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St. John murder case certified to grand jury

by Tom Chillemi

Testimony and evidence presented during accused murderer Alvin Bernard Keyser’s preliminary hearing on September 17, 2018 in Middlesex General District Court was sufficient for Judge Stephanie E. Merritt to certify the case to a Middlesex Circuit Court Grand Jury.

Keyser, 23, of Topping, is charged with two felonies, first degree murder and concealment of a dead body, according to court documents.

On February 27 Keyser allegedly killed Terry Lynn St. John, a 23-year-old mother of two young children under the age of 3. 

Keyser knew St. John, who had been reported missing from her home on Mill Wharf Road in Wake on February 27.

Police found signs of a struggle in the grass near St. John’s driveway, testified Detective Adam Miller of the Middlesex Sheriff’s Office. Also found at the scene were a pair of slippers, an earring and a broken necklace lying on the ground beside the driveway of St. John’s home, and St. John’s cell phone was found in a nearby bush.

Det. Miller testified that a 911 call was made to the Middlesex Sheriff’s Office at 5:36 a.m. on February 27, the day St. John went missing. The cell phone call was so short that it could not be traced. Dispatchers tried to call the number twice but there was no answer. The 911 call was eventually traced to a Hartfield cell tower.

Det. Sibley testified that Keyser said he knew the victim and had sold cocaine to her and her boyfriend.

Middlesex Commonwealth’s Attorney Michael Hurd and Keyser’s court-appointed defense attorney Amy Van Fossen both stipulated to evidence that St. John’s boyfriend had left for work about 4:15 a.m., at which time St. John was alive.

Det. Miller also testified he reviewed surveillance video from the Hartfield 7-Eleven that contained images recorded at 4:58 a.m. on February 27 of a male, who later was identified as Keyser, and Keyser’s van, which had a primer paint repair on the passenger’s side door.

First interview
Just after midnight on February 28, about 18 hours after St. John was reported missing, three Middlesex Sheriff’s Office (MSO) detectives, Norman Sibley III, Adam Miller and Bill Riley, went to Keyser’s residence to talk to him. The MSO had gotten a tip and checked a Facebook photo of Keyser wearing a necklace that matched the broken necklace that had been found at the scene, Det. Sibley testified.

Also, Keyser had called the Middlesex Sheriff’s Office on February 27 at 8:39 a.m. and talked to a deputy but did not identify himself, Det. Sibley testified. Keyser’s call was about three hours after the 911 call.

During the detectives’ February 28 visit to Keyser’s residence, he was asked about the necklace. Det. Sibley testified Keyser showed them a necklace that was in his van. However, it was different from the broken necklace found at the scene. Keyser then admitted the necklace found at the scene was his.

Det. Riley testified that during the interview Keyser was asked to remove his shirt, and his back, sides and arms were scratched. (The reason for the scratches would be revealed later.)

In the late night of February 28, Keyser was interviewed at the Middlesex Sheriff’s Office, Det. Riley testified. Keyser asked for an attorney. He was told by Det. Riley that he had 14 days to retain an attorney and Keyser would be contacted after he had an attorney.

About six hours later, around 2:30 a.m. on March 1, testified Det. Riley, he was awakened by a phone call from Keyser, who said he wanted to talk to him. Det. Riley told Keyser that since he had wanted an attorney, he should think about it and wait until the morning.

Final interview
Around 6:30 a.m. on March 1, Det. Riley got a call from Keyser. Det. Riley picked Keyser up and transported him to the Middlesex Sheriff’s Office to be interviewed about 7:30 a.m. Keyser at first said he wanted an attorney but then said he didn’t want an attorney. Det. Riley read Keyser his Miranda Rights (to have an attorney appointed at no cost, to remain silent and that anything he said would be used against him in court, etc.). He also told Keyser he could leave at any time.

Det. Riley said Keyser told him that he had gone to St. John’s residence to confront St. John and her boyfriend about “putting his name on the street for selling drugs.”

St. John’s boyfriend was not home, he had left for work. (A video from a 7-Eleven in White Marsh in Gloucester verified that the boyfriend was there and not at home.)

Det. Riley testified that Keyser told him that he and St. John argued while talking in the van in the driveway. It became physical when Keyser called her a bitch and she scratched and hit him. He hit her back and pushed her out of the van and she hit her head. The fight resumed outside of the van where Keyser strangled her.

He then loaded her body into the van.

Briar patch
A short time after the interview, Keyser showed detectives where he had covered St. John’s body with leaves in a briar patch just off Barricks Mill Road. Det. Sibley said Keyser was crying and kept saying he didn’t want to see the body and that he “didn’t mean to hurt that girl.”

Det. Riley testified that Keyser had stuffed leaves into her mouth.

Final arguments
During final arguments prosecutor Hurd pointed out that this was not a case of self-defense because St. John was outside of the van when Keyser strangled her.

Hurd noted that the scratches on Keyser were caused when he dragged St. John’s body into a briar patch.

Keyser did not testify at the preliminary hearing. His attorney did cross examine the witnesses. Amy Van Fossen argued that the alleged crime was not first-degree murder, arguing that there was no premeditation or intent and cited case law.

Probable cause
Judge Merritt disagreed pointing out that premeditation can occur in the instant that it takes to pull a trigger. She noted that a bone was broken in St. John’s neck and it takes a lot a pressure to break that bone.

Judge Merritt sent the case to the Middlesex Circuit Court Grand Jury, which will convene on November 26.

Keyser was denied bail and has remained in custody since his arrest on March 1 at the Middle Peninsula Regional Security Center in Saluda.

posted 09.19.2018

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