A Wake Forest man will likely spend the rest of his life in prison after a jury found him guilty of murder, rape, and robberies, rejecting a defense claim that he was insane at the time of the violent crime spree six years ago.
Kendrick Gregory, 26, was aware of his actions when he killed a Raleigh pawn shop owner, shot another man in the back and raped a teenager on Aug. 31, 2015, the jury found.
The jurors reached the unanimous verdict after more than six hours of deliberations over two days. Earlier Tuesday they had told the judge they were having difficulty agreeing on a verdict, at which point the judge ordered them to continue deliberations.
Defense attorneys in the month-long trial conceded that Gregory committed the crimes, but argued he was psychotic at the time and should be found not guilty by reason of insanity.
Prosecutors argued Gregory was feigning and exaggerating his mental health symptoms to avoid going to prison for the rest of his life.
On the morning of Aug. 31, Gregory, then 21, shot and robbed a man at the Knights Inn on New Bern Avenue, killed a pawn shop owner on Capital Boulevard and raped a 15-year-old girl.
He later robbed International Foods on New Hope Church Road before he fled to New York City, where he was arrested on Sept. 1, 2015 in a stolen car in Brooklyn.
The jury considered charges that included first-degree murder, rape, attempted first-degree sexual offense, three counts of robbery with a firearm, assault with a deadly weapon with intent to kill inflicting serious injury, and possession of a firearm by a felon.
To find someone not guilty by reason of insanity the jurors had to conclude Gregory suffered from a mental illness that impaired his mind so he didn’t know the nature and quality of his acts, or what he was doing was wrong. In North Carolina, the defense must prove insanity to the juror’s “satisfaction,” which is a lower bar than reasonable doubt.
Mentally ill, marijuana addiction
Prosecution and defense experts agreed Gregory suffered from schizoaffective disorder, a severe mental health disorder. They also diagnosed him with an addiction to marijuana.
Schizoaffective disorder caused Gregory to experience hallucinations or delusions associated with schizophrenia and manic and depressive mood swings associated with bipolar disorder, experts testified.
The experts, however, split on the key question of whether Gregory was insane during the crimes.
Dr. Moira Artigues, a forensic psychiatrist hired by the defense, said she believed he was psychotic, a symptom of a mental illness that makes it hard for a person to recognize what is real, on that August day.
Gregory’s first known visit to a mental health institution was to Holly Hill Hospital in Raleigh, where he was hospitalized for six days in December 2014 and diagnosed with schizophrenia.
It was the first of more than 20 contacts with mental health professionals before the crimes Aug., 31, 2015, Artigues testified. He spent the majority of those months before the killing hospitalized or going from facility to facility after indicating he was contemplating suicide.
On July 8, 2015, Gregory’s last known visit to a hospital or mental health facility, his anti-psychotic medicine was stopped by a psychiatrist who attributed Gregory’s hallucinations to marijuana use.
Gregory was arrested Aug. 2, 2015, on charges of breaking into cars and larceny. He told Wake jail officials he had been diagnosed with schizophrenia, according to testimony, but they didn’t detect a mental illness or refer him to treatment.
He pleaded guilty to a felony breaking and entering a motor vehicle charge and was released Aug. 26, 2015. He was sentenced to 18 months of supervised probation and credit for the days he spent in jail.
The murder, shooting and rape followed five days later.
“There is no reason to believe he would not be psychotic,” Artigues said.
‘Couldn’t control his body’
Signs that Gregory was psychotic after being released from the jail included stopping a woman at McDonald’s and asking her to pray for him, defense attorney Jonathan Broun with N.C. Prisoner Legal Services, argued.
“He said he couldn’t control his body,” the woman, Aaliyah Blaylock, told The News & Observer in September 2015. “He couldn’t stop his tongue from sticking out, and his neck would just go back and [he] kept throwing his chin up and his head back. He said when he walked he felt like his legs were going into the ground.”
Other signs included him telling his mother he wanted to have sex with her, his wide eyes, and reports of laughing at inappropriate times, Broun said.
“Kendrick Gregory was psychotic before August 31, 2015. He was psychotic after August 31, 2015,” Broun said during closing arguments. “And he was psychotic when these horrible events happened.”
She outlined a troubled young man with a severe mental illness and a history of criminal activity who at the same time feigned and exaggerated his symptoms.
During their interactions, Gregory made statements about the crime that included Chris Angel, a prominent magician, getting him in trouble, Wolfe said.
“I was supposed to shoot somebody, rob somebody, have sex with some girl and commit suicide,” by threatening police officers with guns, Gregory told Wolfe, she testified. He later told her that he had two guns when police arrested him, but he froze and couldn’t go forward with his suicide by cop plan, Wolfe testified.
Gregory also has indicated that King Tut spoke to him, that he saw guards disappear into the wall, that he knows Bill Gates and that he has the ability to transfer into a hell spawn, according to testimony.
Wolfe said she is skeptical.
A test given three years after the killing concluded Gregory was feigning psychiatric symptoms after reporting auditory, visual and olfactory experiences, which is unusual, Wolfe and another expert said. Still, Wolfe and other experts said it is possible to have a mental illness and feign symptoms.
“My opinion is that Mr. Gregory’s mental illness did not prevent him from understanding the nature and quality or wrongfulness of his actions,” Wolfe testified.
Calculated robbery, shooting?
Wolfe said Gregory knew what he was doing was wrong as he targeted victims and took steps to avoid arrest.
On the morning of Aug. 31, 2015, Gregory stole a gun from the car of his former boss at a night club and later a Blue BMW.
He walked into a gas station, spotted a man with cash paying at the register and followed him across the street to the Knights Inn, where he shot him in the back and moved him out of view, according to video surveillance of the shooting. Then he grabbed the man’s cash and ran to the BMW backed into a parking spot.
“That is somebody who is attempting to conceal their activity, which indicates they have an awareness that it is wrongful behavior,” Wolfe testified.
Wolfe said Gregory told her he stole the money because it was taking too long to panhandle.
“He needed money for a hotel room and food,” he told her.
Murder of Thomas Durand
Around 7 p.m. Aug. 31, 2015, he headed to Mr. Pawn, where he killed owner Thomas Durand, a 64-year-old father of three daughters, and took his gun.
Gregory told Wolfe he had tried to rob the store before, but Durand had pulled a gun on him, Wolfe testified. Gregory told Wolfe he wanted more ammunition for a shootout with police.
Next, Gregory told Wolfe he noticed a girl playing outside with children. He drove her to a secluded area, raped her and drove her back to another location.
“I put my arm around her. I told her I had two guns, and I want her to have sex with me,” he told Wolfe, she testified.
Later, he went into International Foods, put a gun on the counter and stole $4,500, according to surveillance video and testimony.
At some point police spotted Gregory in the blue BMW, so he abandoned it. He broke into a home and took the keys to a white Toyota Corolla and drove it away, according to testimony.
Eventually, he made his way to a bus in Raleigh that took him to New York City.
New York arrest
In New York, he took a car that was left running with the keys in the ignition, according to testimony. The car had GPS, and police quickly found and arrested him, without incident.
A detective from New York City testified Gregory didn’t appear to be displaying psychotic symptoms. Jail officers didn’t notice unusual behaviors either, she said.
An Oct. 16, 2015 New York city correctional facility behavioral checklist documented no signs of mental illness beyond suicide.
He was then placed on suicide watch, according to testimony.
Gregory was “goal directed and resourceful,” in targeting his victims and eluding police, Assistant District Attorneys Matt Lively said during closing arguments.
After he was arrested Sept. 1, 2015, he spoke with New York police but left out key details implicating himself and indicated he had information on other crimes and wanted a deal.
“This does not appear to be a psychotic person,” Lively said. “It appears to be a sociopathic person who is lying to police about the crimes he has been charged with.”