WJTV News Channel 12 - Jury declares Onslow Co. murder suspect innocent

Jury declares Onslow Co. murder suspect innocent

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JACKSONVILLE, N.C. -

An Onslow County man walks free for the first time after three years in jail.

After a nearly three week long murder trial, a jury acquitted the young man of first degree murder, kidnapping, robbery, and breaking and entering.

For the first time in three years, 22-year-old Nickey Yates, Jr. walked out of jail on Thursday a free man.

"It feels good. I don't even have words to express how happy I am about it," said Yates.

Yates smiled broadly in court when a judge read his not guilty verdict. His family cried tears of joy.

"No physical contact. I haven't been able to touch my son, shake his hand in over three years, so huge relief," said his father, Nickey Yates, Sr.

Deputies arrested Yates in November 2010 following the murder of 56-year-old Linda Hulsman.

Prosecutors accused Yates of breaking into his neighbor's house outside Jacksonville, strangling her, and stealing her oxycodone pills so he could sell the pills and use the money to pay back a debt.

"Despite the efforts of sheriff's office and crime lab, we just couldn't tie the defendant to the crime scene in terms of DNA and latent finger prints, so I think that is one thing that played a major part in this," said Ernie Lee, Onslow County district attorney.

Lee says he's disappointed in the verdict, but he respects the jury's decision.

"We argued strongly in this case. We tried to put forth the very best case we could," said Lee.

Lee says witnesses testified that Yates told them he killed Hulsman, but jurors didn't buy it.

Despite the happy outcome for Yates, the defendant's father is upset his son was arrested in the first place.

"Dare I say, white woman dead, black guy, we're going to put it on him. I hate to talk race, but race matters in America. It still does," said the elder Yates.

Yates says it was nerve-wracking wondering whether the jury would declare him innocent or guilty.

"It was the worst experience I've ever been through," said the defendant.

Yates says he plans to go back to school and spend time with his family. Next week will be his first Thanksgiving together with his family in three years.

As for the Hulsman family, they're now haunted by their loved one's unsolved murder.

"I just feel very bad for the family, though, because Linda Hulsman, she was brutally murdered three years ago, and the family just probably feels like there just hasn't been justice been done for her," said Lee.

--- Previous Story ---

Day six of Onslow County's oldest pending murder trial wrapped up on Tuesday.

The suspect, Nickey Yates, is a young man accused of killing his neighbor to get drugs.

The 22-year-old showed little emotion during his murder trial, while his parents sat quietly behind him, worried and scared for his fate.

"His entire life is in the hands of other people: the lawyers, the judge, the witnesses, the jury, everybody else. And he has nothing to say about any of it," said Nickey Yates, Sr., the murder suspect's father.

He says it bothers him that he can't do anything to help his son.

"His fate's in the hands of twelve other people. You don't know how it's going to turn out," said the older Yates.

Prosecutors say the younger Yates killed 56-year-old Linda Hulsman, his neighbor, to get her prescription drugs. But the suspect's father insists his son is innocent.

"The evidence has given no indication that my son killed this woman. And we want this to end and we can get our son back and get back to a regular life," said the older Yates.

Prosecutors say the younger Yates strangled Hulsman three years ago, and that he put a pillow over her face and used duct tape.

On Tuesday a witness named Amanda testified against the suspect, saying that he didn't show any remorse after his neighbor's death.

When asked who he thought may have killed Hulsman, the suspect's father said: "I can't speculate on that. I wasn't there. I don't know."

The witness also says the younger Yates had once snorted opiates in the back seat of a car.

The older Yates said that he had never seen his son use drugs. When asked whether his son was a drug user, he responded: "I can't say that. I don't know."

The medical examiner and others still yet to testify. Yates himself may also choose to speak. But no matter what happens, his family vows to stand behind him.

9 On Your Side reached out to Al Henninger, a friend of Linda Hulsman who was in court, but he and his companion said they weren't ready to speak on-camera.

-- Previous story --

An Onslow County murder trial started Monday.
    
Investigators say 22-year-old Nickey Yates strangled Linda Hulsman over prescription drugs.
    
Yates faces charges of first degree murder.
    
Hulsman died three years ago. She was 56-years-old at the time.
    
District Attorney Ernie Lee says this is the oldest pending murder case in Onslow County.
    
Jury selection kicked off in Superior Court. The trial is expected to last all week.

"If he's innocent, God will take care of it. If he's guilty, God will take care of it. So either way, if he don't get punished, he'll have to answer to the man above," said Crystal Farrior, Jacksonville resident.

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