CHARLOTTE, N.C. - A Charlotte man accused of murdering his in-laws learned Thursday that prosecutors plan to seek the death penalty against him.
Vurnel Smith Jr. appeared before a judge and was assigned another court-appointed attorney.
Police said he knocked his wife unconscious with a pipe, tied her up and terrorized her family in their home on Red Clay Lane in north Charlotte for a day-and-a-half last July.
Smith is accused of beating his in-laws to death before taking off in their car.
He disappeared for almost a week before finally turning himself in.
His long list of charges includes murder, rape and kidnapping.
Smith appeared in court Thursday in shackles and stood next to his attorney as the prosecutor announced there were aggravating circumstances in the murders that let them ask to seek the death penalty.
It may be a year or more before the case comes to trial.
Smith is one of very few defendants who has faced the death penalty in Mecklenburg County in the last several years. The last time a defendant received the death penalty was in 2009. Michael Sherrill was sentenced to death for raping and killing a woman before setting her home on fire.
Defense attorney Eben Rawls said death penalty cases take a tremendous amount of time and effort to prosecute.
Smith's attorney said his client blacked out and doesn't remember what happened.
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