James Douglas Triplett took the witness stand in his own defense Thursday morning in Wilkes Superior Court, describing the Dec. 9, 2009 fatal stabbing of Bruce Ellis Barnes in the Boomer community.
The killing took place in the driveway of a mobile home Barnes, 46, rented on High Rock Lane, a dirt road off of High Rock Road.
Triplett, who lives on Elk Creek-Darby Road, is charged with first-degree murder, armed robbery and burglary. His trial began Feb. 4.
The state, represented by Assistant District Attorney Fred Bauer, is not seeking the death penalty. Should Triplett be convicted of first-degree murder, he would be sentenced to life imprisonment without possibility of parole.
Triplett is represented by attorney Lisa Dubs of Hickory. Judge Edgar B. Gregory of Wilkesboro, Wilkes County’s resident superior court judge, is presiding over the trial.
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.
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.
James Triplett said he drank beer and consumed Xanax tablets throughout the day with Dillon Walsh on Dec. 9, 2009. Triplett testified that he was as close to Walsh as a brother. A heavy, daily drinker, Triplett said he became more impaired as the day went on.
He and Walsh were at the home of the Tripletts’ sister, Teresa Ogle, when Watson and Eddie Triplett came there after going to Barnes’ residence to get crack cocaine. Watson, in earlier testimony, said he’d known Barnes for some 15 years and that, in addition to being friends, Barnes was his main drug dealer.
Eddie Triplett and Watson left Ms. Ogle’s mobile home between 7 and 7:30 p.m. to try and trade some pills for more crack, James Triplett said. The pills had been prescribed to Ms. Ogle following surgery.
When Eddie Triplett and Watson returned, they had a large amount of pills, including Xanax and narcotic painkillers, found in a gun case Watson had stolen from Barnes’ car, according to testimony. “We went to eating them like they were candy,” James Triplett said. “I passed out a time or two.”
The four of them went back to Barnes’ home in Eddie Triplett’s Toyota pickup truck, with Eddie Triplett at the wheel.
James Triplett, questioned by Ms. Dubs, denied that he was aware of any plan to rob Barnes. “The only thing I knew was we were going (there) to get high. I was already wasted. I was game for anything.”
“I’ve never robbed anybody,” he said. “That’s not who I am.”
Dillon Walsh testifying for the state, said Tuesday that the plan, put forward by Watson, had been for them to accost Barnes, restrain him and steal an ounce of crack cocaine they believed he had.
James Triplett testified that he was too impaired on alcohol and drugs to be aware of such a plan. He said he has no recollection of the ride over to Barnes’ home. Others have testified that he passed out or went to sleep as they drove.
Triplett said he came to in the pickup truck and that his next memory was of Walsh yelling, “He’s got a gun, he’s got a gun.”
“I seen them fighting over there,” referring to a struggle taking place between Eddie Triplett, Walsh and Barnes. “I looked down for some kind of weapon,” found a long kitchen knife in the pickup, and “I went to stop what was going on,” he said.
Triplett said he began stabbing Barnes and, at some point, heard Eddie Triplett yell, “you stabbed me.”
“It was a bad, bad deal,” James Triplett said. “I didn’t intend to kill. I just wanted to stop what was going on. I was trying to protect my brother.”
“It all happened in less than a minute from start to finish,” he testified.
Triplett said the knife had been left in his brother’s truck for a couple of days, used initially to skin and clean two deer he had illegally killed.
After being stabbed, Barnes, who had been on his hands and knees, fell to the ground on his back, according to testimony.
“I just ran back to the truck,” Triplett said. He said he “felt devastated. I couldn’t believe I could have caused that. I felt like dying myself.”
“Words can’t describe how I felt then or now,” Triplett said. “I see (Barnes’) face every time I close my eyes. I think about it every day.”
After all three were back in the truck, Watson yelled at him, asking what he had done. Triplett said he replied, “Here, kill me. I’m going to hell anyway, so it don’t matter.”
Watson testified earlier in the trial that he had gone in Barnes’ mobile home to find the crack while others restrained an angry Barnes. Walsh said that prior to the stabbing, he kicked and punched Barnes in the head while Eddie Triplett choked the man from behind.
Watson said he was unable to find the cocaine, so he stole a bag containing marijuana and pills. Testimony was that the crack was actually in Barnes’ pocket and was removed by his girlfriend, Maria Moxley, before authorities arrived at the murder scene the next morning.
James Triplett said Eddie Triplett put a belt around his leg to slow the bleeding from his stab wound and then drove the three back to Ms. Ogle’s residence.
James Triplett testified he initially lied to Ms. Ogle, telling her he accidentally stabbed Eddie Triplett while cleaning a deer they had killed while illegally spotlighting. Realizing she probably wouldn’t believe this, he admitted, “I killed a man.”
He said Ms. Ogle had him put the knife and his clothes in a plastic bag and said she would get rid of them. Earlier testimony was that Watson burned the clothing he and Walsh were wearing.
Ms. Ogle, in testimony this week, denied getting rid of the murder weapon and James Triplett’s clothing. She said she threw something away that Triplett handed to her, but that it was covered by two potholders. She said she doesn’t know what she threw away.
Megan Triplett, James Triplett’s niece, testified that Ms. Ogle, who is her aunt, told her prior to the trial that she didn’t want to testify and that she had lied in earlier statements to authorities.
Ms. Triplett said Ms. Ogle told her authorities had threatened her with a jail sentence if she didn’t testify against James and Eddie Triplett.
Ms. Triplett also testified that Ms. Ogle told her she had thrown the murder weapon over a bridge and that “no one would ever find it.”
Answering questions on cross-examination by Bauer, Ms. Triplett said, “I feel like what (James Triplett) did was to protect” Walsh and Eddie Triplett from Barnes. “I would hope that if I was being hurt, someone would come to the defense of me,” she said.
Information obtained by patrol deputies early in the investigation and initial interviews led to other information and the arrests, authorities said.
James 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.
All have been in custody in the Wilkes County Jail since being arrested.
The defense rested its case at 4:50 p.m. Thursday. Closing arguments were expected this morning. The jury was expected to deliberate after being instructed by Gregory on the law applicable to this case.