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Jury to hear Parks’ statements to police

102317MurderTrial

Gregory K. Parks, left, is shown with attorney Tom Sallenger during an Oct. 5 court appearance on pretrial motions. Parks is accused of kidnapping and killing 20-year-old Isabel Palacios and will stand trial on a first-degree murder charge in Pitt County next week. Drew C. Wilson | Times

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By Olivia Neely
The Wilson Times

Monday, October 23, 2017

Multiple statements Gregory Parks gave to Wilson police prior to his August 2015 arrest in the killing of a 20-year-old Bailey woman will be admissible in his trial, which begins today with jury selection in Pitt County Superior Court.

In June, a judge in Wilson County ordered a change of venue for the trial, moving it from Wilson County to Pitt County followed a motion filed by Parks’ attorney due to media coverage. During a pretrial hearing Thursday inside a Wilson County courtroom, multiple witnesses took the stand including Parks himself.

Parks, 58, will stand trial in Pitt County for the 2015 first-degree murder and kidnapping of Isabel Calvo Palacios. He is accused of killing the young mother on July 31, 2015, according to arrest warrants.

Senior Resident Superior Court Judge Wayland Sermons Jr., who will preside over the trial, denied the defense motions asking the court to suppress statements Parks made to police because attorneys say his constitutional rights were violated and he wasn’t read his Miranda rights at the time he should have been.

Jurors will hear statements Parks gave to police on various dates including July 31, 2015, up until his arrest on Aug. 19, 2015. One conversation Parks had with police while he was in a motel room as police searched his home will not be used in the upcoming trial. Sermons ruled that the statement couldn’t be used because there was no relevance to the case.

Prosecutor Joel Stadiem argued that statements Parks made to police prior to his arrest were freely given in voluntary conversations. Stadiem argued that his rights didn’t need to be read because he was never placed in custody nor was he under arrest during these prior encounters. He also told the court that Parks was the one who initiated conversation with police in the days leading up to his arrest.

Sermons has yet to rule on whether parts or all of the police interrogation will be allowed into trial at some point after jury selection is completed. After Parks’ arrest on Aug. 19, 2015, he was read his rights and a nine-hour interview ensued.

Search warrant and evidence seized

Sermons also denied a motion by Parks’ defense attorney, Tom Sallenger, who argued evidence should be thrown out because police obtained it with an invalid and illegal search warrant. Sallenger argued that detectives were illegally on Parks’ property earlier that day on Aug. 4, 2015 — the day Palacios was officially reported missing by a family member.

Pretrial hearing testimony revealed that police detective C.T. Tant knocked on Parks’ side door but no one answered. The detective also looked inside a trash can on Parks’ property near where Palacios’ vehicle was sitting in the driveway.

He looked inside and found what he believed at the time could be evidence in the case, according to testimony. That evidence included a brush of sorts and padding that goes underneath carpet.

Tant testified that after he saw the carpet padding, he immediately shut the trash can lid. He told the court he opened the trash can because he thought that Palacios, a small-framed woman, could have been inside. Police were looking for a missing person, he testified, and the search was urgent.

The defense argued that police had no right to look inside that trash can at the time because not only were they not granted permission to be on Parks’ property, but they didn’t have a search warrant. Sallenger claimed the reason police went before a judge to get a search warrant in the first place was to “cover up their illegal activities.”

But Tant testified that he wasn’t involved in the writing of the affidavit used to apply for the search warrant. Stadiem argued that there was no mention of the trash can in the search warrant affidavit because police already had probable cause based on other various factors they uncovered. And whatever was found as a result of the executed search warrant of the home and other areas on Parks’ property would have included the trash can evidence anyways, according to prosecutors.

Jury selection will begin today and is expected to take several days. Sermons also issued a ruling Thursday that potential jurors’ questionnaires will be sealed, as well as their seating charts.

The case

Parks will face two additional charges during trial, including one in which investigators allege he pawned Palacios’ ring a day after she was last seen by friends at his 4710 Ward Blvd. home.

Parks, who has entered a plea of not guilty, has maintained he had nothing to do with Palacios’ disappearance. He has said he is innocent.

Palacios, of Bailey, was last seen by friends at Parks’ home on July 31, 2015, police say.

Less than 12 hours after Palacios’ family reported her missing on Aug. 4, 2015, investigators roped off the Parks home after obtaining a search warrant. Investigators remained at the home for weeks and could be seen entering and leaving.

Throughout the course of the investigation, police collected a number of items that were analyzed, police said at the time. Law enforcement also processed Palacios’ car, which was found parked in the Ward Boulevard home’s driveway along with another vehicle.

Wilson police and outside agencies conducted extensive searches for weeks in Wilson County and beyond after her disappearance. Palacios has never been found.

Parks is being held in the Edgecombe County Jail under a $1 million bond.

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