Christopher Goss was sentenced to death by the State of North Carolina for a robbery murder. According to court documents Christopher Goss forced his way into a home where he would murder Deborah Veler before robbing the home. Christopher Goss would be arrested, convicted and sentenced to death
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At trial, Kenneth Courtner testified that at approximately noon on Sunday, 21 September 2003, he took his three-year-old son Devin, the grandson of Deborah Sturgill Veler (the victim), to stay overnight with his grandmother at her residence in Jefferson, North Carolina. Denise Veler Courtner, Devin’s mother and the victim’s daughter, had made arrangements to pick up Devin at approximately 6:30 a.m. the next morning, 22 September 2003, at a church parking lot adjacent to State Highway 221.
Nancy Kerley, Devin’s paternal grandmother, testified that sometime after 6:30 a.m. on 22 September 2003 she was driving to work when she passed the church parking lot where the victim had arranged to meet Ms. Courtner. Ms. Kerley observed Ms. Courtner sitting in a truck in the parking lot and stopped to speak with her, whereupon Ms. Kerley learned that Ms. Courtner had been waiting for her mother for approximately one hour. Eventually, Ms. Kerley decided to drive to the victim’s residence, and Ms. Courtner contacted law enforcement to request that an officer be sent to check on her mother.
Ashe County Deputy Sheriff Rob Powers was dispatched to the victim’s residence in response to Ms. Courtner’s request. When Deputy Powers arrived at the residence at approximately 9:15 a.m., he observed Ms. Kerley knocking at the front door of the residence. A neighbor, Rita Wagoner Jordan, testified that she arrived at the scene at about the same time as Deputy Powers, having overheard the dispatch on her police radio scanner. After Deputy Powers began knocking, he eventually observed Devin inside the residence. Ms. Kerley and Deputy Powers were able to instruct Devin to open the front door, at which time he jumped into the arms of Ms. Jordan, appearing to be “hungry, tired, sleepy, [and] in shock.” Deputy Powers then entered the residence and found the victim’s body on the living room floor.
I. STATE’S INVESTIGATION
A subsequent investigation of the crime scene by law enforcement officials uncovered evidence that the murder may have occurred during the commission of a burglary and a sexual assault on the victim. There was also a substantial amount of blood discovered at the residence, which later testing indicated came from two individuals. Investigators performed a neighborhood canvas on 22 September 2003 and again on 24 September 2003. On both dates, an investigator went to the residence of Jim and Anna Lee Goss, defendant’s parents, where Christopher Goss resided at the time. On each occasion, defendant was interviewed and denied having left his parents’ house at any time during the night of the victim’s murder.
On 12 October 2003, Christopher Goss was booked on unrelated charges by the Jefferson Police Department. During this process, acting Police Chief David Larry Neaves observed a cut on defendant’s arm that caused him to suspect defendant may have been involved in the murder. The same evening, while defendant was still in custody, Chief Neaves and North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation Special Agent Steve Wilson questioned defendant about the murder. Defendant waived his Miranda rights and agreed to answer their questions. During the interrogation, Christopher Goss gave an account of his whereabouts on 21 and 22 September 2003 that was inconsistent with statements he had provided previously. However, defendant again denied any involvement in the murder and explained that the cut on his arm resulted from a piece of broken glass falling on him while he was cleaning the garage windows at his parents’ house.
On 24 October 2003, investigators served a warrant on Christopher Goss for the seizure of hair and blood samples. After defendant provided these samples and was transported back to the Ashe County Jail, defendant asked to speak with Chief Neaves and Special Agent Wilson and was taken to an interrogation room, where he waived his Miranda rights again. Special Agent Wilson then asked defendant what he wanted to share, and Christopher Goss immediately responded that he had “killed” the victim.
II. DEFENDANT’S CONFESSION
Thereafter, Christopher Goss provided a statement that contained, inter alia, the following facts: At about 3:00 p.m. on Sunday, 21 September 2003, defendant walked from his parents’ house to a 7-Eleven convenience store in West Jefferson to purchase beer, carrying with him a duffle bag. As defendant was returning from the store, the victim stopped her sport utility vehicle (SUV) and offered him a ride. Defendant accepted and got into the front passenger seat. Devin was also in the vehicle. While on their way, the victim asked defendant whether he knew her daughter, Denise, and he replied that he did. When they arrived at the victim’s residence, she asked defendant whether he wanted to return later that night, and he indicated that he would do so.
Defendant returned to his parents’ house, entering through the basement door, and consumed eight or nine of the beers he had purchased. At approximately 11:00 p.m., he returned to the victim’s residence. When he arrived, he knocked on the front door and was invited in by the victim, who led defendant to a couch in the living room. Devin was apparently asleep in a nearby bedroom at the time. Defendant and the victim then engaged in some casual conversation until the victim ultimately returned to the subject of her daughter Denise. She asked defendant whether he had fathered one of Denise’s children, and he denied the accusation. She further inquired about a party that defendant and Denise had attended years earlier and said Denise claimed that defendant had raped her at the party. Defendant stood up and stated his intention to leave, but the victim pointed at him and told him, “You’re not going nowhere.”
As the victim was pointing at defendant, she poked her finger into his forehead. Defendant reacted to this by striking her on the nose with the palm of his hand. The victim said she intended to call the police and rushed into her bedroom. Although she attempted to close the door behind her, defendant followed her, grabbed her hair, and threw her onto the bed. A struggle ensued on the bed as defendant hit the victim “a few times.” Defendant released the victim and she started to run, but he grabbed her and pushed her down. She then escaped his grasp, but again he was able to wrestle her down to the floor. Defendant inquired as to whether the victim still intended to call the police, and she replied, “Yes.” Although defendant pleaded with her to calm down, she cursed at him and told him he was “going to pay for this.” Defendant then struck the victim several times in the face and the back of her head until she stopped moving. He took a break to smoke a cigarette and think about what he was doing.
Defendant left the victim’s residence and returned to his parents’ house, where he collected a change of clothes, a hammer, and some duct tape, placing these items in his duffle bag. He walked back to the victim’s residence and pushed open the locked rear double doors with the intention “to make it look like a robbery or breaking and entering” and with the hope that the victim would forget who had assaulted her. He went into the kitchen and began to ransack it, but as he did so the victim raised her head and saw him. Defendant got on top of the victim and told her to calm down and not to call the police. When she indicated that she would not follow his instructions, defendant bound her hands behind her back using his duct tape and also bound her feet together. He then struck her repeatedly until she once again stopped moving.
Shortly after defendant resumed ransacking the house, the victim regained consciousness and started to scream. Defendant asked her to be quiet and to remember that she did not know who he was. The victim stated that defendant was “going to jail.” Defendant then walked to the kitchen and obtained a ten-inch long knife belonging to the victim. He returned to the victim, straddled her, and began to stab her in the back, “not kind of hard at first, maybe four times.” He paused a moment and then stabbed her five more times in the back, harder and deeper than before. The victim was silent and did not struggle.
Defendant at this point asked aloud, “What the hell am I doing?” He laid the knife on the victim’s back and returned to the kitchen, but when he heard her mumble something, he obtained a second, longer knife. Defendant straddled the victim again and stabbed her five to eight more times on the left side of her back. He then left the second knife in her body, stood up and saw that the victim was still breathing though she remained silent, and used another knife to slit her throat “to make sure she died.”
Defendant soon realized he had cut himself on the left forearm and that he was bleeding “quite a bit.” He removed his shirt and wrapped it around his arm in an attempt to stop the bleeding. Then he went to the bedroom to check on Devin. While there, defendant observed he was still bleeding and that some of this blood had gotten onto the bed. After “just walking around thinking what to do,” defendant returned to the victim and observed that she was no longer breathing. He noted the time on a nearby clock was 3:45 a.m.
In his statement, defendant further described the actions he took after the murder. He first changed out of his clothes and put on the clothes he had obtained from his parents’ house, placing the old clothes in his duffle bag. He then walked back to his parents’ house, cleaned some blood from his chest and shoulder, and bandaged the cut on his left forearm. For the third time, he returned to the victim’s residence, again through the rear double doors, but this time he was wearing black leather gloves. He took several actions “just to make it look crazy,” including pulling down the victim’s pants and panties and pouring out a container of lotion onto her buttocks and legs. He placed an envelope on which he had written “[y]ou owe me money” on the victim’s buttocks and put a pair of eyeglasses and a small knife on top of the envelope. He wrote “I will kill” on the couch, “trying to make it look like somebody crazy did that to [the victim].”
Defendant took several additional actions to conceal his identity and to mislead investigators: He used a dampened towel to wipe down the handle of a knife and to wipe off what he thought was blood on the wall above the victim’s bed, used scissors to cut out bloody parts of the top sheet and mattress on the victim’s bed, went to a rear window on the ground floor and tried to pry it open with his hammer until the lock broke, cut the telephone line, and spread credit cards on top of the victim’s body. He placed the pieces of duct tape that he removed from the victim’s arms and legs and the pieces of bed sheet and mattress he had removed from the victim’s bed in his duffle bag. Defendant took seventeen dollars from the victim’s kitchen countertop and her vehicle keys and checked the house to make sure he did not forget anything. He then drove her SUV to the rear of a nearby grocery store in order to dispose of his hat and duffle bag. Returning to the victim’s residence, he parked the vehicle in the same place it was before and wiped it down to remove fingerprints.
Defendant went into the victim’s residence once more to retrieve his hammer and smoke a cigarette. He also went upstairs to check on Devin, returned the victim’s vehicle keys to the kitchen countertop, and turned off all the lights before leaving through the back door of the residence and walking back to his parents’ house, entering through the basement door to his room. He smoked another cigarette and reflected on what he had done, then went to sleep at approximately 5:00 a.m.
At the conclusion of his statement, defendant explained that he stabbed the victim because he could not calm her down or convince her not to call the police and that “[i]f she had agreed not to tell on [him], [he] would not have killed her.”