Justin Erskine was convicted of first degree murder after being an unwilling witness to murders committed by two other men.
On June 5th 2006, Justin was working for a man named David Hamilton in Dover, Delaware. David was the foreman of the landscaping company Justin was employed with and also a friend. On this day, the weather was bad and both Justin and David took the day off and decided to drive to Baltimore in the company truck. At the time, contained within the truck was a 12-gauge shotgun that David had borrowed from his friend, Matt.
Before leaving for their trip, they visited Matt at his property. Matt asked David if he could obtain some drugs for him, Percocet pills, and David agreed that he would attempt to secure a deal. Matt gave David some money and then both David and Justin left Matt’s home. As they were leaving, David saw two men who he knew could possibly obtain some Percocet pills, the men were Trevor Moncrief and Raymond Ward. Both Trevor and Raymond joined David and Justin in the vehicle and some calls were made by both men to see if the drugs could be obtained.
After a short while driving around, Justin was taken back to Matt’s house by David and Justin remained there until David returned. David explained that the deal he had pursued had been unsuccessful and told Justin and Matt that he thought he had secured a deal via Trevor and Raymond and asked Justin if he would ride with him to make the deal. David felt uncomfortable about going alone and so Justin agreed so as to show support to his friend. All four men, David, Justin, Trevor and Raymond drove to make the deal which turned out to be unsuccessful also.
Eventually, 3 Percocet pills were obtained and the men drove to a gas station. David, Trevor and Raymond went inside while Justin remained in the truck. Shortly after leaving the gas station, David received a call from a friend, Jesus Aviles. David asked the three passengers if they would mind riding with him to a friend’s house and they each agreed.
David vacated the truck alone to speak to Jesus and soon both men returned to the vehicle. David was in the driver’s seat, Jesus by the passenger door and Justin seated in the middle. Directly sat behind David in the back seat was Trevor Moncrief and behind Jesus sat Raymond Ward.
The shotgun was positioned next to David. Jesus asked David if he could see the gun and David obliged and passed over the gun. Justin remained in the middle seat, silent. Once the gun had been passed to Jesus, the men in the back seat knew something wasn’t right and began asking to be let out of the car. Jesus turned around in his seat and began yelling at both men, pointing the shotgun at them; he began shouting at them about money and the fact that they had tried to rob his friend. This continued for around 10-15 minutes. Jesus encouraged the men to plead and told them to pray.
Jesus Aviles then shot Raymond Ward point blank in the head and turned the gun on Trevor Moncrief shooting him in the side of the head. Justin, still sat in the middle, went into shock and couldn’t speak. Jesus began screaming and yelling to be let out of the truck, acting hysterically. David drove Jesus to his mothers, who lived close by.
Before exiting the vehicle, Jesus told both David and Justin,” I know where you live. I know where your family lives. Nobody better say anything about this”.
David immediately called his friend and sister’s boyfriend, Raymond ‘Joey’ Gleaser and told him ,’’I’ve got two I’ve got to get rid of’’ This struck Justin as odd, as though it was a normal practice.
David and Justin drove to David’s sister, Randi’s house and went inside to talk to both her and Joey. Justin was instructed to remain in the vehicle. Justin in complete shock at this point…each movement and conversation felt surreal. Soon, David returned to Justin and the vehicle and took him inside. At this point, David threatened everyone in the room saying ‘If anyone had a problem with what happened he had a loaded shotgun for them too’. As Joey and David held a private discussion, Justin and Randi talked. Randi expressed a deep concern to Justin that she believed the threat that David had made.
Many conversations were held of which Justin held no part over a period of two hours. Soon, David went outside, followed by Justin and Joey. As they stood outside, David heard noises coming from the truck and went to discover that the man who had been sat directly behind him in the vehicle, Trevor Moncrief, was still breathing although in a vegetative state. David issued the instructions that they were all leaving and Justin went to get in the truck with Joey while David returned to his truck where the victims remained. David then came to Joey’s truck to the passenger side, where Justin sat. David told Joey and Justin that Trevor Moncrief was still alive and asked Justin for the butterfly knife he usually carried with him in his bag. David took this knife and returned back to his truck to slit the throat of Trevor Moncrief.
Justin remained in the truck with Joey and didn’t see exactly what happened. Within minutes, David returned back to Justin and Joey and told them that the victim wouldn’t die. Justin responded ‘’Please just hurry up I want to get out of here’’.
Justin just 18 at the time, having witnessed two men brutally murdered just inches away from where he sat, and then receiving threats on his life from both Jesus and David, was desperately trying not to antagonise the situation or David any further.
Joey vacated the vehicle and reached into the bed of the truck into the toolbox he kept there to obtain something, Justin was unaware of what that was, then both Joey and David retuned to the truck with the victims and Justin observed both men reach inside. David told Joey and Justin that they needed to get rid of the bodies and so they drove to Goldsboro, Maryland to some property owned by Joey’s mother. After finding an appropriate location to bury the victims, David dug two holes.
David instructed Justin to help him carry one of the victims to a hole, Justin did this but then refused to help any further. The three men left the property early morning on June 6th, Joey returned home to burn any evidence and David took Justin back to his friend, Matt’s house where Matt gave Justin a ride home. David explained to Matt what had happened and returned his shotgun, telling him to clean the weapon. David returned the truck to the owner of the landscaping company, Bradford Yaeger.
David explained what had happened but said he acted in self- defence after Trevor and Raymond had tried to rob him. David did not mention Jesus Aviles’s involvement and said that Justin had nothing to do with it either.
This story was then repeated in the presence of a neighbour friend of Bradford Yaeger’s who consequently informed the police.
The police arrested David and he admitted to killing both men, he also showed the police where he buried the bodies. David made a statement that said Justin was in no way involved with the death of either man. The police took Justin in for questioning. Justin gave a statement but, like David had, failed to mention Jesus Aviles involvement for fear of his own life and that of his family.
Seven and a half month later, Justin felt compelled to talk to the police again and contacted them himself to go and give them a new statement that told of Jesus Avile’s role in the murders.
A couple of month after this, the police arrested Joey, Matt and Justin.
Justin was arrested and charged with First Degree Murder, Possession of a deadly weapon during the commission of a felony, Conspiracy 1st, Conspiracy 2nd and Tampering with physical evidence on March 21st 2007. Justin was held in custody for 18 months while the case went to trial on September 29th 2008.
The prosecution offered David a plea bargain and used the strategy that Justin had encouraged the murder by ‘giving’ David the butterfly knife that killed Trevor Moncrief, they also used a statement given to the police to say that Justin supported the murders when he had told David to ‘Hurry up because he wanted to get out of there’.
The prosecution used this comment as ‘Instruction to murder’. David took a plea bargain and was charged with Second Degree Murder and sentenced to 15 years.
Justin’s lawyers presented a duress defence. The judge in the trial gave the instruction to the jury of the exceptions for a duress defence, where it would fail, but did not give instructions to exceptions to which accomplice liability could be applied. The judge failed to give the jury a complete and accurate statement of the law under Section 11. Del.C 274 which requires a jury to independently assess the state of mind and culpability for any aggravating circumstances when making a determination as to guilt or innocence of the crime charged. A conviction of accomplice shouldn’t be passed as, the outcome-death of the victim- would have been the same.
The jury actually expressed frustration in its inability to assess Justin’s mental state and although passed a conviction, because of the’letter of the law’ wrote the judge a letter to ask for parole and leniency. The jury felt that a lengthy sentence would be pointless, unjust and inappropriate:
The expert witness that testified in Justin’s trial, Dr Mechanick assessed Justin and found that he acted under duress. The prosecutor commented that this witness was ‘bought and paid for’ amongst several other comments that should have been cited a prosecutorial misconduct. Although the judge commented that he had never heard a prosecutor pass a comment about a defence witness being ‘bought and paid for’ he asked only that the jury disregard the comment, making no other instruction for the other improper comments voiced by the prosecution. These comments should not be considered harmless. The doctor’s testimony was central to Justin’s case and his duress defence.
The only evidence used against Justin in this trial was the co-defendant testimony and police interviews. No physical evidence was present that indicated Justin had anything to do with the death of either victim. Both David and Jesus took plea bargains and received reduced sentences and lesser charges despite their involvement and actions being axiomatic in the murders of Trevor Moncrief and Raymond Ward.
Justin was convicted of First Degree Murder under accomplice liability and sentenced to Natural Life without the possibility of parole. He is currently incarcerated at James T Vaughn Correctional Center in Delaware.