The Dec. 9, 2009 stabbing death of a Boomer drug dealer and events surrounding it were described Tuesday in Wilkes Superior Court by witnesses for the state in the murder trial of James Douglas Triplett, 32, of Ferguson.
Triplett, who lives on Elk Creek-Darby Road, is charged with first-degree murder, armed robbery and first-degree burglary in the death of Bruce Ellis Barnes, 46. The incident, according to testimony, took place outside Barnes’ rented mobile home on High Rock Lane, a dirt road leading off of High Rock Road.
The state, represented by Assistant District Attorney Fred Bauer, is not seeking the death penalty. Triplett is represented by attorney Lisa Dubs of Hickory.
A co-defendant, Dillon Blake Walsh, 19, of Elk-Creek Darby Road, testified Tuesday morning and afternoon. Walsh has already entered guilty pleas to second-degree murder, second-degree burglary and armed robbery.
He said his sentence for those crimes, as part of a plea agreement, could range from seven to 20 years, depending on the truthfulness of his testimony.
Another co-defendant, Benjamin Derek Watson, 29, of Elk Creek-Darby Road, who is Walsh’s half brother, testified for the state Tuesday morning. Watson pleaded guilty in November to second-degree murder, armed robbery and second-degree burglary. He was sentenced to a total of not less than 25 years nor more than 31 years in prison.
A fourth co-defendant, Edward Arnold “Eddie” Triplett Jr. 37, of the Oakwoods community, remains in the Wilkes County Jail awaiting trial for first-degree murder, armed robbery and first-degree burglary. James and Edward Triplett are brothers.
Walsh, who was 17 at the time of the killing, said he had been snorting crushed up Xanax pills from the time he woke up on Dec. 9, 2009 at the home where he lived with his grandmother on Elk Creek-Darby Road. He said he rode a four-wheeler for a while before going around
5 p.m. to the nearby home of Teresa Ogle, who is James Triplett’s sister.
In addition to snorting some 60 Xanax tablets on the day of the stabbing, part of 120 pills he had bought the night before, Walsh said he was also drinking Max Energy, which is an alcoholic beverage.
At some point, James Triplett, Watson, Eddie Triplett and Walsh were all at Ms. Ogle’s home together, Walsh said.
He said Watson, who had been using drugs all day, wanted to get more crack cocaine and said Barnes had an ounce of it. Watson suggested that they go to Barnes home and rob him of the cocaine, Walsh said.
“Ben said, ‘Y’all hold him (Barnes) and I’ll take his dope,” Walsh testified.
Eddie Triplett drove all four to Barnes’ mobile home in his Toyota pickup truck, Walsh said. He said he had been to Barnes’ residence on two prior occasions to buy drugs.
When they arrived, Eddie Triplett parked his vehicle behind Barnes’ car and Watson got out, Walsh said. Barnes, standing in his driveway, “started cussing” and said, “I told you not to come over without calling.”
Walsh said Barnes was also angry because Watson had stolen a gun case earlier in the day from his car that contained a large amount of pills.
Watson tried to grab Barnes and he spun out of his grip, Walsh testified. Eddie Triplett and Walsh then got out of the pickup truck and grabbed Barnes.
A fight broke out and Barnes went to the ground, Walsh said. “Bruce was on his hands and knees,” and Walsh said he began hitting and kicking the man in the head. Eddie Triplett was on top of Barnes and choking him, he said.
While this was going on, Watson went into Barnes’ mobile home, looking for crack cocaine. He ended up stealing a bag of marijuana and pills, according to testimony.
Walsh told the court that he heard Barnes say, “Stop and I’ll give you the dope.”
James Triplett came up and entered into the fray, and Walsh heard Eddie Triplett tell James Triplett, “Stop. You stabbed me.” Walsh said he looked up and saw James Triplett standing over Barnes.
By this time, Barnes was on his back, Walsh said. Before getting back in the truck to leave, Walsh said he put his hand on Barnes’ chest to see if he was still breathing.
Barnes was “trying to breathe. It sounded like he was snoring,” Walsh testified.
The Tripletts and Walsh got in the truck and were joined a moment later by Watson, who had the bag of marijuana and pills. Eddie Triplet put a belt around his leg to slow the bleeding from his stab wound and Walsh led the belt tight as drove back to Ms. Ogle’s home.
Watson was angry about Barnes being stabbed and yelled at James Triplett, saying, “What did you do that for?” Walsh testified. “Kill me,” James Triplett said in response.
Walsh said the marijuana and pills were split up between the four of them after getting to the Ogle residence.
Walsh testified that he helped Eddie Triplett out of the truck and into the house. He said Eddie Triplett told him he’d found the knife used in the stabbing and stuck it in his pants.
Eddie Triplett refused to go to the hospital to get treatment for the knife wound to his leg, Walsh said.
While there, Walsh told Eddie Triplett that he had heard Barnes making a snoring sound after being stabbed. He said Triplett responded, “No, that was a death rattle.”
Walsh said he went with Watson to his home on Elk Creek-Darby Road and gave Watson his clothes. Watson testified Tuesday morning that he burned his clothes and Walsh’s clothes.
On cross-examination by Dubs, Walsh admitted that statements he gave to authorities around the time of his arrest were not true. He said he told the truth in an interview in January at the time of his plea agreement and that he told the truth during his testimony Tuesday.
Evidence from an autopsy performed by Dr. Patrick Lantz at Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center in Winston-Salem was that Barnes was stabbed and slashed 11 times, with killing blows to the lungs and heart. Lantz, a forensic pathologist, testified Monday morning.
Information obtained by patrol deputies early in the investigation and initial interviews led to other information and the arrests, authorities said at the time.
James Douglas Triplett and Walsh were arrested at homes on lower Elk Creek-Darby Road. Watson was arrested as he arrived at a residence on Elk Creek-Darby Road from work and Edward Triplett was arrested at his place of employment, authorities said.