by: Mark Becker Updated:
CHARLOTTE, N.C. - Jury selection began Tuesday in the trial of a man charged with killing three people in northwest Charlotte six years ago.
Justin Hurd could face the death penalty if he's convicted in the murders that terrified a community and mystified police for almost a year.
It started when firefighters were called to a home on Patricia Ryan Drive in northwest Charlotte in February 2008. After putting out the flames, they found the bodies of Kishasa Wagstaff and her boyfriend Kevin Young in the house. Autopsies later revealed they had been shot to death.
Less than an hour after discovering their bodies, police found a third victim, Jasmine Hines, along a road in Huntersville. She was Wagstaff's niece and detectives quickly tied the murders together.
Within two days police had a surveillance picture from a nearby convenience store of a possible suspect who was buying gas cans, but that man, later identified as Nathaniel Sanders, was himself murdered in Ohio in September 2008.
It wasn't until February 2009 that police finally arrested Justin Hurd near Cincinnati and charged him with the murders in Charlotte a year earlier.
In court on Tuesday, prosecutors suggested that DNA evidence and statements from two people Hurd met in jail and others who knew Sanders will tie Hurd to the murders.
Hurd's team of attorneys -- one from New York, one from New Jersey and a third from Columbia, S.C. -- are prepared to argue that Sanders was the killer and that there is not enough evidence to tie Hurd to the crimes.
Hurd appeared in court in a blazer and slacks but did not say anything as attorneys argued a long list of pre-trial motions.
Judge Robert Ervin has agreed to allow a TV and still camera in to record the proceedings which are expected to last several weeks.
Prosecutors have been quietly building their case against Hurd for five years. Channel 9 learned Tuesday some of how they plan to prove it in this courtroom.
With no one to say that they saw Hurd at the burned out house on Patricia Ryan Drive where Kinsasha Wagstaff and her boyfriend Kevin Young were shot and killed in February 2008, or along the road in Huntersville where police found 18-year-old Jasmine Hines, prosecutors will use DNA evidence to put Hurd at the scene of the crimes and they'll rely on several people Hurd had spoken to before and after the murders -- including at least two while Hurd was in the Mecklenburg County jail.
Hurd's team of attorneys is clearly going to try and convince jurors that the wrong man is on trial. They'll argue that this was the killer a man named Nathaniel Sanders.
It was Sanders who was seen on surveillance cameras buying gas cans just before the murders and fire.
Seven months later, Sanders himself was murdered in Cincinnati and five months later police arrested Hurd, also near Cincinnati.
Prosecutors said they plan to call witnesses who will say that Hurd and Sanders were together the day before the murders, but Hurd's attorneys said that's not enough to prove murder.
Both sides are gearing up for what is expected to be a long and graphic trial.