No new trial in killing

Published 8:51 am Friday, July 30, 2010

COURTLAND—A Southampton County Circuit Court judge on Wednesday denied a motion that would have granted a North Carolina man a new trial in the 2009 murder of a Franklin man due to new evidence.

The newly discovered evidence came from an inmate, who said he was present when Rockne Butler, 40, allegedly admitted to a jailhouse barber that he murdered 26-year-old Brad Harris. The barber testified during Butler’s trial about the confession.

Jonquil Baker, who was being held at the Western Tidewater Regional Jail with Butler at the time of the alleged confession, testified last week that he was within hearing distance of Butler and the barber, and there was no confession.

Butler of Pantego, N.C., is serving life in prison for first-degree murder, attempted capital murder and abduction after a four-day jury trial in May.

Randy Stowe, Butler’s attorney, said he and his client performed “reasonable diligence” to find all witnesses before the May trial, but didn’t learn about Baker until earlier this month.

Stowe said the new evidence was cause for a new trial, “not just as to the first-degree murder charge, but to all charges.”

Judge E. Preston Grissom said he took issue with the credibility of Baker’s testimony.

“It’s highly suspect,” Grissom said. “I could not be satisfied that his testimony could be considered highly credible or reasonably credible.”