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Rowan investigator: Items found inside Marlene Johnson’s vehicle belonged to Shirley Pierce

SALISBURY — A Rowan County investigator testified Thursday that he seized several personal items that belonged to Shirley Goodnight Pierce from a Hyundai owned by Marlene Postell Johnson, who is now on trial in Pierce’s murder.

Ron Mesimer of the Rowan County Sheriff’s Office said the items were seized just a few days after Pierce was found dead in her Kannapolis home in 2013.

The items included a magazine subscription and bank statements dated more than a year before Pierce’s violent death. Investigators have said Johnson, 65, mistakenly believed her estranged husband was having an affair with Pierce.

Investigators said Johnson stalked, harassed and assaulted Pierce prior to her murder. Pierce had filed a number of restraining orders and complaints against Johnson. The final restraining order expired a few weeks before Pierce was killed.

Also Thursday, jurors saw the knife investigators said was lodged in Pierce’s neck. The 4- to 5-inch blade, which is all that was left from what is believed to have been a kitchen knife, was unwrapped and displayed to jurors.

Pierce’s fiance, Chuck Reeves, found the 62-year-old woman dead in her bathtub. Investigators said Pierce was stabbed in the neck so violently that the knife blade broke off and was found lodged in her neck by a medical examiner.

Thursday marked the third day of testimony, much of it from Rowan investigators about the items they collected from the crime scene and later from Johnson’s home in Mooresville.

Mesimer said detectives served a search warrant at Johnson’s home after her arrest and found pictures of Pierce’s vehicle, as well as multiple pieces of mail that belonged to Pierce. Some items were found in a decorative pineapple in Johnson’s home office, he said; others were scattered on her dining room table and on the dining room floor.

Prosecutors likened the images to surveillance photos of Pierce as well as pictures of her company van. Some of the pictures had Pierce’s address and name written on them with arrows pointing to the van and pictures of Pierce.

One picture was of the parking lot of Tuscarora Yarns, where Pierce worked as an executive administrative assistant to the company’s chief executive officer, Martin Foil. Ervin Johnson, the defendant’s estranged husband, also worked at Tuscarora Yarns.

Investigators said they found the title to Pierce’s Cadillac at Johnson’s home as well as a Kohl’s mailer with Pierce’s name and address on it.

Defense attorneys James Davis and Jay White expressed concern about the words written on the back of the pictures.

District Attorney Brandy Cook said the pictures are significant.

Judge Stuart Albright allowed copies of the photos without the information on the back to be shown to jurors. He noted that the pictures show that Johnson knew where Pierce lived and worked as well as what kind of car she drove.

White asked Rowan County investigators David Earnhardt and Mesimer why they didn’t seize or take fingerprints or DNA swabs of certain items from the crime scene as well as Johnson’s home. Both investigators said they collected the evidence they believed is relevant to the case.

Both men said the state crime lab will conduct tests of only a certain number of items. They collected hundreds of items from Pierce’s home as well as Johnson’s home and vehicle, but not all of it was tested.

A brief hearing was conducted out of the presence of jurors about the testimony of a former waitress who witnessed a physical attack on Pierce by Johnson. Amy Christy, who worked as a waitress at Parkway House Restaurant in Concord, said she regularly waited on Pierce and a group of about six others from Tuscarora Yarns who would eat lunch at the restaurant at least once a week.

Christy said she received a call from Johnson who told her that her husband was having an affair and she would pay the waitress to obtain video for her.

“I told her she was crazy,” Christy told the court.

Christy said Johnson then arrived at the restaurant and repeatedly asked if she could record the room that the group usually sat in. Christy refused each time.

Christy said Johnson told her money was no object.

She said Johnson would ride by the restaurant and peep in the window. One day Johnson sat at a table. Christy said she warned Pierce’s group that Johnson was at the front of the restaurant. Ervin Johnson tried to get his wife to leave, but she stayed.

The group left the restaurant, shielding Pierce from Johnson. According to Christy, Johnson plowed through everyone and pushed Pierce against a vehicle parked in front of the restaurant. Johnson slammed Pierce to the ground and began punching her, Christy said.

When asked what Pierce did, Christy said she screamed.

According to Christy, Johnson threatened to kill Pierce for sleeping with her husband.

“She acted like a raged animal,” Christy said.

Christy said she physically removed Johnson off Pierce and threatened to beat her up.

Pierce was taken away in an ambulance and police were called, Christy said.

Defense attorney Davis told Christy that she never mentioned in a prior statement to police that Johnson threatened to kill Pierce. He said Thursday was the first time Christy had mentioned it. He questioned Christy’s memory.

Christy said her memory may have been more fresh in 2011 when the assault took place than it was Thursday in court but that she rarely forgets when she has threatened to beat someone up.

Davis questioned the need for Christy’s testimony. Assistant District Attorney Barrett Poppler said it would point to Johnson’s motive, as well as premeditation and malice. The judge said he would review the matter further before deciding whether to allow Christy to testify before jurors.

The trial will resume at 9:30 a.m. today and could include testimony from Christy.

Contact reporter Shavonne Walker at 704-797-4253.

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