Jury seated on Day 1 of Tolson murder trial 

By on August 28, 2023

Defense, prosecution battle over admissible evidence

Second-degree murder defendant John Tolson in Court. (Credit: Courtroom pool photograph by Philip Runkle, Coastland Times)

The long-awaited murder trial of John (“Jay”) Curtis Tolson, arrested for the July 2020 death of LeeAnn Fletcher, got underway on the morning on Aug. 28 in Courtroom A of the Dare Justice Center.

By the time court adjourned for the day at 5 p.m., a jury of seven women and five men had been selected and sworn in and Superior Court Judge Jeff Foster, of Pitt County, had ruled on a defense motion to exclude some prosecution evidence that could foreshadow one of the crucial flashpoints of the trial—the handling of the crime scene.

LeeAnn Fletcher, a 38-year-old mother of two, was found unresponsive in her Kitty Hawk home on July 22, 2020, and she died three days later.

Tolson, a Hatteras Island resident, was arrested in Bangor, Maine in October 2020, after an autopsy report from the Virginia Medical Examiner’s office determined Fletcher’s cause of death was “complications of blunt force trauma to the head with hepatic cirrhosis with clinical hepatic failure contributing.”

Tolson’s arrest also followed a determined social media campaign by Fletcher’s friends and family, led by her first cousin and close friend Trisha Cahoon, that expressed concerns that law enforcement was not adequately investigating the case. The high-profile case also generated national media coverage.

On the trial’s opening day, Tolson entered the courtroom at about 10:40 a.m. Shortly after that, lead defense attorney and public defender Christan Routten offered a pre-trial motion that the prosecution be prohibited from identifying Fletcher with the word “victim” during the trial. District 1 Assistant DA and lead prosecutor Jennifer Bland countered that “that’s my theory, that a crime occurred and she’s a victim in the case.”

Foster denied the defense motion to preclude the prosecution from using the word “victim” to describe Fletcher.

The process of seating the jury began at about 11:25 a.m. when about 75 potential jurors were ushered into the courtroom. As they were selected to sit in the 12-member jury box, jury candidates were asked a series of questions by both the prosecting and defense attorneys—ranging from whether they knew any of the lawyers or witnesses to their educational background to whether they had ever sat on a jury before.

One potential juror notably acknowledged that “I think it would be hard to un-remember” what he had learned and thought about the case. He was subsequently dismissed.

Superior Court Judge Jeff Foster is presiding. (Credit: Courtroom pool photograph by Philip Runkle, Coastland Times)

While a number of potential jurors were dismissed in the process, 12 jurors and two alternate jurors were selected by about 4:15 p.m. (Those not selected to sit on this jury were thanked by the judge and sent home with a $12 check.) And after the new jury was dismissed for the day with instructions from the judge, the lawyers faced off on the issue of the handling of evidence in the case.

Defense attorney Routten argued that the defense objected to the presentation of photos and evidence by the state and sought guidance from the judge about what the prosecution could say about them—contending that “there was contamination of the crime scene” in the aftermath of Fletcher’s death and there was a period when the scene was not fully secured by law enforcement officials.

Bland argued in favor of admitting the material into evidence and Foster ruled that evidence taken from the scene in the week of Fletcher’s July 2020 death could be admitted. He did add that “I have concerns” about evidence that was collected later, in September 2020, indicating he would reserve judgment on that material until later.

During the opening day proceedings, Bland said she intends to call 19 prosecution witnesses in a trial that is expected to last all week and possibly extend into next week—with that schedule potentially held hostage to impending storm conditions.


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  • Jay

    Thanks Mark for covering the trail. I’m glad a Judge outside of Dare County is presiding over the case.

    Tuesday, Aug 29 @ 7:34 am
  • Travis

    Ditto what Jay said. Appreciate you being there to relay how this unfolds.

    Tuesday, Aug 29 @ 10:00 am
  • Liz

    I’m kind of surprised the defense didn’t try for a change of venue.

    Wednesday, Aug 30 @ 8:13 am
  • Mark C

    Hope you are being held without bail because you appear to be a flight risk. BTW North Carolina has the death penalty for 1st degree murder, thought you should know.

    Wednesday, Aug 30 @ 7:02 pm