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Murder trial: Jurors watch emotional video in which mother points out daughter’s killers

By Shavonne Walker
shavonne.walker@salisburypost.com

SALISBURY — Jurors watched a video in which an emotional Mary Gregory saw the two people she is “100 percent sure” killed her daughter in a police photo line-up.

The evidence was presented Friday in the trial of a man and woman charged with killing Lacynda Feimster in May 2016 at the family’s Crown Point apartment.

The video was recorded at the Salisbury Police Department a day or so after Feimster, 38, was shot and killed while clutching her 3-year-old son. Gregory had testified earlier in the trial that two people later identified by her as Sindy Abbitt and Daniel Albarran forced their way into the apartment.

Abbitt and Albarran are charged with first-degree murder and assault with a deadly weapon.

Gregory said she watched as Abbitt put her knee on her daughter’s side and shot her once in the head. Feimster was lying on her bedroom floor in a fetal position at the time of the shooting. According to Gregory, both she and her daughter told Abbitt and Albarran they had no money.

Feimster was a mother of four and a longtime waitress at O’Charley’s restaurant.

The video shown to jurors Friday was only a few minutes long, but it showed former Salisbury Police Department Detective Richard Rooplal explain how the line-up would work. After the third photo shown, Gregory could be heard screaming. She indicated the photo she was looking at was that of one of the suspects.

The detective asked Gregory to mark the back of the photo to let him know that she was certain.

When she saw another series of photos, Gregory again began to scream.

“Oh my God, oh my God, oh Jesus,” she cried.

Assistant District Attorney Clayton Jones showed two black-and-white pictures to the jury — one of Abbitt and the other of Albarran.

On the back of both photos was written “100% sure.”

Jones said that indicated the pictures were the same ones that Gregory had looked at during the photo line-up, identifying the intruders who were in her house the night of her daughter’s murder.

Defense attorney Karen Biernacki objected to the continued playing of the video that showed Gregory sobbing as well as a family member walking in to console her.

Biernacki said out of the presence of jurors that it was understandable that Gregory would be crying and emotional, but she said continuing to show the video would affect jurors’ opinions.

She said the footage of Gregory continuing to cry and be consoled has nothing to do with the photo line-up.

“This was inappropriate,” Biernacki told the court.

Jones said the video is not new evidence and had been given to defense attorneys, who did not object to it being shown in court.

Judge Lori Hamilton asked Jones to skip ahead to the relevant part of the video, which showed what Gregory said to Detective Robert Guinn when asked about the identification of the suspects.

Salisbury police Detective Jeremy Hill also testified about how he prepared the photo line-up. Hill said he customarily chooses black-and-white photos. He said he uses computer software to choose other photos for a line-up.

He puts the “target” into the software, adding the subject’s race, approximate age and gender. The software gives him people of similar features, and he narrows the choices down to five. When a witness looks at the photos, he typically will view six photos, including one of the suspect.

In his continued testimony on Friday, Salisbury Police Detective Travis Shulenburger said a gun that was collected as evidence from someone who was initially identified as a possible suspect was tested and ruled out as the weapon used in the murder. It was returned to the owner months later.

After follow-up cross-examination by defense attorney Teresa Church, Judge Hamilton — out of the presence of jurors — said the defense attorneys are not allowed to point the finger at someone else if the evidence doesn’t point to them.

Hamilton said she is not going to allow a line of questions in which jurors would have to figure out how the evidence fits if it doesn’t fit.

Shulenburger clarified during his testimony Friday what happened to a videotaped interview with Albarran.

There was suspicion raised by defense attorneys that Rooplal, who has since resigned as a police detective, may have turned it off. Shulenburger said he looked at a portion of the video Thursday night and determined he may have been the one who accidentally turned off the tape recording.

He said the recording was only 11 seconds long. He said he may have turned it off when it was in his pants pocket or knocked it off when he sat it against a wall in the interview room.

Church questioned how he could be so sure. Shulenburger said that’s what he believes happened after watching himself on tape with the recorder in his pocket.

Church asked why he didn’t review that part of the video before her inquiry on Thursday. Shulenburger said he only reviewed the parts of video and evidence that he believed he would be questioned about in court.

Police Detective Brent Hall was called to testify about cellphones that were tested. Hall did the digital analysis of the cellphones seized during the investigation, including the phones of Abbitt, Albarran and Gregory.

Hall said he uses a forensic software that downloads information including pictures, contacts, texts, call history and videos from cellphones.

The defense attorneys asked Hall a round of questions, many of which he answered that he didn’t recall or know the answers to. They included a question about whether Lacynda Feimster’s vehicle was unlocked.

In her testimony, Gregory said she heard her daughter when she arrived home because her door had a distinctive sound when it was locked. In prior testimony, investigators said Feimster’s doors were unlocked and some groceries she had bought were on the ground beside her car.

Hall also didn’t recall asking for fingerprints on Gregory’s phone to be analyzed. Investigators believed that Abbitt may have touched Gregory’s phone. After looking at a report in court, Hall said he did ask that the phone be tested.

The trial resumes at 9:30 a.m. Monday.

Contact reporter Shavonne Walker at 704-797-4253.

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