ALEXANDER COUNTY, N.C. — An Alexander County sheriff’s deputy found two people trying to dispose of a body behind an abandoned house in the Ellendale community Wednesday afternoon, officials said.
Investigators have charged Toni Hearne, 51, and Linsey Lentz, 33, with murder and failure to report a death.
The couple were in court Thursday morning. Hearne shook his head "no" when asked if Lentz was involved.
"We brought him up here. I just panicked to hide him. I didn't know what to do," Toni Hearne told Channel 9.Hearne told Channel 9's Dave Faherty that he isn't a killer and was only defending himself when he choked his uncle, Robert Adam Hearne Jr., to death.
Investigators said the car driven by the Hearne and Lentz got stuck and that's when somebody driving by noticed them and called police.
Channel 9 learned Thursday that a retired deputy spotted their car behind an abandoned house and called for help.
Eyewitness News also learned that where the body was taken was once a police training ground for SWAT.
"I never wanted to fight my uncle but he came in and came at me with his knife. So we were fighting and I tried to defend myself. He was choking me and I was choking him,” Hearne said.
Hearne, who is from Charlotte, wouldn't tell Channel 9 where the fight happened, but said he had never been to the abandoned home in Alexander County, west of Taylorsville.
It was there, deputies said, he and Lentz, who is from Albemarle, tried to get rid of the body, but their plan unraveled when their car got stuck and someone driving by spotted them.
"The officer found what appeared to be drag marks in the leaves and went to the end of it and found a black male deceased,” Alexander County Sheriff Chris Bowman said.
Deputies said the body was covered with leaves and a couple of tires along with some wood. They believe the couple chose the property hoping no one would ever find the body.
Deputies are trying to determine where the homicide happened and if there were any other witnesses.
Hearne said he had never been to that location before.
"When the cops pulled up and your car was stuck, what was your thought right then?” Faherty asked him.
“(I) told them I was stuck, man. (I) wasn't trying to hide or nothing because I was basically trying to defend myself,” he said.
The sheriff in Alexander County said his investigators have already been in contact with police in Charlotte and Albemarle in hopes of locating the crime scene and determining possible charges.
Ellendale Elementary, which is nearby, was on lockdown as a precaution.
Channel 9 learned Thursday investigators photographed Hearne's neck at the Alexander County Sheriff's Office looking for any evidence he may have been choked.
"He was checked very thoroughly and nothing appeared abnormal," Chief Deputy Tod Jones said.
Deputies along with police and SBI in Albemarle searched Hearne's home looking for any evidence he was killed there.
Glen Bruton has known the victim for three decades and is like many neighbor's here in shock over what happened.
“Tico didn't bother nobody, he was a quiet man,” Bruton said.
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