LANCASTER – More than six years after a Lancaster mother and three of her daughters were found dead inside their burning home, a trial is underway in an Antelope Valley courtroom for the man accused of killing them.
Corey Lynn King, now 24, is charged with four counts of first-degree murder with special circumstances and other related felonies in connection with the deaths of 43-year-old Sonya Durfield Harris and her daughters – Ebony Horton, Melinda Harris, and Kayla Clark.
The jury heard opening statements from both sides on Wednesday. Prosecutor Robert Sherwood gave a graphic description of the victims’ injuries, as family members sobbed in the courtroom.
He said Sonya Durfield Harris was stabbed 68 times, her throat was slit and her skull was fractured; while 13-year-old Ebony was “ravaged with over 60 stab wounds,” including seven fatal stab wounds to her chest. Eleven-year-old Melinda was bashed in the head with a metal pot, and then stomped on the head with such force that a shoe imprint was left on her forehead; she was also stabbed at least 12 times, the prosecutor said. Nine-year-old Kayla’s body was so badly burned that the medical examiner couldn’t determine if she had been stabbed, but there was evidence to support that Kayla had been strangled, the prosecutor said.
The four bodies were found by firefighters on Sept. 9, 2008, all in separate areas of a burning home in the 1500 block of East Avenue J-3 in Lancaster, according to the prosecutor. During his opening statement Wednesday, Sherwood outlined the evidence he would present during trial to link King to the murders.
King was a friend of Harris’ out-of-state son, and he had dropped by the family’s home on the eve of the murders, Sherwood told the jury. Harris’ close friend would testify to having drinks with Harris and King in the early morning hours of Sept. 9, 2008, and then leaving while King was still at the home, Sherwood told the jury.
The evidence would show that King inexplicably murdered everyone inside the home, sometime between 2 and 6:30 a.m., then set the home on fire to cover his crimes and fled in the family car, according to the prosecutor. A next door neighbor would testify to hearing screams coming from the home around 6 a.m., the prosecutor said. That same next door neighbor would testify that she saw King in the family’s driveway as she was leaving for work, Sherwood said.
After setting the home on fire, King drove Harris’ car to the East Lancaster Walmart, parked in front of a fire hydrant and left the keys in the ignition, Sherwood told the jury. Surveillance video from different angles would show King entering the Walmart around 7:05 a.m. and then going into the store’s bathroom carrying men’s clothing, Sherwood said.
“The evidence will show he’s changing out of bloodied clothes and into clothing he just stole from Walmart,” Sherwood said.
The jury would hear from a resident in the neighborhood, who spotted Harris’ unlocked car with the keys still in the ignition and assumed the car was being used for a burglary, the prosecutor said. The resident would testify that he tried to thwart the thief’s getaway by moving the car down the street, removing the keys from the ignition and locking the vehicle, Sherwood told the jury.
Video surveillance would show King leaving Walmart carrying a plastic bag, setting off the store’s security alarm, and then being chased by Walmart staff, Sherwood said. Having no access to Harris’ now locked vehicle, King ran into the neighborhood on foot and later ended up in a neighborhood resident’s backyard, the prosecutor told the jury.
That resident would testify that he drove King to Harris’ vehicle and saw King smash the window, remove bottles from the vehicle and take off on foot, Sherwood told the jury.
After firefighter discovered the bodies in the burning home, homicide detectives set up multiple crime scenes and soon linked King to the crimes, Sherwood said. Hours later, King contacted authorities after seeing a news broadcast that named him as a “person of interest,” Sherwood told the jury.
During trial, the jury would hear an hours-long interview between King and homicide detectives, during which King says, “Sh*t got out of hand and some real f*cked up things happened,” Sherwood said.
“We’re not going to dispute alot of that evidence,” King’s defense attorney Felicia Grant said during her opening statement.
Grant told the jury that King’s interview with homicide detectives would not be pleasant to listen to, and she said her client in the interview “comes off as a manipulative ass.”
Grant acknowledged that more than 90% of the prosecution’s evidence was accurate; but she said the evidence still did not support premeditated murder or torture.
“A murderous frenzy is not torture murder,” Grant told the jury. The defense attorney implored the jury to put aside emotions for the victims, to dispassionately weigh the evidence and to find King not guilty of first degree murder and not guilty of torture.
King is charged with four counts of murder with the special circumstance of multiple murders and torture of three of the victims. It is alleged he used a knife to commit the crimes. King is also charged with arson of an inhabited structure and grand theft auto.
The quadruple murder trial is expected to last more than two weeks.