FLORENCE, S.C. – The capital murder trial of a 30-year-old Darlington man took an unexpected turn Monday afternoon when he opted to plead guilty to accessory before the fact of murder rather than risk a possible double murder conviction and death sentence.
Fonnelze Travis Delaine alerted court officials that he would plead guilty to accessory before the fact of murder as well as distribution of cocaine base (3rd offense) just hours after jury selection got under way in Florence. Circuit Judge Thomas Russo accepted his plea in the slayings of 32-year-old Talya Poston and 26-year-old Billy Hall but deferred sentencing until 9:30 a.m. Tuesday to give Delaine and the state time to notify those who would like to address the court.
Though he was not physically present Sept. 1, 2009, when Poston and Hall were shot to death on Isaiah Street, a dirt road just off of Flowers Road near Pamplico Highway, according to 12th Circuit Solicitor Ed Clements III, Delaine was “the brains, the mastermind, the whole factor and lynchpin” for what happened that day.
Clements said Delaine hatched the plan soon after he learned Hall was working as an informant for Florence County Sheriff’s narcotics officers. In September 2008, Delaine sold Hall cocaine base on two different occasions at an Irby Street motel. Both times, Hall was wired, meaning his phone calls and those meetings with Delaine were recorded.
Delaine was eventually arrested on drug distribution charges. Prosecutors offered him a 15-year sentence in exchange for a guilty plea, but as part of the court process of disclosure, they were forced to show Delaine and his attorney surveillance video of the controlled drug transactions. Despite the fact the video had no audio, Delaine recognized a handicap parking tag and medical oxygen tubes in the video and subsequently identified Hall and Poston as the informants.
“He told his girlfriend he had to get rid of them, he had to prevent them from coming to court,” Clements said. “She got worried because she thought he was going to hurt them. She thought he was going to have them beat up so she called Allan Rhodes with the sheriff’s department and told him what Mr. Delaine had been saying.”
But by that time, Clements said Delaine’s plan – much worse than a beating -- was already in motion. He’d contracted Laross Antonio Graham -- an associate who sold drugs for him – to permanently silence Hall and Poston.
Graham has told investigators that Delaine hired him to kill the couple, but he didn't think he could actually carry out the shootings so he recruited 28-year-old Montez Barker. Barker had no connection to Delaine but was recently out of prison and unbeknownst to Delaine, wearing an electronic monitor as part of his parole.
According to investigators, on the orders of Delaine, Barker and Graham had Poston and Hall pick them up on Sept. 1. The four rode around in Poston’s Ford Explorer for awhile and eventually ended up on the dirt road just off of Flowers Road near Pamplico Highway.
“The night before that, Mr. Graham had been at a recording studio Mr. Delaine had near McLeod Park, and that’s when Mr. Delaine told him he had to make this happen,” Clements said. “That next morning, the day Billy and Talya were killed, there were 20-something text messages and calls between Mr. Delaine and Mr. Graham, and they continued on right up to the point where Billy Hall and Talya Poston picked up Graham at Barker. Then, the phone calls and texts stop for about 30 minutes, and the next call is from Talya Poston to 911 where she’s saying, ‘I’ve been shot. We’re on Isaiah Road, and people are shooting at us.’”
Prosecutors contend Barker was in the back seat and shot Hall, who was sitting in passenger seat, in the back of the head. Poston also was shot but got out of the Explorer, ran down the road and called 911.
“At some point, Barker gave Graham the gun and told him to go after her and finish her off,” Clements said.
In Poston's dying call, she said she was shot at Isaiah Street and Flowers Road — precisely where the GPS on Barker's electronic monitor placed him at the same time.
Barker and Graham then left the two dead on the road, took the Explorer and later burned it. The Explorer was found soon after the murders, parked off of First Street in east Florence and burned nearly down to its frame, Clements said.
Prosecutors say Delaine brought 33-year-old Anthony Wingate into the plan after the murders, ordering him to pick up Graham from the crime scene and dispose of the gun.
“Barker had that ankle monitor so they’re able to track them everywhere they went that day,” Clements said. “All the pieces fell together, and the sheriff’s office was on the scene immediately.”
Barker and Graham pleaded guilty in circuit court earlier this year.
Montez Barker, 28, entered an Alford plea to two counts of murder, larceny more than $5,000, third-degree arson and criminal conspiracy. He was sentenced to life without the possibility of parole plus 25 years on all counts.
Laross Antonio Graham pleaded guilty to two counts of murder, grand larceny more than $5,000 and criminal conspiracy. Wingate also pleaded guilty to accessory after the fact of murder and criminal conspiracy. Wingate and Graham were slated to testify in the Delaine trial. They are scheduled to be sentenced at a later date.
Delaine will be sentenced at 9:30 a.m. Tuesday in the 11th floor courtroom at the Florence City-County Complex. He faces 30 years to life in prison for his crimes.