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Greensboro News & Record

September 29, 2000

Author: TIM YEADON Staff Writer

[]Sometime after the 7 p.m. network news went off the air, Christene Kemmerlin burst into her landlord’s house screaming that Wayne, her husband, had been shot.

The landlord, Charles  “Al” Davis, told a hushed courtroom Thursday afternoon how he watched the woman who has since been charged with orchestrating Wayne Kemmerlin’s death hysterically call 911 before running out of his house, back 60 yards to her home where her husband lay dead in a hallway near the kitchen.

Davis’ testimony, which came after prosecutors played to the jury the first of two frantic phone calls Christene Kemmerlin made to 911, detailed the first moments after the murder-for-hire defendant reported the March 24, 1999, shooting death of her husband.

Christene Kemmerlin, 31, and William Antone Johnson, 24, who prosecutors say accepted $150 to kill her husband, are charged with first-degree murder, conspiracy to commit first-degree murder, and robbery with a dangerous weapon.  Kemmerlin also is charged with paying Johnson to kill her husband.

Johnson’s trial is scheduled to begin Oct. 9.

Christene Kemmerlin’s trial began after jury selection was completed Thursday morning.   If found guilty in his death, Christene Kemmerlin and Johnson could receive death sentences.

Thursday afternoon, Davis described how he got into his pickup truck and beat Christene Kemmerlin back to her Madison Street home where he found Wayne Kemmerlin dead.

Over the objections of Kemmerlin’s defense team, Superior Court Judge Henry Frye Jr. allowed prosecutors to ask Davis his opinion on what he saw.

Frye removed the jurors from the courtroom, then let Davis answer.   “It was obvious to me that the body had moved,” Davis said.

Davis explained how he saw the dead man laying flat on his back. His arms rested straight to each side of his body.  Near each side of his waist was a scattering of pocket change and the keys to his Ford truck.

It appeared as if Wayne Kemmerlin had been shot twice near his naval, Davis testified. Two 18-inch long   “splatters” of blood stained the carpet about 2 feet away.

Davis testified that he then turned to Christene Kemmerlin, who followed him inside the house a few moments before.

“I told Christene, ‘It’s too late, he’s dead,’ ” Davis testified.  She said nothing. But moments later Kemmerlin called 911 a second time.

She told the 911 dispatcher the shooter was a “a black man … with blue jeans and a big blue coat” before whimpering  “Oh Jesus, please, oh, please God, don’t let him die.”

Davis is expected to resume his testimony today.  Investigators have said that Christene Kemmerlin confessed after the shooting, saying she paid Johnson after a previous plan to pay another person $1,500 went awry.

She told investigators that her husband physically and sexually abused her for years, often after he went on drinking binges. Prosecutors contend Kemmerlin had her husband killed so she could collect on her husband’s $99,000 life insurance.

During Thursday’s opening arguments, prosecutor Jason Ross told the jury that Wayne Kemmerlin was assassinated.

“She planned and carried out the execution of her husband,” Ross said.

Kemmerlin’s defense team said they would show that Christene Kemmerlin was not of a sound mind when she confessed to investigating agents from the State Bureau of Investigation.

Her attorney, Walt Etringer, described the conditions of her interview as  “coarse,” adding that she was not advised of her rights during the interview.

“At the time the statement was made, Christene was depressed and on Prozac and other psychotropic drugs,” Walt Etringer told the jury.  “She had had no sleep.”

Investigators did not tape the confession, and instead had her sign a statement that she had not written.

“The statement is not in her words or handwriting, but a synopsis of what the SBI agent said that she said,” Etringer said.