HILLSBOROUGH - After an extensive investigation led them to a stand of Chatham County woods, investigators and crime experts were painstakingly careful to preserve evidence as they finally located and dug up Josh Bailey’s body.
Testifying on Friday in trial of Brian Minton, N.C. State University forensic archaeologist Billy Oliver said retrieval of the body was difficult because of the location.
Minton is one of six men charged with first-degree murder, first-degree kidnapping and conspiracy to commit murder and kidnapping in the 2008 death of 20-year-old Bailey. Prosecutors say Minton was the ringleader in crime, as well as an August 2008 kidnapping and assault of Matt Johnson.
Prosecutors say Bailey was shot and first buried July 29, 2008, in a shallow grave off Twisted Oak Drive in Carrboro. Minton, Jacob Maxwell, Jack Johnson and Chris Manley allegedly re-buried Bailey’s body in a different location in late August.
State Bureau of Investigation agent Michael East said he joined the investigation in September 2008, for the search of a home on Sourwood Drive in Chapel Hill.
During that search, East and sheriff’s Deputy Rick Smith confiscated a wet, black T-shirt with holes and red stains, two pairs of Timberland boots – one tan with red stains and another blue and white with duct tape on the bottom – and several other pieces of duct tape, one of which was twisted with a wire into a long strand that looked like it could be used to bind something.
SBI agent Phillip Stevens was called to the house during the search to interview Garry Bright, and later that day, East said he accompanied Stevens and Bright to Big Woods Road in Chatham County. Bright testified this week that he had learned about the grave location from Minton and Maxwell.
The next morning, East met Johnston County Deputy Danny Johnson and his cadaver dog, Boyca, and Oliver was enlisted to help with its excavation.
Oliver testified SBI agents had trouble finding the grave at first, because the soil above it was loose and had collapsed under the force of rain and gravity. The depression left behind had filled with leaves, he said. They removed the leaves and set up a 20-by-20-foot grid to control the excavation, he said. They put removed soil on a tarp to prevent contamination while it was examined.
About 20 inches down, they found Bailey’s aluminum cane, stopping to record its position before removing it, Oliver testified. They smelled a strong odor of decomposition as groundwater began to penetrate the grave, he said.
“The lower we got, the more complicated it became, because (the water) flowed downhill and would accumulate in the area we were excavating,” he said.
Removing the cane exposed a black trash bag attached to a cocoon of clear plastic and duct tape, he said. Trucked-in water was used to clear away the muddy groundwater as they dug. he said.Oliver testified that they moved the body using sheets and plywood to preserve it. Everything was taken to the Medical Examiner’s Office in Chapel Hill, he said.
Oliver said they then studied how the pit was created, looking at vegetation and excavation marks. At the bottom of the pit, they found a mark indicating a round-pointed shovel similar to those submitted into evidence was used, he said.
Chatham County resident Dennis Coleman testified Friday that he was dove hunting near Jordan Lake in September 2008 when he found three shovels lying in the woods off a gravel access road.
Coleman said he took the shovels home, leaning them against a shed. Roughly a week later, he heard about Bailey’s body being found in the same area and called the authorities. A sheriff’s deputy retrieved the shovels, he said, and SBI agents talked with him a few weeks later.
East was called in again Oct. 2 to search a black Chevy Impala in Pittsboro, he said. The vehicle’s owner, Maxwell’s mother Helen Maxwell, arrived home a short time after investigators went to the house and consented to the search, he said.
They recovered a cordless drill, duct tape, a box of latex gloves, and a flashlight and a sock, both of which had mud on them.
East said Helen Maxwell came outside at one point during the search to ask if they were looking for something specific. He told her about a gray Sanibel Island T-shirt that Jacob Maxwell was seen wearing Aug. 29 in a Lowes home improvement store surveillance video. Minton’s mother is accused of taking him to the store to buy muriatic acid used in an attempt to destroy evidence.
East testified that Helen Maxwell later came out holding a wine-colored Sanibel Island T-shirt. Since it was found in Jacob Maxwell’s bedroom, he called Stevens to get a search warrant, he said. They later seized the T-shirt and a bag of latex gloves from the room, he said.
The trial continues at 9:30 a.m. Monday.
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