ROCKY MOUNT — At the close of a third day of hearing evidence in a fatal 2017 stabbing, jurors in Franklin County deliberated for just under 90 minutes before returning a verdict.
Amanda Marie Harper was found not guilty of second-degree murder.
Upon hearing the jury’s decision, about a half-dozen of Harper’s family and friends leaped to their feet and cheered, briefly but enthusiastically.
The 27-year-old Wright was stabbed once at his residence at a mobile home park on Samuel Lane.
Franklin County deputies found Harper walking nearby and arrested her that night. She initially was held without bail but was granted bond in July 2018.
The trial started Monday, and jurors got the case about 3 p.m. Wednesday.
In closing arguments, Commonwealth’s Attorney A.J. Dudley said Wright’s mother, Cecile Fitzgerald, was in the home with Harper and Wright the night of the stabbing. She had testified that the couple was arguing, but she did not see her son suffer the fatal blow.
Fitzgerald said in court she heard her son say, “Mama, b---- done stabbed me!”
A knife matching the dimensions of the weapon that killed Wright was found in the kitchen. Forensic examination showed Wright had a single wound with a depth of just over 6 inches, with indications that the blade did not waver on entry or on withdrawal.
“That’s quite a bit of force that would’ve been required to get the knife that far down,” Dudley argued. “It went straight in and straight out. You see no signs of struggle.”
He asked for a murder conviction or — given the couple’s argument at the time and the possibility of the heat of passion — voluntary manslaughter.
But defense attorney Melissa Keen argued that reasonable doubt had not been overcome on either of those counts.
“Ms. Harper was a suspect because Ms. Fitzgerald said she was,” Keen told jurors, and pointed to prior testimony that showed investigators had been unable to find Harper’s DNA on the weapon.
She also reviewed testimony that showed Fitzgerald had paused in the midst of the fatal emergency to go to a neighbor’s house to hide a bag of marijuana.
Keen said evidence suggested that Wright — who outweighed Harper by more than 100 pounds and stood 7 inches taller — had been choking Harper that night, possibly because of an argument over a drink.
“She is guilty of having one more beer. And Cory didn’t want her to have that,” Keen said.
“There was nobody there to help Ms. Harper,” she said.
Keen could not immediately be reached for comment Wednesday.
After the conclusion of the trial, Dudley said his office had requested that the case go to a jury because the nature of the evidence “cries out for members of the community to determine the outcome.”
“Their service is appreciated, and their verdict respected,” he said.