‘It was just chaos’: Graphic testimony in Pasquotank prison murder trial

By on October 14, 2019

Witness Timothy Lewis on the stand. (Photo by CriShaun Eugene Hardy)

“The thing that’s always stuck with me was the smell,” William Davis, an Elizabeth City policeman, recounted on the witness stand during the murder trial of Mikel Brady. “The odor of pure blood.”

On Monday, Oct. 14, some five dozen observers sat in a windowless courtroom for seven hours, rapt with attention as they listened to witness after witness recount the horror of October 12, 2017 — the day when four Pasquotank Correctional Institute employees lost their lives during a failed prison escape.

Defendant Mikel Brady. (Photo by CriShaun Eugene Hardy)

The defendant faces four counts of murder in the first degree and other related charges in the deadliest prison escape attempt in North Carolina history. The other men charged are Wisezah Buckman, Seth Frazier and Jonathan Monk. Each defendant will be tried separately, with Buckman’s trial slated for March; Frazier’s and Monk’s trial dates have not yet been set.

Eight prosecution witnesses took the stand on Monday, and while their testimony often overlapped, each had a deeply personal story to tell. District Attorney Andrew Womble and Assistant District Attorney Kimberly Pellini guided their witnesses minute-by-minute through their memories of that deadly Thursday two years ago.

“It was just chaos,” “covered in blood,” and “there was nothing I could do for him,” were phrases uttered during the proceedings. All of the witnesses had either worked at the prison or were in law enforcement. Many of the prison employees had been on the job for years, but none of them had ever experienced anything like this before.

Michelle Godfrey, the lead nurse on the second shift at Pasquotank, had been a registered nurse for 29 years and an emergency room nurse for six. She and other nurses examined all of the victims that day, and she described in graphic detail to the jury the injuries she saw. “His neck was just laid open. I could his trachea, his larynx,” she recounted.

Godfrey didn’t leave the prison until midnight that night, many hours after her shift ended. She went back to work the next day, having not slept a wink, but she found she couldn’t continue. That was the last day she ever worked at Pasquotank Correctional. She is not currently employed.

Many of the witnesses had worked with the victims for years, and although they didn’t necessarily know Wendy Shannon, Justin Smith, Veronica Darden, and Geoffrey Howe very well, they recounted on the stand their small acts of kindness. Marshall Connor, a correctional officer, recalled that Darden had made bags for many of the guards with their names embroidered on the straps.

Witness Seven Sanders. (Photo by CriShaun Eugene Hardy)

Often, their testimony ended with a recollection of a trip to the hospital, as many prison employees were injured beyond the four that died. According to the accounts delivered in the courtroom, Timothy Lewis was stabbed less than half a centimeter away from his spine. Steven Sanders was hit with a hammer and also suffered three broken ribs. One of the ribs punctured his pancreas, and he developed sepsis. He has visited the Intensive Care Unit three times since the incident to be treated for sepsis and an increased heart rate.

George Midgette was badly injured in the attack. (Photo by CriShaun Eugene Hardy)

A soft-spoken man, George Midgette, walked with a cane to the witness stand, and told his story in an even tone. Confronted by an inmate wielding a pair of shears, Midgette was hit repeatedly on the head and face and stabbed.

He spent six days in Norfolk General Hospital for severe head trauma and a punctured left lung, according to the testimony, and still suffers from headaches, dizziness, and nausea to the point where he can no longer drive or work. When asked by District Attorney Womble to estimate his pain level, he said that he once hit a deer while riding a motorcycle and broke his collarbone, foot, and shoulder, “and this hurt worse than that.”

Perhaps the most riveting testimony came from the first witness, police officer William Davis, who recalled responding to the emergency dispatch while on duty two Octobers ago. Davis was wearing a body camera, which he turned on as he raced over to the prison in his squad car.

With the courtroom clock having just struck ten in the morning, Assistant District Attorney Pellini inserted a DVD and projected onto the screen a 26-minute segment of Davis’ body camera footage, giving the jury into a brutally graphic view of the escape attempt’s aftermath.

On the video, Davis runs through the prison and encounters each of the four deceased employees, as well as numerous medical and correctional personnel. He hands out medical supplies, carries stretchers from the ambulances, and pushes one man out of a smoke-filled room on a metal dolly. As the clip goes on, Davis stays calm, but clearly becomes more demoralized until he finally yells out an expletive.

About three dozen family members and friends of the victims sat behind the prosecution, and as the video played, several were overwhelmed with emotion and ran out of the courtroom.

The trial will continue tomorrow and is expected to last several weeks.

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See what people are saying:

  • Travis

    Glad the voices of the people who were harmed are being hurt. So often we just hear a body count and measure the severity of an incident based on that alone. But those that survive with horrific injuries and memories have stories to tell and the injustices against them demand to be addressed.
    I’m heartbroken over the correction officers who lost their lives and the families who have been impacted by that loss. I hope they have their say as well.
    As for those directly responsible, killing ain’t good enough to answer for this outrage. But it’s all what can be offered and I hope it comes for you soon.
    As for those indirectly responsible, the politicians who annually talk a good game on crime but when it comes to paying for prisons, corrections staff, decent salaries and, yes, programs to help rehabilitate the incarcerated, I’m sure you’ll sleep easy as you always do. I can only hope this comes back on you in some form of karmic justice.

    Thursday, Oct 17 @ 12:02 pm