By Jesse Wood
Oct. 30, 2012. The night before ASU student and small-time coke dealer Stephen Harrington was found dead from asphyxiation, when his mouth and face were wrapped like a mummy with duct tape and his body stuffed inside the trunk of a Subaru that was set ablaze in Foscoe, is still hazy seven years later.
The middle of the night on Nov. 7, 2005, isn’t hazy because of all the drugs that Neil Sargent, Matthew Dalrymple and Kyle Triplett – who were all involved in the drug robbery, kidnapping and murder of Harrington – were smoking and snorting in the days leading up to Harrington’s death.
It’s hazy because of conflicting testimony between the three, which is partially the reason that Sargent’s case and his involvement in the murder is being re-tried in Watauga County Superior Criminal Court.
Sargent was convicted in 2008 – and sentenced to life without parole – as the instigator of the killing due to testimony by Triplett, however the N.C. Court of Appeals and the N.C. Supreme Court ruled that the Watauga County Superior Court erred in Sargent’s original case by not allowing written testimony from Dalrymple that placed Triplett has the instigator of the crimes.
In September 2007, Dalrymple gave a written statement to police that he, Sargent and Triplett were at Sargent’s residence at 121 Poplar Hill in Boone on the evening of Nov. 7 when Harrington arrived at the residence to deal some drugs. Sometime after Harrington arrived, Triplett began choking Harrington.
None of that Triplett denied, however, it was the next couple statements, which were ruled impermissible, that could implicate Triplett and support Sargent’s current re-trial.
According to Dalrymple’s statement, when Sargent saw this happening inside his home, Sargent yelled at Triplett, “What the f*** is going on? Get that s*** out of my house!”
Dalrymple stated that Triplett then taped Harrington’s hands and his whole face and then Triplett, who brandished a handgun, ordered Sargent to help Triplett put Harrington in the trunk of Subaru.
Both Sargent and Dalrymple claim that Triplett was the instigator of the crime and that the two only participated in Harrington’s death because Triplett, who was claimed to be brandishing a handgun, threatened to kill them and their families if they didn’t go along with helping Triplett dispose of the ASU student, according to court documents.
In Sargent’s initial case v. the State of North Carolina, this was Sargent’s main defense. At the time of the initial case, Dalrymple hadn’t yet been tried, and Dalrymple invoked the Fifth Amendment, so as not to incriminate himself.
Because Dalrymple invoked the Fifth Amendment, his written testimony was deemed hearsay, and prosecutors objected from allowing the written testimony into evidence.
The defense of Sargeant argued for a hearsay exemption to no avail. The court sustained the prosecutor’s objection and the trial went on without a peep regarding Dalrymple’s statement.
For the current trial, this written statement which points to Triplett as the instigator will be allowed to be used in the courtroom.
Triplett, who entered into a plea agreement with the prosecution to receive a lighter sentence that included testifying against Sargent, however told a different story to the police and at Sargent’s 2008 trial where Dalrymple pled the Fifth, according to court documents.
Initially, Triplett claimed little participation in Harrington’s death. Triplett claimed he was sleeping when Harrington arrived at the house and was robbed of his drugs and then tied and bound up by duct tape.
But during Sargent’s trial, Triplett said he choked Harrington upon his arrival inside Sargent’s residence with the intention to steal Harrington’s drugs – what amounted to several ounces of cocaine – using a handgun, but only because Sargent directed him to do so.
Triplett testified that he ceased choking Harrington once he face turned red and then Sargent wrapped Harrington’s face like a mummy with duct tape and began beating the ASU student.
All three – Dalrymple, Sargent and Dalrymple – allegedly participated in the beating of Harrington. Triplett testified that he and Sargent rode to Sleepy Hollow Lane in Foscoe to dispose of Harrington’s body in the trunk of the Subaru. According to Triplett, Sargent sprayed lighter fluid on the body and Triplett lit the body on fire.
Dalyrmple drove the getaway car – a Honda. Dalrymple followed the Subaru and after the car was set on fire, Sargent and Triplett jumped into the Honda to flee the scene.
Triplett was the first to be sentenced. He received a minimum of 40 years in prison without parole in 2007 for his plea agreement. Sargent was sentenced to life in prison without parole in 2008.
Dalrymple was the last of the three to be sentenced. In December 2008, Dalrymple received a minimum of eight years to less than 11 years. He was also credited with the three years he was held at the Watauga County Detention Center.
All three were in their early 20s when these crimes were committed. Harrington was 19 years old.
As for the current retrial of Sargent, both Triplett and Dalrymple are likely to be called to the stand to testify.