December 13, 2008
NC trooper murder trial set for Oct.
Jon Ostendorff email@example.com
By Jon Ostendorff firstname.lastname@example.org
WAYNESVILLE — The man accused of shooting a state trooper to death during a traffic stop in Haywood County will face trial in October, a judge ordered Friday.
Edwardo Wong is charged with first-degree murder in the June 17 slaying of Trooper David Shawn Blanton Jr. on Interstate 40 near Canton.
Blanton had stopped the truck Wong was driving because it was pulling a rented car trailer with no license plate. Investigators believe Wong shot Blanton to death, took the trooper's gun and fired at a sheriff's deputy trying to stop him.
Superior Court Judge Nathanial Poovey set the Oct. 12 court date after hearing from prosecutors and one of Wong's attorneys, Randal Seago. District Attorney Michael Bonfoey and Assistant District Attorney Jim Moore had asked the judge for a July trial date, saying the state was ready to make its case just about anytime with enough warning to schedule travel for witnesses.
Prosecutors already have given Wong's team, which also includes attorney Mark Melrose, 1,800 pages of evidence, videos and audio recordings.
The state, in most criminal trials, collects the bulk of the evidence and provides it to defense attorneys ahead of time. The practice is called "open file" discovery in the 30th Judicial District, where the Wong case is being tried.
Defense attorneys also must provide the state with a list of experts they plan to call to give prosecutors time to prepare.
Seago said Wong's history of living in several states and other countries, like Jamaica, has made gathering details about his life difficult. His relatives are also scattered, with a mother in Bermuda and family in Japan, Seago said.
Defense attorneys in death penalty cases are required to learn as much as they can about the client's life to satisfy a standard known as "effective assistance of counsel" Seago said in court.
Two recent U.S. Supreme Court cases have made it clear that defense attorneys must conduct thorough pretrial investigations, including examining all school, jail, mental health and physical health records, he said.
And, Seago said, records about the client's family must be examined. As an example, he offered the case of Wong's father, who was "assassinated" in an Atlanta federal prison two weeks after starting a sentence for illegal drug distribution convictions.
Seago said the trial transcript in the elder Wong's case is 3,775 pages long and must be reviewed.
He and Melrose have two other capital murder cases that are expected to go to trial sometime in the next year, Seago said.
He said the fall of next year, rather than summer as the state had requested, would be fairer to his client.
Moore, the assistant prosecutor, said Wong wasn't the only person the court had to consider in setting a trial date.
"It is not just what is fair and right for the defendant but the (victim's) family as well," he said. "A year is more than enough time."
Poovey set the October date and told Seago to make the trial preparation a priority. The judge urged him to consider withdrawing from his other death penalty cases if the workload was too much. "I see no reason why, in 11 months time, you can't be prepared to try this case" he told Seago.