Murder trial will ‘take a little while’

Published 8:21 am Wednesday, May 5, 2010

COURTLAND—Slain Franklin resident Brad Harris wasn’t the only victim in a Jan. 23, 2009, shooting.

Southampton County Commonwealth’s Attorney Eric Cooke told jurors Monday that Harris’ girlfriend and 3-year-old daughter were at home when a shot was fired into the home, killing Harris.

They too were victims.

Cooke’s comments came during opening arguments in the murder trial of Rockne Butler, 40, of Pantego, N.C. He is accused of killing Harris and, later the same day, shooting at a police officer.

Cooke braced jurors for a long trial.

“There is a lot of evidence in this case,” he said. “It’s going to take a little while.”

Testimony continued Tuesday and will resume today.

Butler and Dennis Leon Blount of Washington, N.C., are accused of killing Harris, 27, when a single shot was fired into his bedroom from outside his home at 509 S. High St. He was shot in the torso.

Later that day, Cooke said, police attempted to stop the two men, who were riding in a sport utility vehicle that had been seen in front of the victim’s house.

“Instead, they went careening around the residential areas on the south side of Franklin,” Cooke said, adding that Butler began firing on a pursuing officer.

Butler’s attorney, Randy Stowe, said his client “didn’t shoot at the police officer.”

Butler faces a charge of first-degree murder and eight other counts.

“My client may be guilty of certain offenses — but not the most serious offenses,” Stowe told jurors during opening arguments. He urged the jury to “keep an open mind” during the trial.

If convicted, Butler could face a sentence of life in prison.