NEWS_MURDER PLEA_130228_WEB

Man guilty as charged in murder plea (UPDATED)

Published 11:19am Thursday, February 28, 2013

 

The man accused of a murder that rocked the town of Bath two years ago has pleaded guilty to first-degree murder and other charges.
Thursday morning, Arturo Lopez-Perez made the guilty plea toSuperior Court Judge Wayland Sermons Jr. for the murder of Leonard Alfred Willson III, known as “Len,” whose beaten body was found in his Main Street home by a neighbor on Oct. 7, 2010. Willson was a paraplegic who was often seen riding around Bath and the surrounding countryside on his recumbent handcycle.
In a courtroom empty of all witnesses but his mother, the one time Lopez faltered was during the Sermons’ recitation of the charges against him — first-degree murder, first-degree burglary, felony larceny, robbery with a dangerous weapon and first-degree arson — and asked, “Are you indeed guilty of these charges?”
Lopez hesitated briefly before saying a subdued, “Yes, sir.”
After Lopez’s plea, District Attorney Seth Edwards summarized the prosecution’s evidence for Sermons, including the existence of Lopez’s voluntary statement to Beaufort County Sheriff’s Office investigators in which he admits to the crimes.
Though two other men, Martel Deval Weston and Domonic Kidean Farrow, were also charged with Willson’s murder, the prosecution stated that it was Lopez who had a connection to the victim. Willson had taken on the role of mentor to Lopez, employing him to do odd jobs and yard work, but the two had had a falling out and did not have much of a relationship at the time of the murder, according to authorities.
Edwards said that it is unknown whether Lopez set out the night of Oct. 5, 2010, with the intention of killing Willson.
“We can prove that he went with the intention of robbing him,” Edwards said.
Willson was home when Lopez and Weston broke into his house sometime after 10 p.m. Oct. 5. Farrow remained in the car, parked a block away, while Weston robbed the house and Lopez beat Willson with first a pitchfork, then a shovel.
Lopez told investigators later that he “needed to put (Willson) to sleep.”
Edwards said the medical examiner’s ruling on cause of death was blunt trauma to the head, which made up only a fraction of Willson’s injuries: 27 clusters of contusions over the upper body, hands and wrists; multiple fractures to the skull; broken hyoid bone; fractured right arm; and bruising to the brain.
Before leaving Willson’s home, Lopez grabbed papers out of Willson’s desk and stuck them in a heater, Edwards said. The resulting fire triggered the smoke detector and caused some fire damage to the home. Lopez took both murder weapons from the scene and threw them off a bridge on the way to Belhaven. The Sidney Dive Team later recovered the pitchfork and shovel, Edwards said.
In March 2012, Weston and Farrow pleaded guilty to lesser crimes and agreed to testify against Lopez during trial.
The maximum sentence Lopez can be dealt is life in prison without parole; the minimum sentence, life in prison (25 years) with parole, with a sentence of 20 to 27 years for the other crimes committed during Willson’s murder running concurrently with the life sentence.
“The death penalty was not an option because of his age,” Edwards explained.
Lopez was 16 at the time of Willson’s murder. Prior to a decision last summer by the U.S. Supreme Court, Lopez could have been given an automatic sentence of life in prison without parole based on North Carolina’s structured sentencing. The Supreme Court, however, ruled that the sentence applied to persons under the age of 18 violated Eighth Amendment rights.
Defense attorney John Bramble declined to comment on the reasoning behind Lopez waiving his rights to a jury trial.
Lopez, Weston and Farrow will be sentenced at hearings yet to be scheduled; Lopez, at what Edwards referred to as a mini-trial for the benefit of the presiding judge.
“I want the judge to hear all the facts because this was a brutal crime,” Edwards said. “I’m, of course, going to be asking for the absolute max.”

 

 

Previously posted article:

The man accused of a murder that rocked the town of Bath two years ago has pleaded guilty as charged to first-degree murder and other charges.

This morning, Arturo Lopez-Perez made the guilty plea to Superior Court Judge Wayland Sermons Jr., for the murder of Leonard Alfred Willson III, known as “Len,” whose beaten body was found in his Main Street home by a neighbor on Oct. 7, 2010. Willson was a paraplegic who was often seen on the streets of Bath and the surrounding countryside on his recumbent handcycle.

According to District Attorney Seth Edwards, the maximum sentence Lopez can be dealt is life in prison without parole; the minimum sentence, life in prison (25 years) with parole, with a sentence of 20 to 27 years for additional crimes committed in the course of Willson’s murder — first-degree burglary, robbery with a dangerous weapon, felony larceny and first-degree arson — running concurrently with the life sentence.

Three men were arrested for the murder in October 2010. Last March, both Martel Deval Weston and Domonic Kidean Farrow pleaded guilty to lesser crimes and agreed to testify against Lopez during trial.

All three will be sentenced at a later hearing; Lopez, at what Edwards referred to as a mini-trial for the benefit of the presiding judge.

“I want the judge to hear all the facts because this was a brutal crime,” Edwards said. “I’m, of course, going to be asking for the absolute max (sentence).”

Prior to a decision last summer by U.S. Supreme Court, Lopez could have been given an automatic life in prison without parole sentence based on North Carolina’s structured sentencing. The Supreme Court, however, ruled that the sentence applied to persons under the age of 18 violated Eighth Amendment rights. Lopez was 16 at the time of Willson’s murder.

 

Updates will be made later in the day.

  1. zibbus22

    Len’s Legacy
    Len was one of the most generous people I know. If he
    was not getting along with Lopez-Perez, there was a good reason. He would have given the shirt off his back, even to his enemy, yet this boy still made his choice to extinguish Len’s soul. I pray the pain and forgivness in Len’s eyes is forever seared into Perez’s heart. May Perez grow to be the helpful, thoughtful and a caring person in a prison, as Len was in his free world. He may have been helpless to defend himself due to paralysis, he never considered himself handicapped. He was overcome with evil and cruelty, this I will never understand. Thank you for putting such a strong inspiration in my life as Len was and still is. His legacy will live forever.

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  2. willsonk

    Len was/is my older brother. Thank you so much for this story. I am so relieved that our family, especially my Mother & Father, & Len’s friends will not have to put ourselves through a jury trial now. Thank you to the Beaufort County Sheriff’s Department. Thank you to Seth Thomas. Thank you to Arturo’s mother for doing the right thing. Rest in Peace brother Len.

    (Report comment)

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