Grimes enters guilty plea in 2019 murder case

Published 12:10 am Friday, August 11, 2023

SALISBURY — A co-defendant in the case of Michael Earley’s 2019 murder pleaded guilty in court on Wednesday.

Lauren Grimes, 23, pleaded guilty to felony accessory after the fact for her role in the incident that left the 19-year-old dead more than four years ago.

Grimes was sentenced to 58-82 months in prison. 

Grimes is the second of three individuals to be sentenced to prison time for Earley’s murder. Carlos Rosas Jr., pleaded guilty in December 2022 to five charges: second-degree murder, felony concealment or destruction of remains, first-degree kidnapping, robbery with a dangerous weapon and obstruction of justice.

Rosas was sentenced to 560-730 months in prison, or 46 years and eight months to 60 years and 10 months. 

A third individual, Madison Drew Harrington, also charged with accessory after the fact, remains out on bond.

Back in December, Rowan County District Attorney Brandy Cook said that both women claimed they were too afraid of Rosas to call for help from police or anyone else. 

During Rosas’ court appearance, Cook read a detailed account of the day Earley died, and one of the most horrific details that emerged was that after striking Earley in the head with an aluminum baseball bat, fracturing his skull, Rosas not only did not seek medical attention for the victim, but he cut up the body in an effort to dispose of it, likely while Earley was still breathing.  

Rosas has maintained that he was in the back seat of Grimes’ black Toyota Camry when what was supposed to be a simple marijuana purchase went off the rails. He claimed that he had taken a baseball bat with him because he thought something was off, and when he saw Earley allegedly choking Grimes, he reacted. There were also claims that Earley had a knife. 

Cook said no knife had ever been found, nor any evidence to substantiate Rosas’ claims that Earley was the aggressor. Instead, Cook explained that the charge of robbery with a dangerous weapon applied because Rosas kept the marijuana, and during the effort to hold on to it, he struck Earley with the bat. 

“He said when he hit Mr. Earley the first time, he ‘cracked his skull,’” said Cook during the hearing. “Then, when Mr. Earley was on the ground and helpless, Mr. Rosas hit him twice more.” 

An autopsy determined Earley died from multiple fractures to the skull and subsequent dismemberment. In addition to the five charges, there were two aggravating factors to consider, said Cook. The fact that Earley was on the ground, defenseless and clearly wounded when Earley struck him twice more was, she said, “especially heinous, atrocious and cruel.” The fact that instead of seeking any medical attention for Earley, Rosas picked him up and put him in the back of Grimes’ car, then covered him up so his body was not visible, even though Earley was still breathing at the time, speaks to “an unusual depravity of mind,” she added.  

After putting Earley in the floor of the back seat and covering his body, Rosas, Grimes and Harrington had to wait for a family member to come and help get the car out of the ditch it was in. Then, the trio took Earley’s body to Rosas’ house. Rosas, said Cook, had to go into the house to retrieve materials to cut up the body. He then put the body parts in plastic bags, burning parts in a burn barrel and burying others. 

Rosas admitted to the crime not long after investigators arrived at his home, showing them the burn barrel and leading them to the shallow grave in the woods behind his home. 

“In my 20 years of police work, this is the most brutal crime I have ever worked,” said lead investigator Sgt. Patrick Schmeltzer of the Rowan County Sheriff’s Office. “I think this one will stay with me a long time — probably forever.” 

He added that in his interviews with Rosas, he has “never once seen one iota of remorse.”  “It’s a very sad story, because two families have been destroyed,” he said. “One has lost a son forever, and the other lost a son to a life in prison.”