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Ames guilty of murder, gets life sentence

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Kamani Ames

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By William F. West
Staff Writer

Friday, January 19, 2018

CAMDEN — A Perquimans County man was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole Friday after a Camden County jury found him guilty of first-degree murder in the 2015 shooting death of an Elizabeth City teen.

Superior Court Judge Jerry Tillett sentenced Kamani Ames to the life prison term after a nine-man, three-woman jury found Ames responsible for the murder of Unique Graham at Camden Causeway Park in September 2015.

Ames received the same sentence as Nahcier Brunson, another Perquimans County man who pleaded guilty in Graham’s slaying last September.

Ames’ court-appointed attorney, John Bramble of Washington, advised Tillett his client intends to appeal the verdict. Bramble could not immediately be reached for comment Friday evening.

District Attorney Andrew Womble said in an email Friday evening he believes the jury’s guilty verdict against Ames sent two important messages.

"First, the citizens of Camden County will not tolerate criminal activity in their community and are prepared to dispense justice to whomever commits crime in their county," Womble said. "Second, the District Attorney’s Office is prepared to prosecute the individuals who commit these crimes involving serious injury and death to the fullest extent of the law."

The Rev. Anthony Harrison, a cousin of Graham's who delivered the eulogy at his funeral, said immediately after the trial that both the jury's verdict and Tillett's sentence were fair.

"My family feels that justice has been served," Harrison said. "We do not hate. We do forgive because we are a family that does have Christian values."

Harrison said the wait for a guilty verdict, while long, was worthwhile. He said Assistant District Attorney Kimberly Pellini and Emily Davis did an "awesome job with the evidence that they presented to the court."

Prior to sentencing, Bramble called Ames' mother, Samantha Bunch, to testify.

Bunch, in asking Tillett to show her son leniency, told the judge she had been married several times, and that while she was married to Ames' father, her son had witnessed his father being violent toward her. She said her son was a good student who played football and ran track. She also said he had earned a high school diploma while incarcerated.

Assistant District Attorney Kimberly Pellini, however, asked Tillett to impose a life sentence without the possibility of parole, claiming Ames has neither apologized for Graham’s death nor shown any remorse about it. Pellini also said Ames had essentially destroyed two lives: Graham's and Brunson's.

Prosecutors maintained throughout the four-day trial that, although Brunson acknowledged firing the gun that killed Graham, Ames planned the slaying. Brunson in fact testified during Ames’ trial that it was Ames who handed him the handgun used in Graham’s slaying and who told him to shoot Graham. 

In her closing argument to the jury on Friday, Pellini reiterated that Graham’s slaying was Ames' plan. She noted that after Brunson shot Graham at the park, both he and Ames drove to Ames’ mother’s residence without stopping to alert law enforcement about what had happened. She noted Ames did, however, tell both a woman living at his mother’s house and a cousin in a telephone conversation about Graham’s slaying.

Pellini argued that the only reason Ames went to police the afternoon after Graham’s murder was to get there before Brunson did, believing “the first to talk would be the first to walk.”

Buttressing prosecutors’ case that Ames planned Graham’s murder was testimony by Michael Barnak, one of the state’s last witnesses on Friday. 

Barnak, who testified he had been in and out of jail most of his life, told jurors he had spoken with Ames at Albemarle District Jail following Graham’s slaying.

According to Barnak, his cell flooded one day and Ames showed up as part of an inmate cleanup crew. During their conversation, Barnak testified Ames told him he didn't kill Graham but had planned his murder.

Barnak said he contacted the District Attorney's Office by letter in September, advising prosecutors of what Ames had told him. He testified he wasn’t promised anything in return for his testimony at Ames’ trial.  

During cross-examination by Bramble, Barnak acknowledged he had offered to participate in uncover drug purchases for anti-drug agents. He denied that he had shown racism toward an African-American inmate.

Ames didn't take the stand in his own defense. Bramble maintained throughout the trial that his client happened to be at the wrong place at the wrong time with the wrong person.  

In his closing arguments to the jury, Bramble said he believed Brunson testified against Ames out of revenge for his client having gone to the police after Graham’s death. He also told jurors Barnak wasn’t someone they should believe.

In her closing statement, Pellini told jurors that neither Barnak nor Brunson were great witnesses. She also said Brunson isn't a smart person. But that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be believed, she said. When you’re trying the devil, you have to go to hell to get witnesses, she said.

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