44, of Pembroke, North Carolina, who had previously lived in East Millinocket and worked for the Lapierres remodeling a house.
The intruders left the Lapierre home with two 5-gallon buckets of marijuana, between $400 and $500 in cash, and the rings off Diem Lapierre’s fingers, the prosecution said Monday.
The state claimed that the men planned the assault and robbery believing that the Lapierres had a large amount of cash in the house. Murray’s defense team argued that Tony Locklear planned the assaults and robbery, and that Murray was unaware of his plans.
Both sides agreed that Diem Lapierre’s survival after she was shot twice in the head made her “a walking, talking miracle.”
The native of Vietnam wept as she testified Tuesday, and told the jury through a translator what happened the night her husband was killed and she was wounded. She identified Christopher Murray as the man who shot her in the head as she sat next to her husband on the floor of the master bedroom in their basement.
“I said, ‘Please don’t kill me. Please don’t kill me,’” she testified. “I have two young children to care for and a mother who is 75. They were cold and evil.”
She recounted how Murray took her husband’s pillow from the bed, held it up and shot her through it. She fell over onto her husband and heard but did not see two shots fired at her husband. One of the men later shot her again, Diem Lapierre testified.
She was unconscious for about 30 minutes, until “God brought me back,” she said. She was able to untie herself, crawl upstairs to the kitchen and call 911.
As a result of being shot, Diem Lapierre said she lost her left eye and still has two bullets lodged in her brain. She testified that she nonetheless remembered everything.
Because of the nature of her injuries, the defense team called into question her memory of events, but a doctor from Northern Light Eastern Maine Medical Center said Diem Lapierre’s memory when she was released was intact.
Alexis Locklear testified that she drove Murray and her father from North Carolina to Maine but did not know of plans to rob the Lapierres. She testified that she saw Murray put handcuffs on Wayne Lapierre and her father “hogtie” Diem Lapierre but was not in the house when the shots were fired.
The Locklears and Murray have been held without bail at the Penobscot County Jail since their arrests.
Tony Locklear also faces murder and first-degree kidnapping charges from December 2017 in North Carolina — about two weeks before the home invasion in Millinocket.
The penalty for murder in Maine is 25 years to life in prison. The penalty for Class A robbery is up to 30 years in prison and a fine of up to $50,000.