Brian Thad Carver spent his time in court on Monday staring down at his lap, making little eye contact with the accusers testifying against him.
Carver, 42, faces a first-degree murder charge in the March death of 90-year-old Ray Ronald Jackson. But on Monday, testimony focused on three older residents who say they survived violent encounters with Carver before the death of Jackson, who was found under a Gaston County bridge near the Lincoln County line after being reported missing for more than a week.
The three people who testified Monday, a married couple and another man, were allowed to give depositions because they have health concerns that could make them unavailable at trial. If the case against Carver goes to trial, a judge will decide if video from their testimonies can be used in court in place of live testimony.
Police accuse Carver of robbing Roland and Elizabeth Barnes, as well as another man, Alfred Cloninger, at gunpoint in March. In addition to the murder charge, Carver also faces two kidnapping charges, three counts of robbery with a dangerous weapon, one count of conspiring to commit robbery with a dangerous weapon, larceny of a firearm, larceny of a vehicle, possession of a firearm by a felon, assault with a deadly weapon and two failure to appear charges.
Carver was out of jail on bond awaiting trial on an unrelated October 2016 rape charge at the time of the more recent incidents.
Roland Barnes, 81, was the first to take the witness stand. He often looked at Carver while testifying even though Carver rarely looked up from his hands.
Carver had worked for Barnes twice in the last five years, helping to take down or trim trees in his yard. But Barnes testified when Carver came to his door on March 13 he at first mistook the man in a black hooded sweatshirt as one of his grandsons. Carver allegedly gave Barnes a fake name and then told Barnes and his wife, Elizabeth, that his wife was in a Lincolnton hospital but he had no way to get there.
Barnes said he let Carver use his phone and then offered to give him a ride to a family member’s house around two miles away. The pair left in Barnes’ car for the home, but when Barnes pulled into the driveway he said Carver pulled out a gun and told him to continue driving.
“He tapped me on the shoulder and said ‘Keep driving or I’ll kill you,’” Barnes recalled in court.
Barnes said Carver took the $40 to $60 out of his wallet before insisting he drive back to the Barnes’ residence, where Barnes’ wife waited, unaware of what was taking place.
When they returned, Barnes said Carver took the house and cellphones away from the couple, as well as an iPad. He then allegedly made Elizabeth Barnes get into her wheelchair before putting her in the bathroom with threats to kill her husband if she made any noise.
Carver then made Barnes take him to his safe, taking money and a pistol from the safe. Barnes said Carver had him drive on backroads for quite some time before he eventually allowed Barnes to get out.
A car stopped while Barnes was walking and helped him call the police, he testified.
Elizabeth Barnes’ testimony nearly mirrored her husband’s. She told the court she waited in the bathroom for about an hour before police came to the home to make sure she was OK.
“I couldn’t go out because I was afraid he would shoot my husband,” she told the court.
She, like her husband, did not immediately recognize the man in their home that evening as Brian Carver.
Roland Barnes said he first realized it was Brian Carver when the gun was allegedly pulled out during their initial drive. Elizabeth Barnes, 77, said she realized it was Brian Carver when she picked out his photograph in a lineup.
This was one of the chief details Carver’s attorney, Gus Anthony, focused on in his cross-examination of both. In his line of questioning for Roland Barnes, Anthony pointed out he hadn’t been able to identify Carver in a dimly lit home, but was able to do so in a dark car, to which Barnes said the course of the conversation in the car helped him realize who it was as well.
During Elizabeth Barnes cross-examination, Anthony made it known he objected to the manner in which she was shown the photographic lineup. Barnes said she was only shown two photographs on the detective’s phone, one of whom was Carver. Anthony declined to say exactly why he objected to it after court, but said the manner in which the identification occurred wasn’t proper.
Superior Court Judge Lori Hamilton told Anthony she would defer his objections to the identification to the trial judge once the trial date is set.
Cloninger, 77, was the final person to testify in court Monday. On March 7, police say Carver robbed Cloninger at gunpoint at his home as well.
According to Cloninger, he had also met Carver previously when he was in the neighborhood looking for odd jobs specifically related to trees and tree trimming. When Carver allegedly arrived at his home to do the work, he said he needed a chainsaw chain.
Cloninger said he gave Carver around $40 to purchase a chain, but then Carver left to purchase the chain and he never came back. Then, several months later, Cloninger heard a knock at his door and found Carver there asking to use his phone because he had run out of gas.
Cloninger let Carver inside to use his phone and also said he gave him a gas can with gas for his car, which was parked outside his home. After Carver allegedly put the gas in his car, he came back to Cloninger to ask for money. When Cloninger refused, he said Carver turned away as if he were leaving, but then turned back around with a gun pointed at his head.
Carver allegedly told Cloninger to go back inside and give him money. Cloninger said Carver took a small bowl filled with quarters and his cell phone and home phone, none of which were recovered. He allegedly told Cloninger to stay at his kitchen table, and then left the home.
Cloninger said he went to the neighbors to call police. While at the neighbors, Cloninger said he started to realize Carver was the man who was supposed to work in his yard but had disappeared. Cloninger said Carver never divulged his name; he only remembered what he looked like.
Anthony asked Cloninger about not recognizing Carver at first but putting it together at a later time. Cloninger simply said he was distracted at the time, and didn’t remember until the shock wore off.
“I was concentrating on getting him out of my house without any injury to me,” Cloninger said.
Then, Anthony pointed out that a week later, when Cloninger identified Carver through a photo array, he signed a statement saying he was only 75 percent sure the man he picked out of the photo array was the man who committed the crime.
At that point, both the prosecution and the defense rested.
Also to take the stand briefly on Monday was Gaston County Police detective Maxim Rheinson, who was there as Bell showed evidence to those who took the stand.
Rheinson talked about finding the stolen cell phones, iPad and firearm Roland Barnes had reported as stolen. According to him, the firearm was found outside the Red Carpet Inn where Carver was ultimately apprehended.
Additionally, he and other detectives were able to locate the phones through a court order that allowed them to ping the location. The phones and iPad were located on the side of a back road in Gaston County, according to Rheinson.
Roland Barnes was asked to identify the firearm, which he said looked like the one stolen from him, as did the phones. Anthony pointed out during the cross-examination in the courtroom on Monday there was no way to know for sure those were the exact ones stolen.
Bell also announced his plans in court on Monday to motion that the the cases heard be tried with the murder trial for Ray Ronald Jackson.
Anthony said after court on Monday he was unsure of when exactly the trial will be, but he doesn’t anticipate it will take place within this next year. He also said his client is doing well, considering the circumstances.
“He’s holding up good,” Anthony said. “He obviously realizes he’s in a big mess.”