The N.C. Court of Appeals upheld the first-degree murder conviction of a white Forsyth County man who used a racial slur against a black Mocksville man before shooting him to death at a Clemmons house in 2015.
William Ryan Marks, 57, is currently serving a sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole for the Dec. 15, 2015, death of James “Nick” Naylor.
Naylor, 31, was a U.S. Marine who served in Iraq. A Forsyth County jury convicted Marks of first-degree murder after a trial in December 2017.
Marks appealed his conviction and argued that the presiding judge, Stanley Allen, improperly allowed testimony about Marks refusing to answer an investigator’s questions and requesting an attorney. The U.S. Constitution guarantees defendants’ right to remain silent and to be represented by an attorney in criminal prosecutions. Marks argued that allowing that testimony in front of a jury was prejudicial to his right to a fair trial.
The court of appeals rejected that argument and found no error was made at trial, thus upholding Marks’ conviction of first-degree murder.
According to the opinion and testimony at trial, William Marks moved out of the house he had shared with his ex-wife, Amy Marks, in 2011, but by 2013, Amy Marks allowed her ex-husband to move back in after the trailer he lived in became uninhabitable because of roof damage and mold.
Andrew and Joshua Marks, their two sons, lived with their mother, Amy Marks, at the house on Stoney Brook Boulevard.
Naylor met Andrew Marks while they both worked at a Burger King in Clemmons, and in 2015, Naylor moved into the house. William Marks was sleeping on the couch and according to Amy Marks and Joshua Marks, he immediately disliked Naylor. He accused his ex-wife of having sex with Naylor and said Naylor was “mooching.”
He also became angry that he couldn’t borrow a car belonging to one of his sons because Naylor drove it to work.
On the morning of Dec. 15, 2015, Naylor, wearing headphones to drown out William Marks’ voice, went into the kitchen to make a breakfast of biscuits, sausage and eggs. Joshua Marks said his father, who was sitting on a couch, became upset that Naylor was pouring grease down the drain.
William Marks began yelling at Naylor. He got up from the couch and went into the kitchen to get Naylor’s attention. The two men began arguing, and William Marks called Naylor the N-word and a mooch. Marks also told Naylor, “This is my home.”
Soon, William Marks went into Amy Marks’ room and got a .22-caliber rifle. Joshua Marks, who had gone into his room, heard several gunshots. A Forsyth County medical examiner later testified that Naylor was shot four times and that he died after a bullet penetrated his heart.
After the shooting, William Marks tried to get his son, Joshua Marks, off the phone with a 911 dispatcher and later put the rifle back in his ex-wife’s closet, then left before law-enforcement officers got there, the court of appeals said in its opinion.
Marks’ appellate attorney, James R. Glover, argued that Allen made an error in allowing testimony from Detective Charles Neblett, who told the jury that he spoke briefly with William Marks, who was in a patrol vehicle. Neblett, according to the opinion, said he began telling Marks he had the right to remain silent and to ask for an attorney.
The court of appeals said that while the prosecutor “did elicit the testimony that defendant did not answer the investigator’s questions, the prosecutor did not emphasize the testimony that defendant invoked his constitutional rights.”
And the court of appeals said prosecutors also attacked Marks’ credibility in other ways. For example, the ballistics evidence contradicted Marks’ statements to law-enforcement that Naylor charged at him. One of the bullets entered Naylor in a downward trajectory, suggesting Naylor was either on his knees or on the floor when he was shot, the court said.