Testimony continues in murder trial

As testimony continued Thursday and Friday in the murder trial of Derrick Pierce, jurors heard how the victim’s then-13 year old daughter called her aunt and told her that “her momma wouldn’t wake up, and there was blood everywhere.”

Keisha Ward was killed during the overnight hours of New Year’s Eve, 2013, in the Hallsboro home she shared with Johnny Tyler and three children. Ward was beaten to death after apparently coming to Tyler’s aid as he was being assaulted by Derrick Pierce, Antwan Johnson and Amanda Canady. The three suspects are alleged to have used a child’s baseball bat and a broken bar stool to beat Ward and Tyler. The assaults occurred over the course of several hours. Tyler was hospitalized for 18 days, and has undergone multiple surgeries for broken bones, a punctured lung and kidney damage.

Johnson pleaded guilty Feb 2 – almost exactly three years after the trio was arrested Feb. 5, 2014. He was sentenced to 30 years in prison, and is expected to testify against Canady and Pierce. Canady will be tried later this year.

Pierce appeared emotionless Thursday as Ward’s oldest daughter, and then the girl’s aunt, Stephanie Fowler, took the stand.   The teen, her younger sibling and Tyler’s son were in a room adjacent to the dining and living area where the beatings occurred between 2 a.m. and dawn on New Year’s Day, 2014.

Fowler began crying while being sworn in, and described how she received a frantic call from one of her nieces on New Year’s Day at 12:38 p.m. Fowler and her mother were in Green Sea, S.C., and Fowler said she thought her niece was calling to tell her Happy New Year.

Instead, Fowler said, she heard children crying, and her oldest niece asking for help.

“She said her momma wouldn’t wake up, and there was blood everywhere,” Fowler said.

Fowler and her mother went to the family’s home on Bussey Road in Hallsboro. They discovered the badly wounded Tyler on the couch, in a freezing cold house with “blood all over the place,” Fowler said. When she discovered Ward’s body in a bedroom, she immediately got the children and their grandmother outside, and called 911.

 

Floor, walls, doors

 

Deputy Joseph Graham, the first law enforcement officer on the scene, said that he was immediately struck by the amount of blood in the house.

Fowler and her mother had the children outside, he said, and after calling for backup, he entered the front door of the home with his gun drawn. He saw Johnny Tyler on the couch, covered in a blanket, Graham said, but he wasn’t sure if Tyler was alive.

“It was cold in there, really freezing,” Graham said. “I did a quick check on the subject on the couch, and the only way I knew he was still breathing was when his breath – it fogged the air, condensation.”

The deputy said he then cleared the rest of the house, and discovered Ward’s body in a bedroom. There were no life signs, he said.

Moments later, Sgt. Rocky Coffman of the Lake Waccamaw Police department responded to Graham’s call for backup, and helped Graham secure the crime scene.

At the request of defense attorney Bill Gore, Graham explained that “clearing” the house made sure there were no other suspects or victims inside. He also explained that it is not unusual for municipal police to respond to calls in the county that are

close to their jurisdictions, especially if a call involves a violent crime.

“We help them (town and city police) and they help us,” Graham explained. The deputy said that he and Coffman then secured the home until EMS and additional deputies arrived a short time later.

When the house was secure, Graham said, he began photographing every room to document what he had seen.

“There was blood on the floor, on the walls, the doors,” he said. “There were piles of clothing, and a lady’s pocketbook beside a child’s baseball glove. I saw a number of bloody footprints.”

In the room where he found Ward’s body, Graham said he saw “blood on the walls, and on the bed.”

After EMTs got Tyler into the ambulance, Graham said, the deputy briefly interviewed Tyler about the crime. He said Tyler was not speaking clearly, and was “having a hard time breathing.” Among Tyler’s more serious injuries was a collapsed lung. When the ambulance left, he said, Graham returned to help provide security for the investigation.

Graham said he did not know exactly how long he was on the scene, but it could have been through the end of his shift at 7 p.m. As the first responding officer, he kept a log of everyone who entered the property until he left the scene, including medical responders and law enforcement.

 

Blood beside truck

 

The amount of blood outside and inside the home was one of the things that immediately caught Lt. Trina Worley’s attention, she said on the stand Thursday.

A detective with the sheriff’s office at the time of the murder, Worley presented photographs and physical evidence from the scene. At the time, she was in charge of evidence collection for the sheriff’s office, and has since been promoted.

Worley took the jurors and the court on a step-by-step photographic tour of the home and the yard of the property on Bussey Road, starting beside the red Ford pickup Tyler loaned to Pierce in exchange for drugs. Scuffmarks, blood and handprints on the truck were consistent with someone being assaulted beside the truck.

Worley showed the jury photographs of the family’s Christmas tree, with broken decorations on the floor beside pools of blood, papers and footprints. Blood also covered an extension cord that led from the Christmas tree to the bedroom shared by Ward’s daughters.

Special Superior Court Judge Tanya Wilson recessed court for the holiday weekend at 11:30 a.m. Friday. The prosecution continued presenting evidence Tuesday, when Worley returned to the stand.

Chris Gentry and Allen Adams are representing the state, and Bill Gore and Kyle Caswell are defending Pierce.