Double homicide suspect claims he blacked out, has no recollection of crime

By: Joe Bruno , Mark Becker

Updated:

CHARLOTTE, N.C. - Vurnel Smith Jr. hid his face behind the Bible and didn't answer any questions as police took him to jail Tuesday night.

Smith didn't say anything Wednesday, either, as he stood before a judge, silently shackled in an orange jumpsuit, before telling the judge he wanted a public defender.

His attorney told the judge that Smith had no recollection of what happened and that he went into a blackout.

What a prosecutor in that courtroom said revealed new troubling details about the brutal attacks at the home Smith had moved out of just five days earlier.

The prosecutor said that when Smith's wife came home last Tuesday night, Smith was waiting, and that he knocked her unconscious with a pipe, tied her up and terrorized her for a day and a half.

Sometime during that span, he beat her parents to death on Red Clay Lane in north Charlotte last week before he drove away in his wife's car and disappeared for five days, the prosecutor said.

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Capt. Chris Dozier said that even Smith's family members didn't know where he was.

He wouldn't say if Smith confessed and said there's simply no explaining why he would have done it.

“There was a very small window of any contact with anybody that we understood after the murders occurred,” Dozier said. “Honestly, the brutality of what occurred, I don't think there's any justification he could give us or anybody as to what happened.”

Smith left the courtroom for the jail.

 

The judge ordered him held without bond on the murder charges and set the bonds in the other cases at $1.6 million.

(VIDEO: Cuffed and holding the Bible to cover his face, police escort the man accused of tying up his wife and killing her parents.)

 
Eyewitness News reporter Joe Bruno questioned Smith as he was being led out of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department headquarters after he turned himself in Tuesday evening.

Smith refused to answer questions and instead covered his face with a Bible. He did not show any remorse until he was placed in the back of a police cruiser, where Bruno saw him cry.

Smith was charged with two counts of murder, rape, kidnapping, assault on a female and larceny of a motor vehicle.

No motive has been released. but prosecutors said the assault went on for a day and a half inside the home on Red Clay Lane.

(VIDEO: CMPD holds news conference after double homicide suspect turns self in.)

Officers found Jacqueline Gordon-White, 65, dead inside the home on Red Clay Lane last Thursday morning and 69-year-old Rufus Gordon dead inside the trunk of a car at a nearby hospital a few hours later.

[PAST COVERAGE: Manhunt underway after woman killed, man's body found in car trunk]

Kai Bright is one of many neighbors who thought they knew Smith until they woke up Thursday morning and heard that police said he tied up and beat his wife and killed her parents before taking off.

“That's the thing, like no one knew anything...he seemed just like a normal neighbor, coming back and forth to work,” Bright said.

Bruno spoke with neighbors who said they saw Smith drive away from the home. One neighbor said Smith drove by him up the street when he got home from work at about 4 a.m. Thursday.


(Vurnell Smith Jr.)

As J.C. Molina, an armed guard, was unloading his car, he said Smith came back, drove slowly and stopped in front of the home.

Smith made eye contact with Molina and drove away, Molina said.

“His headlights weren’t on,” he said. “His brake lights weren't on.”

Molina said Smith’s black Honda turned around and drove by him again.

“If I had the slightest idea, the slightest clue, I would have done something,” Molina said.

Police discovered the body of Gordon-White across the street 40 minutes later.

They later found the body of Gordon inside a trunk of a car parked outside Carolinas Medical Center-University.


(Rufus Gordon and Jacqueline Gordon-White)

The amount of evidence that Channel 9 saw crime scene technicians loading into a van late Thursday may be an indication of how vicious the attacks were.

Investigators said Smith’s wife, Keydra Smith, broke her restraints, drove to the hospital and told police her parents were attacked.

 

Neighbors said Smith kept to himself and did yard work around the block for free. Molina said he felt something was off, but he never expected his front yard to turn into an investigation scene.

“It is crazy to wake up the next day and hear all of this happened,” Molina said.

Smith’s criminal history includes charges of breaking and entering and rape in 2015.

Police believe Smith drove away in a 2017 black Honda CRV with the North Carolina license plate PAS-9116. Channel 9 watched Tuesday as police towed that vehicle away from CMPD headquarters.

Police have not said where Smith turned himself in to authorities Tuesday.

Roddy West, a friend of Smith, knew that Smith and his wife were having trouble, but said he never saw this coming.

“He's a hard worker. I don't know what happened,” said West, who said he has not talked to Smith since the murders.

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