Prosecution attempts to poke holes in defendant’s story in third day of murder trial
Published 10:01 am Saturday, October 30, 2021
Editor’s note: This article contains graphic descriptions of injuries sustained by Eugene Chunn in connection with his death.
SALISBURY — Using body camera footage and a detective’s testimony, prosecutors on Friday afternoon attempted to prove that Juan Chunn was not where he said he was in the hours before his father was discovered deceased.
Juan Chunn, 52, is on trial for first-degree murder for allegedly beating his father, Eugene Chunn, to death with the oxygen tank his father relied on to breathe. Eugene Chunn, 72, was found deceased on the living room couch of his residence at 816 E. Franklin St. in the early morning hours of April 19, 2018.
After the killing, Juan Chunn told authorities he moved in with his father to help him by cooking food and cleaning the house. Juan Chunn was previously residing in Augusta, Georgia, which is where he was arrested for the murder in July 2018.
The trial started on Wednesday when prosecutors began to build their case against Juan Chunn by calling Eugene Chunn’s friends to testify as well as law enforcement officers who responded to the murder scene. When the trial resumed Thursday, the state recreated the crime scene for jurors through a mix of photographic and physical evidence. Assistant District Attorney Brian Taylor presented the jury with the alleged murder weapon.
Before the lead investigator in the murder case took the stand Friday, the prosecution called former North Carolina Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Deborah Radisch to testify. Radisch, who retired in 2019, was responsible for completing the autopsy on Eugene Chunn on April 23, 2018.
As Assistant District Attorney Marsha Goodenow showed gruesome autopsy photos of Eugene Chunn on a screen in the courtroom, Radisch explained the injuries she observed on his body.
Radisch testified the trauma was mainly concentrated on the left side of Eugene Chunn’s head and that his left cheek bone, nose and jaw had all been fractured. The jaw had been beaten so badly that it was only connected to his skull by tissue, not bone.
“It would take some degree of force to cause those bones to fracture,” Radisch said.
There were no natural teeth left in the victim’s mouth and Radisch said the tissue inside his mouth had been turned into “pulp.” Additionally, Eugene Chunn sustained several broken ribs on both sides of his chest and each of his forearms were broken.
The cause of Eugene Chunn’s death, Radisch said, was blunt trauma to the head, chest, abdomen and extremities. The manner of death, Radisch said, was homicide.
There were signs of early decomposition, Radisch said, and all of the injuries occurred around the same time.
Radisch said it wasn’t her responsibility to determine what weapon was used to kill Eugene Chunn. That duty belongs to the crime lab. However, Radisch testified the death blows could be consistent with an oxygen tank.
When asked by Goodenow if she’d discovered any money on Eugene Chunn’s body, Radisch said she did not.
One juror appeared to become ill during Radisch’s testimony, lying down on the bench while being tended to by bailiffs. After court was briefly recessed, the juror did not return and one of four alternate jurors took the person’s place. There were 12 people picked for the jury and four alternatives selected at the beginning of the trial.
The second witness called by the state on Friday was Sgt. Jeremy Hill of the Salisbury Police Department — lead investigator on Eugene Chunn’s homicide. Hill said he responded to the scene of the crime around 2 a.m. April 19, at which point he interviewed Juan Chunn about the events leading up to the killing.
Hill recorded the interview, which took place in Hill’s patrol car, with his body camera. During the interview, Juan Chunn told Hill he’d seen his father alive for the last time on the night of April 17, more than 24 hours before he called 911.
Juan Chunn told Hill he made his father dinner and they watched the San Antonio Spurs play basketball before he left the house for the night.
Juan Chunn said that he returned to the East Franklin Street home several times the next day, April 18, and saw his father sleeping under a cover in the exact spot where his body was found. Juan Chunn said it wasn’t unusual for his father to be sleeping or for his father to continue sleeping when his son called out to him. Juan Chunn said he didn’t attempt to wake his father until he came home later that day. That’s when he saw blood and quickly left the residence.
When Hill pressed Juan Chunn on where he was on April 18, the suspect told him that he visited several businesses to inquire about jobs, including Arby’s. Hill testified he found Juan Chunn’s Arby’s application in the house. However, Hill said he could not verify that Juan Chunn had visited Arby’s that day despite looking at video footage and talking to witnesses.
Juan Chunn also told Hill he visited to a nearby apartment complex on April 18 with a female friend. Hill testified the man who lived in the apartment, who Juan Chunn described as an “old drunk” in the video, could not verify Juan Chunn’s claim that he’d been there. The female friend who Juan Chunn had supposedly been with, Hill said, is no longer alive.
Hill also discredited Juan Chunn’s claim he watched the Spurs play on April 17, 2018, because the Spurs did not play on that day.
Once the body camera footage finished, Goodenow questioned Hill about other parts of the homicide investigation. Specifically, Goodenow asked Hill about his conversations with Kenneth Gibson in the wake of Eugene Chunn’s murder.
Gibson, a longtime friend of Eugene Chunn’s, was one of the first witnesses called on Wednesday morning.
Hill testified Friday that Gibson told him he saw Eugene Chunn with a white envelope filled with several hundred dollars on April 17. Seemingly trying to establish motive for the murder, Hill said Gibson told him Eugene Chunn believed his son had stolen $400 from him weeks before his death.
Hill also said Gibson told him Eugene Chunn never sat where he was found dead and that he only let his son drive his white Chrysler for errands. Juan Chunn said he drove the car multiple times the day before his father was found dead.
Hill’s account of what Gibson told him was generally consistent with Gibson’s in-court testimony.
With court recessed for the weekend, Hill’s testimony and the trial will continue on Monday morning. The prosecution plans to play a roughly two-hour long video showing an interview Hill conducted with Juan Chunn several weeks after the murder.