Man charged in stepdaughter's murder could serve more than 10 years
|Brittany Nicole Loritts' half sister, Asti Loritts, left, cries outside Rowan County Superior Court after Reginald Weeks pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and rape. photo by Wayne Hinshaw, Salisbury Post
By Shavonne Potts
Citing an uncooperative key witness, the county's chief prosecutor has agreed to a plea deal that will keep a Salisbury man accused of the 2005 sexual assault and murder of his stepdaughter behind bars for at least the next seven years, while also allowing him to maintain his innocence.
Reginald Carlton Weeks Jr., 49, entered the plea Tuesday in the murder of 18-year-old Brittany Nicole Loritts, who was found stabbed in the neck July 11, 2005, in the family's Scales Street home.
Weeks was originally charged with first-degree murder and subsequently with first-degree rape. On Tuesday, those charges were reduced to second-degree murder and second-degree rape. Weeks received a sentence of 109-140 months, with credit for about two years he's spent in the Rowan County jail.
Weeks entered an Alford plea, which allows defendants the benefit of a plea deal without admitting guilt. This type of plea is usually entered when a defendant maintains his innocence, but acknowledges that evidence against him could result in his being found guilty at trial.
Weeks, who is married to Loritts' mother, Angela Johnson Weeks, told authorities he found the teenager bleeding on her bed. He'd gone back to his 916 Scales St. home for paperwork related to his father's construction business, he said at the time.
Five weeks later, he was charged with first-degree murder. Two months later, Weeks was released on bond. He was re-arrested in February 2006 at the East Spencer home of his father, Reginald Weeks, and charged with raping Loritts.
Superior Court Judge Christopher Collier explained to Weeks in court that accepting the Alford plea meant he would be treated as a guilty "whether or not you in fact plead guilty."
Rowan County District Attorney Bill Kenerly noted that Weeks and his attorneys, Salisbury's James Davis and Nancy Gaines, accepted the terms.
Kenerly said prosecutors had no direct evidence linking Weeks to the murder, but they had circumstantial evidence.
What they couldn't count on, he said, was a fully cooperative key witness.
Had there been a trial, Kenerly said, Brittany's mother would have been considered an essential witness. But he said that Angela Weeks "was less than cooperative within two weeks of the investigation."
Kenerly said Angela Weeks hired her own attorney and indicated she would speak with the district attorney during a pre-trial interview. He said, however, that he has not been able to speak with Angela Weeks to this day.
"I have concerns," Kenerly said. "I can't be sure that she'd be completely forthcoming."
Kenerly said he believed that Brittany's father, Rodrick Loritts, and his wife, Beverly, were not happy with his decision to enter into the plea deal with Weeks.
"I have made this decision because I'm concerned with a key witness not cooperating," he said.
Kenerly surmised that Brittany's murder was someone's way of keeping her quiet.
"There was some type of consensual sex event. Perhaps her murder was the result of her saying she was going to the police," he said.
Salisbury Police Detective J.D. Barber testified briefly Tuesday about the investigation. He said medical findings led to the rape charge. Medical examiners found vaginal tearing and injury, but no male DNA.
Barber said doctors indicated a sexual assault occurred at or near the time of Brittany's death.
Marks around Brittany's neck indicated she was strangled with something, but that's not what killed her and investigators never found the weapon, Barber said. A knife was reportedly missing from the home, but it was not found, he said.
Investigators found fingerprints from Weeks and his wife, Angela, in the home. They also found an unidentified palm print. And they discovered a wire hanger with Brittany's DNA and that of an unidentified person on it. The hanger was unwound and had DNA on the ends, Barber said, motioning with his hands.
Weeks initially told investigators that when he found his stepdaughter dead, he cradled her like a baby, Barber said. But they found no bloody clothes.
"Later, he said he hardly touched her," Barber testified.
Weeks told police he left home around 7:30 a.m. and had not returned until he found Loritts' body at around 4:15 p.m.
He could not account for the time between 7:30 and 10:30 a.m., the time he said he arrived at a job site only a few miles away. Later, Weeks told police he returned to the house at 8:30 a.m. and again around lunchtime.
Multiple witnesses said in statements they'd seen Weeks in the area of Pine Street, at a home where he was doing repair work.
One man said he'd seen Weeks borrow matches from a neighbor at that Pine Street home, take a gas can around the home and burn something in a bucket.
|alford plea: Reginald Weeks listens as he is sentenced in Rowan Superior Court Tuesday afternoon. photo by Wayne Hinshaw, Salisbury Post
Investigators found burned towels and a burned cell phone battery that matched the kind used in Brittany's missing cell phone. The towels did not match any at the Weeks home, Barber said.
Weeks told authorities he'd lost his eyeglasses. They were later found in Brittany's bedroom.
The rooms had been ransacked, as if someone had been looking for something.
Barber said the bedroom drawers were open, but cash and jewelry were not taken.
There was no forced entry into the home and no signs of a struggle, he said.
Following the plea hearing, Brittany's half sister, Asti Loritts, could no longer contain her emotions. Friends and family tried to comfort the teen, who cried uncontrollably. She ran into the waiting arms of her father, Rodrick.
Asti later expressed anger at an outcome she said held no justice for her sister.
"I can't believe it," she said. The plea was worse for her than if Weeks had been set free, she said.
Asti's mother, Antoinette Garrison, echoed her daughter's frustration. She said the plea arrangement offered no sense of closure.
"God is the real judge. He will really suffer," Garrison said of Weeks.
"It's awful. You know he deserved life," said Brittany's grandmother, Joyce Loritts. "He's getting away with murder."
|not happy: Brittany Nicole Loritts' father, Rodrick Loritts, leaves the courtroom after Weeks' plea hearing. Loritts said he did not agree with the plea agreement. photo by Wayne Hinshaw, Salisbury Post
Joyce Loritts said she felt the prosecution's circumstantial evidence would have been enough to convict Weeks and ensure more jail time.
Many more of Brittany's relatives and friends attended the hearing.
Only Reginald Weeks attended in support of his son. In court, Weeks' attorney, James Davis, said that although it didn't look like it, there were many who supported his client.
In a written statement, Davis said his client had been facing the possibility of the death penalty or life behind bars. Weeks "accepted a result in which he did not admit guilt in order to save his family from a difficult and divisive trial," Davis wrote. The statement went on to say that Weeks did not want those closest to him to suffer through what would have been "a long and bitter process."
Weeks' father declined to comment.
Contact Shavonne Potts at 704-797-4253 or firstname.lastname@example.org.