Dressed in a white turtleneck, his shaggy brown hair grazing his eyes, 14-year-old Jeremiah Robertson looked as though he’d rather be playing video games, talking with friends, even doing homework — anywhere but on a witness stand in the Boone County courthouse testifying against his mother.
Lucille Faith Duncan, Robertson’s mother, is on trial for first-degree murder in connection with the July 5 shooting death of her ex-boyfriend, James Pruitt. Duncan’s brother, Gerald Alan Duncan, is also charged in the case. And Robertson, who spent the July 4 holiday with his mother and uncle, testified Wednesday that he saw the whole thing.
On the witness stand
When Boone County Prosecuting Attorney Kevin Crane asked Robertson what feelings Lucille Duncan had toward Pruitt in the days leading up to July 4, he responded softly, “Thinking about killing him.”
Robertson told jurors that on the evening of July 4, Pruitt joined him, his mother and his uncle for a trip to “the river” to set off fireworks.
Before heading to the river, Robertson said, the four stopped at Gerald Duncan’s home in Crestvale Mobile Home Park . Out of Pruitt’s earshot, Gerald and Lucille Duncan voiced an intention to kill Pruitt that night, Robertson said.
After Gerald Duncan produced a Lorcin L380 semiautomatic pistol, Lucille Duncan instructed her son to retrieve plastic gloves and a trash bag from under the bathroom sink and place them in the trunk of her car, Robertson said.
He testified that the four then drove to a riverbank and shot off fireworks for about four hours. He recalled seeing Lucille Duncan and Pruitt talking by the riverbank, but the conversation seemed cordial, he said.
When the last firework had been extinguished, the group headed back to the car.
Lucille Duncan drove, Pruitt sat in the front passenger seat, and Robertson joined his uncle in the back seat.
“I heard a pow, then a ringing,” Robertson said.
As his mother swerved the car then corrected it, Robertson said he saw Gerald Duncan lower the gun and Pruitt slump forward in the seat.
“Keep going,” Robertson recalled his uncle saying. His mother, silent, drove north toward Columbia.
While Robertson looked on, his mother and his uncle pulled Pruitt’s body from the car and began dragging it into the woods near Gleason Road, he said.
Robertson said he then drove the car, alone, to his maternal grandmother’s house to spend the night.
On the morning of July 5, Robertson said he joined Gerald Duncan on a car ride where he watched his uncle disassemble the gun and scatter its parts around north Columbia.
Robertson, who confessed to police soon after the murder that he had witnessed it, was certified to be charged in the case as an adult in December. He pleaded guilty to tampering charges in January and prosecutors promised to recommend probation in exchange for his testimony in the trials of his mother and uncle.
Following her son’s testimony, a worn-looking Lucille Duncan took the stand on her own behalf Wednesday. Duncan denied that she and her brother planned to kill Pruitt.
“I do believe it was an accident,” Lucille Duncan told the jury. “I don’t see him (Gerald) doing that.”
In videotaped statements played for the jury earlier in the day, Lucille Duncan had denied in July that she had any knowledge of Pruitt’s death, saying “it must have been a setup,” and that someone else might have taken her car to commit the murder.
On the witness stand Wednesday, however, she testified that she had been in a “confused state” at the time she spoke to the police.
“I was trying to believe something else,” Lucille Duncan said.
Prosecutors also submitted letters and phone calls between Lucille Duncan and her family during her time in the Boone County jail. In her testimony, Duncan said she didn’t remember writing some parts of the letters presented and cited distress and problems regulating her medication while in prison.
In one such letter, written in October, Lucille advised her son to consider invoking his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination.
“Make them earn the stripes they want us to wear,” Lucille Duncan wrote. “The prosecutor has nothing without your testimony.”
In a Feb. 7 phone call, the only time Lucille Duncan spoke to her son during her incarceration, she told Robertson that his testimony could put her in prison for up to 30 years.
“Maybe the best thing for you is for me to be out of your life,” she said during the call. “Whatever you choose to do (about testifying) is OK, but your decision can change all of our lives. One second in that car changed all of our lives, and one second on that stand could change my life.”
Lucille Duncan’s trial is expected to conclude today. Gerald Duncan will stand trial on similar charges in April.