Robert Brewington was sentenced to death by the State of North Carolina for the murders of his nephew and grandmother. According to court documents Robert Brewington would pay Michael McKeithan and Vera Sue Lee a $1000 to burn down a house. The two codefendents would pour a large amount of gasoline into the home setting it on fire killing Brian Brewington and Frances Brewington. Robert Brewington would be arrested, convicted and sentenced to death
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At trial, the State’s evidence tended to show that defendant and Vera Sue Lee were engaged to be married. Defendant lived in Dunn, North Carolina, with his grandmother, Frances Brewington, who had adopted him as a child, and also with his eight-year-old nephew, Brian Brewington. On 21 April 1997, defendant took out two life insurance policies from Home Beneficial Life Insurance Company. One policy was on defendant’s brother, Patrick Brewington, for $75,000. The other policy was on Patrick’s son, Brian, for $58,552. Defendant forged Patrick’s signature on both policies and named himself as the beneficiary on both. On 29 May 1997, Lee and defendant made a deposit on a lot and mobile home, but the mortgage company refused to approve their loan.
After defendant took out the life insurance policies on Brian and Patrick, Lee met with her friend, Chris Wilson, and discussed the idea of killing Patrick Brewington to get money for a house. Lee offered to share $10,000 from the insurance proceeds with Wilson if they killed Patrick. A week later, Lee, Wilson, and defendant met to discuss killing Patrick, but Wilson refused to help. Lee, however, continued to talk about killing either Patrick or Brian Brewington during the weeks that followed. During this time, Lee also recruited Henry Michael McKeithan to help with the killing, promising him “$200 or $300 Wednesday and about a $1,000 in three to four months.”
On 1 June 1997, Lee and defendant discussed defendant’s plan for her to kill Frances and Brian Brewington. Defendant told Lee to make the crime look like a robbery, remove a few items such as the TV, stab Frances and Brian, and set the house on fire. On 11 June 1997, defendant and Lee went to an open-air market and bought a knife to use for the killings. During a telephone conversation that evening, defendant told Lee that he was ready for the plan to be carried out.
Around 4:49 a.m. on 12 June 1997, Lee and McKeithan, who had just driven by the Brewington residence and honked the horn to wake defendant, purchased two one-gallon jugs of distilled water at Winn-Dixie. They emptied the water from the jugs and refilled them with gasoline from the T-Mart on Cumberland Street. During this time, defendant dressed for work; collected the insurance policies and his best clothes for Frances’ and Brian’s funerals; and left the Brewington home, leaving the back door unlocked. Defendant drove to Hardee World where he met Lee, and defendant put his clothes in the trunk of Lee’s car. Defendant then drove to work while Lee and McKeithan drove to the Brewington residence.
When Lee and McKeithan arrived at the Brewington house, they parked the car in the driveway, put on rubber gloves, and entered the house through the back door, carrying the jugs of gasoline. Lee gave McKeithan the knife from the open-air market and told him to kill Brian while she killed Frances. Unable to stab Brian, McKeithan instead poured gasoline around the bedroom where the victims were sleeping. As McKeithan and Lee stood over them with knives, Frances and Brian Brewington woke up and started screaming. McKeithan stabbed Frances Brewington repeatedly and then ran to the car to get his lighter. While McKeithan was outside, Lee, who had stabbed Brian, lit a dishrag at the heater and ignited the gasoline in the bedroom. Although severely wounded, the Brewingtons continued to scream while Lee and McKeithan ran to the car and drove away. Lee and McKeithan buried the knife and burned their clothing and gloves at McKeithan’s house.
At approximately 6:15 a.m. that morning, Harnett County Sheriff’s Deputy Jerry Edwards saw smoke rising from the Brewington house. He called the fire department, then went to the house and tried to look into the windows, but the smoke was too thick for him to see inside. After the firefighters extinguished the fire, they notified Deputy Edwards that they had found two bodies in the bedroom. Deputy Edwards secured the scene after viewing the bodies and a jug of gasoline and lighter in the living room. Defendant had been summoned from work before the fire was extinguished. When he arrived at the house, defendant spoke with Deputy Edwards. Defendant told Deputy Edwards that he had left for work around 5:30 a.m., and that when he left, the only appliance running was the air conditioner. Defendant was also interviewed twice that day by Deputy Fire Marshal Jimmy Riddle. During the first interview around 8:05 a.m., defendant told Riddle that the microwave would sometimes “kick out” the circuit breakers and that there were several extension cords in the bedroom. Riddle terminated the interview because defendant seemed “very upset.” Around 12:20 that afternoon, Riddle again interviewed defendant, who stated that he had left the house by 5:30 a.m. and that he had run several errands before arriving at work. Defendant also stated that his grandmother had been having problems with the air conditioner lately and that he had not seen the jug of gasoline that had been found in the living room.
The preliminary investigation of the crime scene showed that the fire had been deliberately set with an accelerant which was poured on the floor of the bedroom. This conclusion was based on factors such as the “pour pattern” of the gasoline, the color of the smoke and flames, and the elimination of the electrical system and all appliances as possible sources of the fire. The investigation also revealed the knife wounds to Frances Brewington’s body. A knife handle and partial knife blade were also found under her body.
Following the investigation, defendant, McKeithan and Lee were arrested and charged. Pursuant to N.C.G.S. § 15A-926, the State elected to try defendant and McKeithan in a joint trial, and Lee was tried separately.