Murder Trial Of Rayquan Borum, Death Of Justin Carr Explained

Mar 8, 2019
Originally published on March 8, 2019 4:43 pm

A Mecklenburg jury found Rayquan Borum guilty of second-degree murder in the shooting death of 26-year-old protester Justin Carr.

Borum also was found guilty of possession of a firearm. He decided not to take the stand in the case.

Justin Carr was a Charlotte native with a baby on the way when he was killed in 2016.
Bonita Graham / Submitted

During the trial, the state called more than a dozen witnesses, submitted over a hundred pieces of evidence including video footage from the night Carr was shot and audio from jailhouse calls Borum placed.

Through the trial process, a picture was painted of what happened on the night of Sept. 21, 2016 — the second night of protests in uptown Charlotte following the fatal police shooting of Keith Lamont Scott. The state argued that Borum, aiming at police, shot his firearm and struck Carr, a protester who was demonstrating outside of the Omni Hotel.

Here's a breakdown of what happened that night, and the charges and trial that followed:

Keith Scott Protests And The Night Carr Was Shot

Justin Carr was killed on the second night of the protests in uptown Charlotte following the police shooting of Keith Scott.
Tom Bullock / WFAE

The shooting occurred on Sept. 21, 2016 — on the second night of protests in uptown Charlotte following the fatal police shooting of Keith Scott. The protests lasted for days as demonstrators flooded the streets of Charlotte. At one point, then-Gov. Pat McCrory declared a state emergency and called in the national guard.

On the day Carr was shot, what had began as peaceful protests during the day escalated that evening.

Riot police arrived and were confronted by protesters. The police threw tear gas canisters in an effort to subdue the crowd. Most of the protesters were peaceful, but some threw objects — like water bottles, trashcans and plants they ripped from the ground — at police and CMPD cars. At least one officer was injured.

The night's protests began with this peaceful rally at Trade & Tryon streets, near Bank of America headquarters.
David Boraks / WFAE

Around 8:30 p.m. Sept. 21, 2016, protesters began running down Trade Street, some yelling that someone had been shot. The victim would later be identified as Carr, a Charlotte native and a father-to-be. Carr was shot outside of the Omni Hotel.

That night, a protester told WFAE that the police shot Carr. A city official later said that police weren't involved and that one civilian shot another.

Police arrested and charged Borum on Friday, Sept. 23, 2016, in connection with Carr's death after, CMPD said, police reviewed video footage capturing the incident.

During the trial, the state produced that video footage which, the defense said, showed Borum running in multiple scenes. The defense said the video also showed a muzzle flash, which is a visible blast of light after a firearm is shot. The state said that it was Borum who shot the gun and that the video showed him fleeing the scene.

Borum Pleads Not Guilty

Rayquan Borum is shown during an earlier court hearing where he pleaded not guilty to the first-degree murder charge.
John D. Simmons / Charlotte Observer

In August 2017, Borum pleaded not guilty to the first-degree murder of Carr. In doing so, he rejected a plea bargain that would have had plead guilty to two charges, second-degree murder and possession of a firearm by a felon, and serve 16 years in prison.

At the time he pleaded not guilty, Borum's then-attorney Terry Sherrill told WFAE that he "confessed to shooting the gun, and all of that. He did. He had a gun with him. He shouldn't have had the gun with him. He confessed to shooting the gun. He didn't confess with intent to kill Mr. Carr (or) even injure Mr. Carr."

Charlotte Uprising And Borum's New Attorneys

The police shooting of Keith Scott sparked protests that led to the creation of Charlotte Uprising. These protesters stood on a wall outside CMPD headquarters on Sept. 21, 2016.
David Boraks / WFAE

In the wake of the Keith Lamont Scott shooting, a grassroots group of activists formed under the social media hashtag and name Charlotte Uprising. Ash Williams, a lead organizer in the group, said Charlotte Uprising was created as a way to "build community and reach other folks in Charlotte who are concerned about the same issues."

Those issues included police killings of black people and a demand for CMPD transparency. Members of Charlotte Uprising were among more than 80 people arrested during the protests following the Scott shooting, and since then, members of the group have held marches and disrupted public meetings and court hearings.

Charlotte Uprising maintains the innocence of Borum. Members of the group and others in the community say they believe that a police officer shot Carr and that CMPD framed Borum. CMPD has maintained that no officer was involved in the shooting.

Last year, the group raised more than $35,000 for Borum's defense and helped secure new lawyers for him — Mark Simmons and Darlene Harris.

Williams said the group had reservations about his previous attorney, Terry Sherrill, in part because he was a court-appointed attorney paid by the state.

"We were concerned about his previous lawyer's ability to do a good job for him and represent him well and his interests, and wanted to make sure Rayquan had a good defense," Williams said.

The Jury Selection Process

More than two years since Carr's death passed before jury selection in his trial began. The jury selection process was a long one, with pretrial motions delaying its start. Among those motions was a significant ruling — that an interrogation video of Borum admitting he shot a gun the night of Carr's death would be allowed as evidence in the trial.

The defense moved to block the video, saying the two detectives interviewing Borum violated his rights when they spoke with him. At one point in the video, Borum asked for an attorney. The detectives stopped asking questions but continued to speak with him, during which the Borum admitted to firing the gun saying it was an accident.

Judge Hayes ruled that the language the officers used in the interrogation was troublesome but that it did not violate Borum's Miranda Rights. The judge also ruled that Vivian Carr, Justin Carr's mother, would be allowed to testify.

Jury selection took more than a week and was paused at one point to allow time for Borum's mental state to be evaluated. Borum's lawyer had asked for the examination after he appeared drowsy and inattentive in court. The selection process resumed after Judge Hayes ruled that Borum was competent to stand trial.

The jury pool began with 52 people. Many jurors were excused for different reasons, such as personal biases or previous interactions with the Carr family. One person in the jury pool said she feared retaliation by Borum or his supporters if she were to find him guilty. The jury selection process was completed on Feb. 21.

Of the 12 jurors seated in the trial, eight were women and four were men. Six jurors were white, four were black, one was Hispanic and one was Indian. An alternate was also selected.

The State Presents Its Case Against Borum At Trial

The first-degree murder trial began on Feb. 25. Prosecutors argued during the trial that even though Borum did not mean to shoot Carr, he was aiming at police when he fired the gun that killed the protester.

Kendell Bowden testifies that he was with Borum the night Justin Carr was fatally shot.
John D. Simmons / Charlotte Observer

Jurors heard from a witness, Kendall Bowden, who said that he was with Borum the night of Carr's death and that he heard him express a desire to shoot a police officer. Bowden, who is currently serving a federal sentence related to aggravated identify theft and bank fraud conspiracy, testified that he heard Borum chant profane comments about police.

"He was screaming, 'F the police' and 'grip a glock, shoot back,'" Bowden said during his testimony.

On a video submitted into evidence from a documentarian who was outside the Omni before and after the shooting, someone can be heard yelling the phrase "Grip a glock, shoot back" multiple times. The state argued that voice belonged to Borum.

Bowden also testified that Borum threatened him should he go to police.

Jurors also heard from a CMPD crime scene investigator who said a 9 mm cartridge was found at the scene where Carr was shot. The state said Borum fired a 9 mm gun that night.

Defense attorney Darlene Harris said that it took five to six hours to secure the scene and that items could have been removed or added during that time.

Another CMPD investigator described video footage captured from area security cameras that night. He testified that video showed Borum running in multiple scenes after a muzzle flash (a visible blast of light that occurs after a firearm is discharged) went off.

Other witnesses that testified during the trial included Justin Carr's mother, one of his friends, a journalist who said he saw an African-American male with dreadlocks shoot Carr and a documentarian who took video that showed Carr on the ground after he was shot.

The Call That Postponed The Hearing

On Feb. 27, two days after the start of the trial, a recording of a phone conversation between Borum and his mother was played in court. In the call, Borum asked his mother, Gail Borum, to write down a name and give it to certain people because he had a trial coming up.

"G-R-E-G-O-R-Y spacebar H-A-Y-E-S," Borum said, spelling out the name to the person on the phone.

"Say it again?" the person responded.

"Last name H-A-Y-E-S," Borum said.

Judge Gregory Hayes
John D. Simmons / Charlotte Observer

The name belongs to Judge Gregory Hayes, and the call was first perceived as a threat made against the judge. Upon hearing this, the defense asked that Judge Hayes recuse himself and that a motion be filed declaring a mistrial.

Borum's attorneys withdrew the recusal motion the next day. According to prosecutors, Gail Borum said her son asked her to contact voodoo spiritual advisers in hopes of influencing his case. Prosecutors confirmed that Borum had a history of contacting a person in Raleigh who practices voodoo.

Borum's trial continued with Judge Hayes presiding.

On Monday, Borum declined to take the stand. The state and Borum's defense made their closing arguments and jury deliberations began Wednesday morning.