Jurors will soon decide on Brandon Council’s sentence as the defense rested Tuesday afternoon. Testimony given during his trial in federal court Tuesday continued to focus on when he was a child and teenager.
A jury last week found Council guilty of two counts in relation to a deadly robbery at a CresCom Bank in Conway. The Wilson, North Carolina, man had been charged with gunning down Katie Skeen and Donna Major during the robbery that occurred Aug. 21, 2017. Major and Skeen both worked at the bank on 16th Avenue. Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty.
Two videos that showed two separate interviews with inmates Stephon Farris and Antoine Miles were presented to the jury Tuesday morning as evidence.
During the interviews, each was asked about his time at Dobbs Youth Development Center in Kinston, North Carolina, where Council was sent as an adolescent.
The “training school” was described as a “prison for youth” by Farris, who said guards didn’t adequately supervise the young people there. There was constant violence there, they said, including in a stairwell and inside a gym. Some staffers allowed the boys there to fight, they said.
One might be sent to “segregation,” or an isolated single cell described as dirty and cold by court testimony, for days at a time.
Nothing beneficial was learned during the time spent at the facility, Farris and Miles said. If anything, the two became more informed about things like gang banging, stealing and selling drugs while there.
Defense attorney Duane Bryant also showed the jury a document that showed Council’s offer to plead guilty in exchange for two life sentences without the possibility of release.
Deborah Grey testified as an expert in licensed clinical social work. She said she was hired by the defense to develop a history on Council — conducting several interviews and reviewing many records — and determined multiple risk factors and protective factors.
Much of her testimony explained what she learned about Council, his life and his family through her investigation.
She said Council’s mother Beth was a student at Eastern Carolina University; she was placed on academic probation her first semester and was placed on suspension her second.
She started a relationship with 32-year-old Charles Council, who had fathered two kids out of wedlock.
When she gave birth to Brandon Council, Charles Council denied being the father.
DNA testing showed there was a high probability he was Brandon Council’s dad. The court found he was the father and ordered him to pay child support.
Charles Council purportedly didn’t believe the child was his, and elected not to be a part of his life until Brandon Council was a teenager.
Church leaders also stripped Brandon Council’s mother of her position at the church the family attended in Wilson, North Carolina.
The jury was shown a family tree displaying the health history of many of his relatives, which showed several illnesses and conditions, also listing some of their IQs.
The data showed conditions including depression, paranoia, hallucinates and drug use.
As a child, Brandon Council and his mom — described as someone who heavily focused on work — lived with her parents on Washington Street in Wilson. The neighborhood worsened overtime and drug sales became common.
Council’s maternal grandfather, Earl Spells, was said to be an easygoing man who liked to collect junk. He became deaf and communicated with his family primarily through letters, having some ability to lipread.
His wife, Brandon Council’s grandmother Bessie Spells, was described as a no nonsense woman and the matriarch of the family who was Brandon Council’s primary caretaker. She was protective of her grandson and wouldn’t allow him to play outside of her yard, where he often rode his bike.
Grey said Beth Joyner acknowledged she acted more as a sister figure to her son and that she and her mother spoiled him with material items. At the time, she was urged to move out with Brandon Council to better their relationship but didn’t.
Grey said the household was “cold” and that family members weren’t known to deal with conflict head-on, sometimes going a long time without speaking to one another.
Sometime when he was in the sixth grade, Brandon Council began riding the bus. The bus stop was known as a place where drug deals occurred and where people drank alcohol and smoked marijuana. While the middle schooler had some friends who he’d hang out with from time to time, Grey said Brandon Council was fairly socially isolated.
She said drama ensued after rumors that Curtis Eugene Joyner — a pastor at the family’s church who eventually resigned and who also married Brandon Council’s mother — was having an affair with Brandon Council’s aunt, who was married, which sowed seeds of discord in the family.
When he and Brandon Council’s mother married at the end of 1997, Brandon Council was told to keep it a secret.
Bessie Spells lost a lot of weight and was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. During this time, things were “chaotic” in the household. She died in June 1998.
When his grandmother was sick, Brandon Council fell in with the wrong crowd, according to testimony. After her death, he changed.
He started smoking marijuana and hanging out in the streets, though others described him as “soft.”
His mother pulled him out of the church Curtis Joyner preached at, and eventually the pastor resigned after being requested to.
Brandon Council missed several days of school and failed the eighth grade. His mother tried to get her brothers to talk to him before asking his stepfather, who allegedly punched him.
When her son told her he wanted to kill himself, Beth Joyner took him to a hospital, where he was found to not be a danger to himself or others, Grey said.
Friends saw him with welts and even a busted lip and black eye, and he was purportedly sexually assaulted by his stepfather.
Risk factors and protective factors for different stages of his life were talked about during the trial. The protective factors included having his material needs being taken care of, intelligence and physical health. Risk factors included the loss of his grandmother, lack of a father figure and academic failure.
Council spent two stretches of time at Dobbs Youth Development Center for a total of about 27 months.
He first went there in 1999 after being charged with a crack cocaine-related count.
Much of the afternoon’s proceedings centered on allegations of abuse at the hands of personnel at the facility, including accusations Council himself made.
During his time there, other boys from Wilson worked to protect Brandon Council.
After he was released at 16, he lived in different places, including with his mother and stepfather as well as in motels or a friend’s car.
He had a child, Brandon Council Jr., as a teenager and Charles Council became involved in the lives of his son and grandson.
While Brandon Council wanted to be a good parent, he was described by Grey as often being “spaced out,” having smoked marijuana often. He was convicted of several crimes and was eventually sentenced to years in prison for being a habitual felon.
Brandon Council is being tried in Florence. After hearing closing arguments from the prosecution and defense, the jury will decide whether Council is sentenced to either death or life in prison without the possibility of release.