Did Anthony Hargett kill Walter Godette as an act of self defense or was cold-blooded murder? That is the question a jury started to decide Friday afternoon as closing arguments were presented in Hargett's first-degree murder trial.
In the early morning hours of March 24, 2015, Hargett shot Godette in a short gun battle in a hotel parking lot at 310 East Main Street. Also in the fight was Hargett’s cousin, Tonez Hargett. Both men have been charged in the murder.
The trial of Anthony Hargett began with jury selection on Monday — in the end six men and six women were chosen, two of them African-American.
Testimony lasted through Thursday with prosecution, under assistant district attorneys Robert J. McAfee and Karen Hobbs wrapping up their case on Wednesday afternoon and the defense, under Attorney Paul Castle, closing at 4:15 p.m. Thursday.
Security video footage from the hotel was played to the jury that showed Godette being wounded by shots from Tonez Hargett before it showed Anthony Hargett walking past Godette’s dropped gun and to the injured man, where he put a .45 caliber semi-automatic handgun to the base of his skull and shot him.
Among the witnesses were the defendant himself, who did not deny shooting Godette but said he “had to get the job done” to keep Godette from killing him later. Hargett was injured in the shooting.
Therein lay the chief points of the closing arguments on Friday.
During the time while the jury was out and the attorneys were preparing for their statements, some ribbing took place. Castle, watching as Hobbs set up a television and other media displays, dryly commented, “I thought this was an open and shut case.”
“I’m not allowed to use accouterments?” she responded. “Just trying to do my job, Mr. Castle.”
In her closing, Hobbs read the definition of first-degree murder and the prosecution’s burden of proof to the jury, and said that the state had proven its case beyond a doubt, noting Hargett’s confession of the killing when he was on the stand. “He said everything that is required for a guilty verdict,” she said.
In the course of the fight, Hargett had fired 13 rounds and changed his position and location to get better shots, including a run around the hotel building and up a flight of stairs, Hobbs pointed out.
“He put a gun to a man’s head, whose body was slumped over and (who) had no weapon, and pulled the trigger. That’s malice,” she added. “He told you himself that he ‘had to get the job done.’”
She noted that, at any point during the one-and-a-half minute gun fight, he could have chosen to flee the scene. She argued that, since Godette had robbed him earlier, Hargett had been intentionally hunting him “like an animal” and had set up the March 24 situation in which Godette was killed.
In his closing arguments, Castle denied that the state had proven that Godette had been hunted and argued that the real victim in the case was Hargett, who was only trying to save his own life.
He suggested the prosecution was using repetition as their main argument to convict Hargett instead of proof.
“Simply because a prosecutor comes up here and keeps repeating it in a high-pitched voice doesn’t make it a fact,” he said.
He noted that the fight took place across East Main Street from the Havelock Police Department and that anyone plotting a shooting wouldn’t do that. He said that the truly fatal wounds to Godette were those fired by Hargett’s cousin.
He argued that Godette was the first to fire and said that earlier testimony showed that Godette had promised Hargett he would kill him. The act of shooting the wounded man at point-blank range, he said, was Hargett’s act of self-defense for fear Godette would kill him later.
He argued the case was complex, with a “moral ambiguity” about any guilt in it, and accused the prosecution of taking the “moral high ground.”
In his response, McAfee replied that the “moral ambiguity” claim was another way of arguing that Godette “deserved to die … (Castle) talks about moral high ground. How about this: Thou shalt not kill,” he said.
McAfee noted that self-defense is only a defense if a person’s life is immediately under threat, and does not apply to fears of what will happen down the road. He argued that Hargett’s act of shooting the man who’d robbed him was one of murder.
“He wanted to handle it himself, on the streets, where he was from,” he said. “He wanted street justice — not due process — the opposite of all the laws and constitution we run under.”
The jury was then dismissed for a lunch recess before the judge charged the jury.
Superior Court Judge R. Kent Harrell spoke briefly to Castle after the jury had left, telling him he was troubled that his suggestion to the jury that self-defense could include killing a person to prevent that person killing them at a later date “is contrary to North Carolina law.”
In charging the jury, Harrell explained that the law covered only defense of the moment.
The began deliberations at 3 p.m. and, as of press time, had not returned a verdict.