Jury can't decide, judge declares mistrial in Lake Gaston home invasion, robbery, murder case

7 April 2022

— A Warren County jury deliberated for three days but was unable to reach a verdict in a case of home invasion, robbery, arson and murder that dates back to 2018.

Lester Kearney faced the possibility of the death penalty for his alleged role in an attack that left a Lake Gaston preacher injured and his wife dead. In March 2018, Rev. John Alford was beaten and tied up, and his home set on fire. He escaped, but his wife, Dr. Nancy Alford, a local psychologist, died.

Littleton fire

Kevin Munn pleaded guilty to Nancy Alford’s death and pointed the finger at Kearney as an accomplice.

Kearney has maintained his innocence, and his attorneys say his cell phone places him 20 minutes away from the murder scene. Investigators found no physical evidence linking him to the crime.

“Kevin Munn is lying. Munn needs to lie because all the evidence leads to him,” Kearney’s defense attorney Robert Singagliese said.

Jurors told the judge they were split, 7-5, although they did not say which way the majority was voting. The foreman said there was no chance that jurors could reach the unanimous decision required for a verdict. The judge declared a mistrial, which means Kearney as accused and John Alford as primary witness will likely face yet another trial. No date for that trial has been set.

Munn, who was to testify against Kearney as part of his plea deal, overdosed before the trial began last month. He remains hospitalized and was never called for his testimony.

The case hinged on John Alford’s identification of Kearney as the man who broke into his home.

Defense attorneys questioned that identification because the intruder had his face at least partially covered. They argued that Alford only identified Kearney after having seen him identified as a suspect and said Alford was so badly injured that his memory and his identification are suspect.

Cierra Cobb, spokeswoman for Emancipate NC, told WRAL News:

We celebrate with the family that Lester was not convicted of a crime he clearly did not commit, but the fight for his freedom goes on. We hope District Attorney Waters uses this rebuke of the case presented against Lester as a moment to reflect on his role and responsibility as a district attorney. District attorneys are elected to find justice, not convict innocent people for crimes they did not commit. He should stop wasting taxpayer money prosecuting an innocent man. These charges should be dismissed and Lester should be allowed to pick up the pieces of his life.

After the mistrial, Laura Bell, daughter of John and Nancy Alford said, “We’re disappointed but respect the jury’s decision and are grateful for the efforts of the district attorney’s office and law enforcement.”

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