Emotions run high at court hearing

Mar. 19, 2013 @ 07:25 PM

Tensions escalated during a brief hearing Tuesday in Vance County Superior Court on charges stemming from the Jan. 27 vehicle death of 5-year-old Jayden Chad Stokes.

Vincent Eugene Gregory, 47, appeared with attorney Euan Bagshawe before Judge Henry W. Hight Jr. as Assistant District Attorney Bill Griffin noted facts about the case, including whether a plea offer had been made.

“There is also a second-degree murder charge in the case,” Griffin said. “The state provided discovery available to it. A plea has not been offered.”

Hight continued the case to a “second setting” for the Superior Court case management system, to be heard again during the week of April 30.

In addition to second-degree murder, Gregory faces charges of felony death by vehicle, felony serious injury by vehicle, driving while impaired and driving while license revoked.

He remains jailed on more than $1 million bond, according to court records.

Family and friends on both sides of the tragedy filled more than a dozen seats in the courtroom. Jayden Stokes’ parents there included Richard Thomas “Chad” Stokes, 22, who also was hit and injured by the 1988 GMC truck driven by Gregory that Sunday afternoon in the 600 block of East Montgomery Street.

Gregory supporters left the courtroom quickly at the conclusion of the hearing, and were unavailable for comment.

Jayden Stokes’ two great-grandmothers, Irma Gard and Judith Buzzell, grandmothers Alisa Gorman and Cathy Stokes Bowman, at least one great-aunt, Ellen Paynter, mother Candace Gorman and several pre-teen or teenage family members left the courtroom together slowly.

Most family members wore shirts with large commemorative photo transfers on them. Family members said that they would be attending hearings in even bigger numbers when the case resumes.

“We want justice to be served,” Bowman said.

“We will be here again,” Buzzell said. “Next time we will have more of us here.”

Buzzell with agreement from other family members said that members of the Henderson Police Department were applying the right amount of focus to meeting family needs, especially to inform family members on developments.

“They’re letting us know everything that’s going on,” Buzzell said. “They’re writing us and calling us.”

Paynter in later comments said she was glad there was no outburst by anyone in the courtroom despite some tension between groups, and her family members intend to be respectful of the courtroom proceedings.

There were some “ugly comments” from unknown individuals outside the courtroom, according to Paynter, involving individuals she did not think were family members of the defendant.

“We’re hurting bad enough,” Paynter said. “For those comments to be made is not fair to us. I just don’t understand.”

“We don’t want any trouble,” Buzzell said. “We just want justice to be served.”

Bagshawe warned in court documents obtained earlier this month that Gregory expressed suicidal intentions to him on Feb. 11, after Bagshawe received a call by Vance County jail officials about his client being agitated.

A medical examiner’s report and a police report noted Gregory’s truck made an abrupt left turn, collided with a utility pole, then went onto the sidewalk, killing Jayden Stokes instantly and dragging his father about 15 feet before stopping.

The medical examiner’s office confirmed blunt force trauma to the head as the cause of death for Jayden Stokes, “who was with his father on the sidewalk one block from his house.”

Police said witnesses told them the truck traveled an estimated 50 miles per hour and never applied brakes.

The report by the Henderson Police Department included a diagram showing the truck making a hard-left jackknifing action from the leftward bend in East Montgomery Street, leaving the roadway and going into the path of the sidewalk.

“The suspect drove around the curve near Harrison Avenue and lost control of his vehicle,” Officer Chris Martin wrote.

Jayden Stokes had no pulse and only a feint heartbeat at the scene, according to the medical examiner’s report, and he was transported to Maria Parham Medical Center where he was pronounced dead.

Searching Gregory’s vehicle, police reported finding beer bottles, 13 packets of suboxone medication, numerous red paint chips, a cell phone and documents.

Contact the writer at mfisher@hendersondispatch.com.