Death penalty sought in child’s murder case

Published 8:00 am Friday, February 19, 2010

WINDSOR, N.C.—The state will seek the death penalty against a local man who stands accused of murdering his 13-month-old-daughter.

The case against 26-year-old Jermaine O’Brien Freeman, formerly of Conway who later moved to Bertie County, has been declared “capital” — meaning state prosecutors have officially informed the court they will seek the death penalty.

Prior to that ruling, the Northampton County Grand Jury returned true bills of indictment against Freeman, who was charged with first degree murder on Dec. 23 for the Dec. 19 death of his daughter, Khisha Lachelle Freeman.

Following the Grand Jury’s ruling, local District Attorney Valerie M. Asbell conducted a Rule 24 hearing where she declared the case as capital and informed the court she would seek the death penalty.

When asked about the nature of a Rule 24 hearing, Asbell said that was one where the District Attorney informs the judge there are aggravating factors for which the death penalty could be sought in a particular case.

Resident Superior Court Judge Cy Grant agreed, ruling that the case could be tried as a death penalty case.

Tonza Ruffin is representing Freeman. No trial date has been scheduled.

Freeman became the leading suspect in the murder following an investigation by Conway Police Chief Billy Duke.

In an earlier interview by this newspaper, Duke said that at 1:20 a.m. on Sunday, Dec. 20 he was alerted by Northampton County Central Dispatch who advised him about the child who had been brought by her mother, Tenisha Boyd, at 10:30 p.m. on Saturday, Dec. 19 to Roanoke-Chowan Hospital in Ahoskie. Duke said the attending physician performed tests on the child in which the results had indicated foul play.

“When I got there the child had been pronounced dead,” he said.

Duke said with the assistance of the Northampton County Sheriff’s Office, he was able to interview both Boyd and Freeman.

The child’s body was transported to Pitt Memorial Hospital for an autopsy.

“Those preliminary results indicated the child had died of blunt force trauma (in the head area),” he said.

Duke said he conducted two more follow up interviews with the mother from which Freeman was developed as a suspect.

Duke said he was able to collect evidence which he transported to the State Bureau of Investigation lab in Raleigh.

After speaking with Asbell, Duke drew warrants for Freeman’s arrest.

Upon being served those warrants on Dec. 23, Freeman was behind bars at Bertie Martin Regional Jail on an outstanding warrant (failure to appear in court) with a bond of $5,000. He is now held without bond on the charges of murder and felony child abuse inflicting serious injury.

According to the North Carolina Department of Corrections Web site, Freeman has a list of convictions, including misdemeanor charges for common law forgery and common law uttering and resisting an officer. He was also convicted in Gates County with felony assault inflicting serious body injury in 2008. The Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald has been able to confirm that the Gates County case involved a minor child.