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Jury convicts man of killing Leland woman in 2015

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By Lindsay Kriz

WHITEVILLE — A Columbus County jury convicted a man Monday afternoon of killing a Leland woman in a plot to steal her car and use it to kidnap his ex-girlfriend.

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After a little more than an hour of deliberating, the jury found 45-year-old Nathan Tyler Jr. guilty of first-degree murder, of first-degree kidnapping and robbery with a dangerous weapon in the April 28, 2015, death of Alicia Marie Deans, a 26-year-old mother of two.

Robeson County Superior Court Judge Robert Floyd sentenced Tyler Jr. to life in prison for the murder charge; 146 to 188 months for the kidnapping charge; and 128 and 166 months for the robbery charge.

Sheriff’s office investigators said Deans drove to Columbus County to see her ex-boyfriend, Nathan Tyler III, the day she died. Later that night, his father, Tyler Jr., 33-year-old Michael Jesse Williams and 21-year-old Kayla Turner robbed Deans of a little more than $30, took her from Tyler Jr.’s house into a wooded area in the 800 block of John Coleman Road and shot her to death.

Tyler III faces no charges in Deans’ death.

Deans’ body was found submerged in a pond the afternoon of May 13, 2015. Investigators said no attempt was made to conceal her body.

Tyler Jr. told investigators he burned her car, a green, four-door, 2005 Ford Taurus, near Clarendon Baptist Church on May 14, 2015, to destroy evidence linking him to the crime.

“The defendant had every opportunity to change his mind,” Floyd said after sentencing Tyler Jr. “It seemed to be a cold, heartless, premeditated act. He drove her around, carried her into the swamp and shot her in the back of the head.”

 

Tyler Jr.’s defense

Tyler’s lawyer, Teresa Gibson of Shallotte, called two witnesses Friday. The first was Christopher Reaves, 26, an inmate in the Columbus County jail who said she cellmates with Williams there in May 2015.

Reaves testified Williams bragged to him about killing a woman named Alicia, saying she supposedly had a large amount of money. Williams told him he’d planned to kidnap her and rob her, but “it went bad.”

Reaves said Williams said a girl named Kayla was involved and pretended to be kidnapped. He said Williams also bragged about burning Deans’ car.

Reaves said he immediately asked to be moved away from Williams because “I have three children, I’m a father,” he said. “He took this girl out of the world and bragged about it like a big man doing it. It set me off. It rubbed me the wrong way.”

Reaves said Williams told him he shot Deans inside Tyler Jr.’s home. Assistant District Attorney Jacob Ward said jail records did not show Reaves was housed with Williams in May 2015, but they did show he was housed with Tyler Jr. multiple times in 2015 and 2016.

Reaves said he’d never seen Tyler Jr. before he stepped into the courtroom Friday and said if Ward had dug deeper he would have seen he was housed with Williams in May 2015.

“You’re just pulling up records just to help you out. I don’t like that,” Reaves said.
Sean Thomas Lane, 37, the final defense witness, said he too was housed in the jail with Williams in May or June 2015. He said Williams also told him about the elaborate robbery plan staged at Tyler Jr.’s house.

Lane said Williams told him his girlfriend was in on the robbery and said he took Deans to a swampy area in Columbus County near a tobacco field where he shot her.

“He basically bragged about it,” Lane testified.

Lane said he was also housed at the Brunswick County Detention Facility in June or July 2017 with Tyler Jr., who told him the same details of the crime Williams had.

“That’s what blew me away,” he said. “I went to the effort to come here because their stories match up. It just leaves me no doubt. I felt compelled to tell my story about it.”

Lane said he attempted to get a sentencing deal based on his testimony.

 

Tyler Jr.’s co-defendants        

Williams pleaded guilty Jan. 29 to second-degree murder, a Class B1 felony that carries a maximum sentence of life in prison without parole; to first-degree kidnapping, a Class C felony that carries a sentence of up to 231 months in prison; and to robbery with a dangerous weapon, a Class D felony that carries a sentence of up to 17 years in prison.

Turner, who testified Wednesday, faces the same charges to which Williams pleaded. She agreed to testify against Tyler Jr. as part of a deal, but has not yet entered her plea. She faces 12 to 15 years in the mitigated range or 16 or 20 years in the presumptive range in the North Carolina Department of Correction.

Turner said Tyler. Jr told her to call Deans to lure her to his home under the false pretense that his son wanted to renew their romantic relationship. His plan, she said, was to steal Dean’s car to kidnap his ex-girlfriend Candy Lee “where she couldn’t go to court.”

“She had information on him that could send him to prison for his life,” Turner testified.

Turner said Deans came to Tyler Jr.’s home early the afternoon of April 28, 2015. Both women went to Leland in Deans’ car to retrieve personal effects, then to Winnabow and Navassa to get money and oxycodone pills before returning to Tyler Jr.’s home about 5 p.m. where Deans asked Tyler Jr. to go get his son. He said he would and left the house in Deans’ car.

Turner said she knew of the plot to steal Deans’ car.

Turner said the two women were in Tyler Jr.’s house discussing Turner’s possible pregnancy when a man walked into the home with a 9mm handgun and pointed it at them. She said the robber had to be Williams, her then-boyfriend, because Deans would’ve recognized Tyler Jr.’s voice, and said Williams was wearing a hoodie that only showed the lower part of his face.

“Michael starts searching everywhere for money,” Turner said. “He asked (Deans) where it is. She said she doesn’t have any, then when she saw he was not giving up she said it’s in her duffle bag with her phone. She had $35.”

Turner said Williams got belts and tied the women’s hands behind their backs as they lay on their stomachs on the kitchen floor. Five minutes later, Turner said, Tyler Jr. walked in and Williams ordered him to tie both women’s hands with shoestring and cover their heads with fabric. Williams put Deans in the trunk of her own car, freed Turner and put her in the back seat, and got into the passenger’s seat before Tyler Jr. drove them away.

Turner said Tyler Jr. stopped the car once so Williams could check on Deans in the trunk and then again so Williams could climb out the passenger window and go home. Tyler Jr., now armed with the 9mm, told Turner to get in the passenger’s seat.

Turner said Tyler Jr. and she drove around “what seemed like forever,” until finally Tyler Jr. backed the car up in a field all the way to where the field and woods meet.

“He gets out, pops the trunk, goes and gets (Deans), goes out in the woods — I was still in the vehicle,” she said. “I saw when he went into the woods. I saw her. She still had a thing on her head. About five minutes (later) I hear a muffled gunshot from far away.

“About three minutes later after that, Nathan comes back up. Just Nathan.”

Turner said Tyler Jr. got in the car and put the gun on the console.  “At this point I asked where Alicia was. He said she was gone,” she said. Turner said the next morning the three went to the local Wal-Mart for cigarettes before Tyler Jr. drove the pair in Deans’ car to Chadbourn, where Lee lived.

The two dropped off Tyler Jr. before going to Lee’s house, but the two decided against kidnapping her as Tyler Jr. wanted. They lied and told him they couldn’t go through with it because there were people outside Lee’s home.

Turner said that was the last time she talked face-to-face with Tyler Jr.

Williams testified Thursday and said he had only been in Brunswick County about two months before Deans died and didn’t know her.

He said he, Tyler Jr. and Turner talked about a robbery — Tyler Jr.’s idea, he said — about two to three weeks before the murder. Tyler Jr. told them he wanted to steal Deans’ car so Turner and Williams could use it to kidnap his ex-girlfriend, Candy Lee.

The day of the murder, Tyler Jr. came to see Williams at the home where he lived with his mother in Deans’ Ford Taurus. During the 3 p.m. visit, Williams said, Tyler Jr. came to the house to buy some pills for Deans. Tyler Jr. then left in Deans’ car and called Williams later that night, asking if Williams was ready to rob Deans.
Williams got into Deans’ car with Tyler Jr., texted and called Turner, who was his girlfriend at the time. He said when Tyler Jr. arrived at his home, he handed his 9mm gun to Williams and had him get out, telling Williams he was going to empty the trunk of Deans’ car.

Williams said the front door was unlocked. He walked in and pointed the gun at both women, ransacking the place and finding $38 in Deans’ duffel bag. He had both women lie on their stomachs on the kitchen floor facing each other at a 45-degree angle around Tyler Jr.’s kitchen table and tied their hands with a belt.

He said Tyler Jr. came in about five minutes later. Williams said he yelled at him and pointed the gun at him too, so Deans wouldn’t think the robbery was planned. Tyler Jr. went into his utility closet, grabbed shoestrings and pillow cases, retied the women’s hands with the shoestrings and put the pillowcases over their heads.

Williams said the four left the home and got in Deans’ car, with Deans in the trunk, Turner — whom Williams said he’d freed — in the backseat and Williams in the passenger seat as Tyler Jr. drove. The three said nothing on their way to Williams’ house. He said Tyler Jr. stopped the vehicle two to three times so Williams could open up the trunk and make sure Deans was still restrained. When Tyler Jr. pulled up to Williams’ home, he climbed out of the passenger window so Deans wouldn’t hear the car door open and close.

Williams said he called Turner later that night and asked where she was. She told him Tyler Jr. took Deans into the woods and shot her.

The next morning, Williams said, Tyler Jr. returned to his house in Deans’ car with Turner and the three went to Lee’s residence. Tyler Jr. had Williams drop him off at a bridge or overpass near Lee’s house so she wouldn’t know he was part of the plot to kidnap Lee.

Williams said he and Turner lied to Tyler Jr., saying there were people outside Lee’s residence, to avoid participating in her kidnapping both times Tyler Jr. attempted it that day.

During cross-examination, by Tyler Jr.’s lawyer, Teresa Gibson of Shallotte, Williams said he used the money stolen from Deans $38 to buy pizza and beer the day after she died.

After Williams testified, Robeson County Superior Court Judge Robert Floyd revoked his bail pending sentencing.

Williams and Turner will appear in court again in the next few months to complete proceedings against them, prosecutor Jacob Ward said.

 

Attempted hit

Two witnesses testified Thursday that Tyler Jr. tried to have the lead investigator of Dean’s slaying, Columbus County Sheriff’s Office Capt. Jason Soles,killed.

John Cody Blake Callihan, 26, who is serving time in Carteret County on a weapons charge unrelated to the Deans case, testified he was cellmates with Tyler Jr. at the Columbus County jail in June 2016.

He said Tyler Jr. told him he was being held on a murder charge and asked Callihan if he knew anyone who could kill Soles. Tyler Jr. told Callihan he’d already talked to another man named Matthew Hurst about killing Soles, but Hurst had already been released from the jail.

Callihan said he wrote a letter to the sheriff’s office to let them know Tyler Jr. was trying to have Soles killed.

Callihan said Tyler Jr. also wanted him to writing a statement saying Williams killed Deans and had confessed to the crime.

Callihan said he wrote no such letter but Tyler Jr. forged his name on three letters. The jury saw copies of two of them.

Callihan said the sheriff’s office received the letter he did write and North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation Special Agent Michael Groom interviewed him at the jail. He said he told Groom about Tyler Jr.’s plan to kill Soles and said he remembered Tyler Jr. talking about kidnapping an ex-girlfriend, but couldn’t remember her name.

Callihan found the three forged letters for Groom, who next talked to Tyler Jr. about them.

Tyler Jr. denied soliciting anyone to kill Soles and maintained it was Callihan who wrote the letters on his behalf, Groom testified Thursday. But near the end of the interview, Groom said, Tyler Jr. admitted forging the letters.

Soles also testified Thursday about taking Turner in his patrol car with Brunswick County Sheriff’s Office Detective Ron Clark around Columbus County on May 13, 2015, to find the wooded area where Deans’ body was left.

“We rode around all day long until 4:30,” Soles said. “She took us around on a goose chase it seemed.”

Soles said he told Turner she needed to show them where Deans’ body was so her family could have closure or else she’d be taken to jail.

“And she led us straight to the body of Miss Deans,” he said.

Soles said when they drove past the dirt road off John Coleman Road into a field, she told him to turn right and back up to the wooded area.

“I informed her to get out and show me where Miss Deans was. We both got out, and as we exited you could smell a foul odor. It was really strong,” Soles said. “At that point Miss Turner started crying. I informed her to take me to the location of Miss Deans’ body.

“We entered the woods through a little small path. That’s where the body of Miss Deans was located. At that point Miss Turner fell on the ground and started crying, and I escorted her out of the woods and placed her back in my Durango.”

Soles said he notified a superior officer about the discovery of the body and immediately began interviewing Turner in the Durango. Soles said Turner told him Tyler Jr. shot Deans after Williams was dropped off at his house.

 

Justice served       

Ward said he and his prosecutors hope the verdict and sentences bring a measure of peace to Deans’ loved ones.

“They are a great family. We are so relieved that we got a good result for them. We hope this will bring them some sort of closure,” he said. “They were so strong through the whole process, and so patient as they waited on justice. It is such a relief to have such a dangerous person off of our streets.”

Deans’ family members said they want to make sure their happy memories of her live on.

“Her facial expressions were amazing. She could show enormous compassion for the simplest situations,” Deans’ older brother, Wesley Emmons, said while reading from read an impact statement in court he said. “This trait of hers was so heartfelt.”

Emmons said he’s tried to remain strong for their mother, Sheila Deans, and his late sister’s two children, Aaliyah and Bently, who were 6 and 4 when she died.

“To lose your sister is extremely painful, but to lose your child has got to be a different hurt,” he said. “We all as a family blame ourselves. Of course, my mother tried to take all the blame. I felt like our whole family was spinning in a downward spiral.”

Sheila Deans also spoke to her daughter’s kindness.

“She was very trustworthy. Even with her closest friends, if somebody did something to her, they were best friends again,” she said. “She was very forgiving. She just didn’t think anybody was mean.”

Sheila Deans recalled the time her daughter picked up a hitchhiker on the road whom they later learned was from the Brunswick County Detention Facility and gave him a ride to a Burger King. “(She told me), ‘Oh mom, he just didn’t have anybody and needed a ride.’ She was very trustworthy to everybody.”

Sheila Deans said she and her daughter’s father, James Deans, are relieved by the verdict and Tyler Jr.’s sentence.

“I feel like she got justice. Her kids got justice for her death, which was so uncalled for,” she said. “He can’t hurt nobody else (now). Relief is going through my mind that we saw it the way we saw it.

“We’re going to pick up the pieces and go forward. It’s all we can do.”

Lindsay Kriz is a staff writer for the Beacon. Reach her at 754-6890 or lkriz@brunswickbeacon.com.