Orange County

Tears are drawn in the courtroom during murder trial for 2014 slaying of UNC professor

HILLSBOROUGH — A neurosurgeon testified Monday that when he examined Feng Liu shortly after the professor had been attacked with a rock, swelling in Liu's brain was reaching a critical point and medical staff decided to proceed with surgery in an attempt to lessen the swelling.

Dr. Eldad Hadar said that the surgical team operated on Liu, removing a piece of his skull, and found multiple "points of fracture" in the skull. Liu died in the intensive care unit at UNC Hospitals the next morning.

Hadar is the vice chair of and the professor & residency program director for the Department of Neurosurgery at UNC-Chapel and the section chief of functional neurosurgery.

Troy Arrington, 30, of Chapel Hill, and Derick Davis II, 26, of Durham, are accused of assaulting Liu inflicting massive head trauma, robbing him of his wallet and credit cards and leaving the professor for dead on July 23, 2014, near the UNC-Chapel Hill campus.

The men have been held in the Orange County jail since their arrest on July 24, 2014. Arrington pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder in the case last week.

On Monday, Arrington and his lawyers — Orange County public defender James Williams and Dana Graves listened as Orange County District Attorney Jim Woodall questioned Hadar.

Hadar explained to the jury that it's common practice for emergency room doctors to consult a neurosurgeon after determining a patient has suffered severe head or spinal injury.

Woodall also called State Bureau of Investigation (SBI) DNA analyst Erin Ermish to the stand.

Chapel Hill Police Investigator Patrick Gilchrist testified last Friday that he found a landscaping rock in the yard of a home near the intersection of West University Drive and Ransom Street in Chapel Hill.

Liu, 59, of Durham was hit in the head with the rock around 1 p.m. while out for a walk, authorities said.

Ermish testified that "touch DNA samples" were swabbed from the rock. Touch DNA can be left on an object after an individual has handled or touched the object.

The touch DNA samples found on the rock generated a "predominate profile" indicating that Liu had come into contact with the rock. Other touch DNA swabbed off the rock was of an insignificant quantity and thus quality to construct an additional profile of an additional individuate who had possible contact with the landscaping rock.

The prosecution put Liu's son-in-law, Will Norflett, on the stand.

Norflett has been the executor of Liu's estate and was personally close to Liu before his death.

Norflett acted as a character witness for the prosecution and testified about money charged to Liu's financial cards after the robbery.

Woodall showed Norflett a large picture of Liu on a tropical beach, on vacation, leaning back in a light blue shirt and casual, loose pants. Norflett became emotional as he followed Woodall's instruction to hold the vacation picture high, the image pointed toward and jury, and described who Liu was as a person and what he had meant to his family.

One family member, shaken, stood up crying and exited the courtroom.

Norflett himself broke into tears when asked to describe his father-in-law's appearance while he lay in ICU.

"He was unrecognizable," Norflett said. "I would have never known it was him, if I would have seen him and did not have the context. He looked like his head had been blown up like a balloon."

Responding to a question posed by Woodall, Norflett said "yes," that he had been responsible for the closings of all his father-in-law's financial accounts.

Woodall presented Norflett with a photograph of Liu's Visa card and with statements of purchases made on the card.

"And were you able to identify an unauthorized use of this card, in this case?" Woodall asked.

"Yes sir, August 24, Virgin Mobile for $40," Norflett said.

Norflett identified an "activity alert" sent from Bank of America on July 23, 2014, regarding "unusual activity" on Liu's ATM card to make a purchase of $539.96 from

Orange County Sheriff's Office detention officer Austin Batman was called to testify about the night of October 29, 2015. Batman said he was making his usual evening rounds in the detention center when Arrington had handed him two envelops containing letters the inmate wished mailed.

There is nothing unusual in an inmate asking a detention officer to mail off letters.

But, Batman said, he noticed one of the letters written by Arrington was addressed to Arrington. The address written on the envelope was for the Orange County jail.

Arrington had written a letter to himself.

It's legal for detention officers to check for contraband in and read inmates' outgoing mail, unless the mail is going to a representing attorney.

Detention facility operations administrator 1st Lt. J. Sellew testified that upon further inspection of the letter it was discovered that the letter had been signed as if it had been written by Arrington's co-defendant Davis.

Batman read the letter aloud to the court, "Troy...why you snitching on me? Whatever you say about me, I will turn it around on you. Troy I got you into this S--- with me because you're is a b---- a--- and I knew that you were going to turn on me once the police started asking you questions about the robbery..."

The trial resumes at 9:30 a.m. on Tuesday, when the prosecution is expected to call Ethan Peace before the court. Peace allegedly interacted with both co-defendants while serving time in the Orange County detention center.