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Gregory Parks, who was convicted in the kidnapping and killing of a 20-year-old Bailey woman, received a fair trial, one without legal errors, the N.C. Court of Appeals ruled Wednesday.
A three-judge panel upheld Parks’ November 2017 convictions, including first-degree murder, in the death of Isabel “Chaveli” Palacios. The young mother was last seen at Parks’ Ward Boulevard home on July 31, 2015. Less than 12 hours after her family reported her missing on Aug. 4, 2015, investigators roped off the home after obtaining a search warrant. While Palacios’ body has never been found, investigators discovered blood and the woman’s DNA inside Parks’ home.
In November 2017, a Pitt County jury found Parks guilty of killing the young mother under the felony murder rule by way of the commission of attempted second-degree rape and second-degree kidnapping, first-degree kidnapping, obtaining property by false pretenses and habitual felon status.
Parks was tried in Greenville after his attorney argued pretrial publicity had prejudiced the prospective jury pool in Wilson County.
On appeal, Parks challenged several issues related to his trial, including the court’s admission of expert testimony. Parks contended the trial court erred when two forensic pathologists testified to their expert opinions about the amount of blood discovered in Parks’ home.
“The defendant does not challenge the relevancy of the testimony or the qualifications of the witnesses,” Judge John S. Arrowood wrote in the opinion. “Defendant only contests the reliability.”
The appellate judges held that the trial court “properly determined that the pathologists’ testimony was based on sufficient facts or data, was the product of reliable principles and methods and that they reliably applied those principles and methods in this case. The trial court did not abuse its discretion in this case in admitting the limited opinion testimony of the pathologists.”
The opinion also stated that the evidence was “properly admitted and put before the jury.”
“It is not clear to this court that, even if the opinion testimony was improper, that the testimony would rise to the level of prejudice requiring a new trial given the other evidence in the case,” Arrowood wrote.
Wilson County Assistant District Attorney Joel Stadiem argued at trial that Parks killed Palacios inside his bedroom.
When police executed a search warrant on Parks’ Ward Boulevard home, they found evidence that a crime had occurred, according to court testimony.
That evidence included Palacios’ blood and DNA throughout Parks’ home, most of which was inside his bedroom. Stadiem told jurors at the time that Parks cleaned up after he brutally beat Palacios to death. Palacios and Parks had been smoking crack cocaine for several hours prior to her disappearance.
Prosecutors argued Parks lured Palacios to his home with those drugs, but after they ran out, Parks expected payment in return — sex. But Palacios fought back, which made Parks angry.
Parks also pawned Palacios’ ring for $25 the morning after she disappeared. Forensic testing showed the ring had traces of blood and Palacios’ DNA.
Parks also argued on appeal that the trial court violated his constitutional rights after it denied his motion to suppress evidence collected during the execution of a search warrant of his home.
Parks contended that the evidence collected during the search should have been thrown out because the search warrant was issued based on an affidavit containing false and misleading information.
“Upon review of the evidence, we are not convinced,” Arrowood wrote for the three-judge panel. “Although not all statements in the affidavit are entirely accurate, the evidence supports some version of those challenged statements and defendant has not met his burden to establish by the preponderance of the evidence that the affiant made those statements in reckless disregard to the truth or in bad faith.”
During the search of Parks’ home, detectives discovered Parks had removed his bedroom carpet. Red carpet fibers were also found leading from his bedroom out the side door and in the trunk of Parks’ car.
Carpet padding was also discovered in a trash can outside Parks’ home. It was stained with blood and Palacios’ DNA, according to court testimony.
Police also discovered carpet padding in a trash can outside Parks’ home. It was stained with Palacios’ blood. A bathmat, candlestick and lamp were found in that same trash can and tested positive for her blood and her DNA.
Palacios’ blood was also found in several areas of his home.
Parks claimed that Palacios, whose vehicle was at his home, left his house around 2:30 p.m. that day on July 31, 2015. He testified that she told him she was going to find more drugs. He said she had lost her keys and told him she was getting a ride with another man. Parks said he never saw her again after that.
But detectives later found Palacios’ car keys behind a figurine on a bookcase inside Parks’ home. Detectives also found ammonia, bleach and carpet cleaner.
The baseball bat, which prosecutors said Parks used to kill Palacios, was never recovered, but it was an object that had been seen at Parks’ home, according to court testimony.
The state also presented evidence at trial that in the past, Parks had been violent with many women who had used drugs with him and refused sex, Arrowood wrote.
Several women testified in explicit detail as to their interactions with Parks over the years.
A JURY DECIDED
Parks also contended in his appeal that the trial court erred when it denied his motion to dismiss the charges against him after all the evidence was introduced.
He asserted that while there was evidence in Palacios’ disappearance, there was little evidence that she was dead or that Parks caused her death, Arrowood wrote in the court’s opinion.
The state argued that the combined circumstantial evidence presented in this case was sufficient to prove Parks’ guilt. “Thus,” appellate judges concluded, “the trial court did not err in allowing the jury to decide the case.”
Judge Chris Dillon concurred, and Judge Hunter Murphy concurred in separate opinion. Superior Court Judge Wayland Sermons Jr. presided over the 2017 trial.
LIFE IN PRISON
Parks is currently serving a life sentence in Tabor Correctional Institution without the possibility of parole.
In 2013, Parks was convicted by a Wilson County jury on two counts of participating in the prostitution of a minor.
While he was sentenced to decades in prison, he was released early after the N.C. Court of Appeals overturned those convictions in 2014, citing a lack of evidence in the case.
Parks has previous convictions ranging from manslaughter to attempted first- and second-degree rape.