The trial of a man facing the death penalty in a 2016 double murder case is tentatively set for March.
Scott Devon Hemphill, 38, is still being held without bail around six years after the bodies of Spencer Jermain Murray, 29, and Albert Alexander Austin, 35, were found in the trunk of a burnt-out car in September 2016, according to information previously reported by The herald of the news.
Hemphill faces two charges of first-degree murder and kidnapping in connection with the deaths, and he will face the death penalty when the case goes to trial.
He is the latest defendant to face a judge in the case, with his three co-defendants having pleaded guilty in recent years.
Among these co-defendants are:
- Brian Jerome Robinson, who will spend between 28 and 35 years in prison after pleading guilty last year to two counts of second-degree murder and two counts of robbery with a dangerous weapon.
- Icey Chenell Gooden, who was sentenced in 2019 to between 25 and 32 years in prison after pleading guilty to two counts of second-degree murder, two counts of robbery with a dangerous weapon and two counts of first-degree kidnapping degree.
- Brandy Nicole Davis, who pleaded guilty to two counts of accessory after the fact to the murder and was sentenced to between eight and 11 years in prison in 2020.
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According to information released by the district attorney’s office after Robinson pleaded guilty, a burned-out vehicle registered to Murray’s name was found on September 18, 2016, with his and Austin’s remains inside. Their identities were confirmed by dental records and autopsies showed they died of smoke inhalation and high carbon monoxide saturation which led to poisoning by inhalation of combustion products.
Information provided during Robinson’s guilty plea also indicated that he and Hemphill robbed Austin and Murray before putting them in the trunk of the vehicle, driving to a deserted area and setting it on fire. Investigators also discovered items the suspects had attempted to burn that had been used in the robbery and murder, according to information provided to the newspaper last year.
Hemphill, who has been in custody since his arrest in connection with the murders, appeared in Burke County Court this week where an order has been put in place to hold him in Catawba County for the week so he can spend time with his attorneys, said District Attorney Scott Reilly.
Since Hemphill was arrested on those charges, he has racked up one indictment for malicious conduct of a crime by a prisoner and multiple misdemeanor charges of communicating threats for actions that court documents indicate he took against prison staff.
Prosecutors originally planned for this case to go to trial in 2020, but the COVID-19 pandemic put an end to that, Reilly said.
Hemphill, who is now working with his third set of lawyers, also saw his second set of lawyers withdraw from his case that year, Reilly said. This meant his new lawyers had to start digesting the 10,000 pages of discovery documents from scratch to figure out the best way to defend their client.
“Even though this is a 2016 case, these lawyers are relatively new and the case has been pending for much longer than we would like,” Reilly said. “These things were out of our control.”
He said his office was aiming for the case to go to trial in March, which would mark the beginning of the end of a lengthy legal process.
“Jury selection itself takes longer than most other trials,” Reilly said.
Beyond jury selection, the case could see two distinct phases of the trial.
“In a capital case, if the defendant is found guilty of first degree murder, that’s only the first phase,” Reilly said. “Then you go to the secondary phase, which is the sentencing phase, where you have a second full trial just on whether or not the death penalty should be imposed.”
Hemphill has previous convictions for malicious conduct by a prisoner for a 2009 offense and two counts of robbery with a dangerous weapon for 2001 offenses, according to records listed on the North Carolina Department of Public Safety website.