Justin Ray Hester gets two life sentences in killings
The stoic, unblinking gaze of Justin Ray Hester during his sentencing hearing reflected the cold-blooded manner of the killings he pleaded guilty to committing.
Hester, 26, was convicted Monday in Caldwell Superior Court to two counts of first-degree murder and was sentenced by Judge Bob Ervin to two consecutive life sentences without parole. Hester was accused of shooting Harley Brook Carter and Kevin Lee Shatley in the back of the head on June 4, 2010, in Dudley Shoals.
Investigators said that Hester owned Carter $3,000 and decided it would be easier to kill Carter than pay him.
District Attorney James C. Gaither said afterward he was satisfied with the plea deal in the nearly 3-year-old case.
“The two consecutive life sentences are appropriate and guarantee he’ll leave the state of North Carolina in a box,” he said.
Evidence showed Carter, 19, and Shatley, whose age was not listed in court records, left with Hester in Carter’s Mustang and headed toward the Gateway School in Dudley Shoals. Hester then shot each once in the back of the head. Police think Carter was sitting in the car when she was shot, but Shatley was not. Investigators say Hester went to get two friends, Matthew Bradley Powell of Granite Falls and Dylan Shane Teeters of Oak Hill School Road, to help load Shatley’s body into the car.
Teeters, then 19, and Powell, then 21, drove the Mustang to a site off Power House Road in Rhodhiss and tried to roll the car into the lake but couldn't, so they instead went to Northside Superette in Granite Falls, purchased a can of gas, returned to the Mustang and set the car on fire.
The Caldwell County Sheriff’s Office received a call at 2:30 p.m. after a group of young people on their way to swim near the Rhodhiss Dam found a burned-out vehicle found in a remote, overgrown, muddy area. Inside investigators found the burned remains of two human bodies, and they recovered a ring with the name “Kevin” inscribed on it. Nearby lay a ball cap and a pair of sandals. An autopsy at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center revealed each person was shot once in the head. Both bullets were recovered.
A .357-caliber Magnum revolver, believed to be the murder weapon, was later retrieved from a mill pond by a dive team.
Hester originally was indicted on two counts of murder and one count of burning personal property.
Powell and Teeters are charged with accessory after the fact to murder. They have not yet stood trial.
Shatley’s mother, Toni Shatley, spoke to the court before Monday’s sentencing.
“Your honor, on June 4, 2010, two lives were lost, three lives were changed for the worst,” she said. “One child without a dad, one child without a mom. The choice. The choice made to murder Kevin and Harley changed our lives forever. I go over and over in my mind, why, why is this the answer?”