Orange County

Murder trial witness says Arrington bragged about killing UNC professor with a rock

Accused killer Troy Arrington’s fellow inmate at the Orange County jail, Ethan Peace, testified Tuesday that Arrington bragged about murdering UNC professor Feng Liu to impress fellow inmates with his toughness.

“Trying to act like a bad ass,” Peace said.

At the end of the day, it was disclosed that Arrington would not testify in his own defense.

Arrington, 30, of Chapel Hill, and Derick Davis II, 26, of Durham, are accused of killing Liu. Police say they hit the research professor with a rock, inflicting massive head trauma, stealing his wallet and credit cards and leaving him to die July 23, 2014, near the university campus.

Arrington pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder last week.

Both Arrington and Davis have been held in the Orange County jail since their arrests on July 24, 2014.

Peace testified Tuesday morning that he has only spent six months out of jail since 2009, much of that time being incarcerated in the Orange County jail including the last nine months.

Peace, 35, has been charged with a wide variety of crimes ranging from communicating threats, placing harassing phone calls, misdemeanor possessions of marijuana and a federal charge of distributing cocaine. He faces pending state charges of assault and manufacturing a controlled substance for sale, delivery and distribution.

Prosecutor Jim Woodall, the Orange-Chatham district attorney, asked Peace, “Do you recognize the defendant?”

Peace said, “Yes,” that they had “housed” together at the Orange County jail sometime around August 2015 and again “about four months back” in 2016.

Woodall asked if Peace had ever been aware of the charges against Arrington while being housed with him and if so, how.

“He was bragging about it,” Peace testified. “He said ... he hit the man in the back of the head with a rock.”

Peace claimed Arrington told him that he had stolen Liu’s wallet and used the stolen credit card to buy shoes and a phone. Peace said the only information Arrington gave up about the dead man’s identity was that he’d been a UNC professor.

Peace admitted to a lifetime of mental-health problems and drug addiction but said he drew “the line” at murder and felt morally compelled to alert authorities to Arrington’s admission of guilt.

He said when Arrington became aware of Peace’s breach of trust, he threatened to “jump” him – beat him up.

Peace said forced him to write a statement retracting his statement about Arrington’s alleged confession.

“(Arrington) said I had to write it down on a piece of paper and give it to him,” Peace said. “Or I’d get hurt.”

Peace said, he took the threat as real, wrote a retraction on a piece of paper and gave it to Arrington.

Arrington’s attorney, Orange County public defender James Williams, cross-examined Peace, asking whether he had made any deals to lessen his current incarceration sentences in exchange for testifying

Woodall said he had promised to inform a federal judge that Peace was cooperative but that Peace had not received nor been promised any reduction of sentence in exchange for his testimony.

Peace said no deals were made other than Woodall promising to say Peace was a cooperative inmate witness.

At 5 p.m. the jury was dismissed for the day and attorneys met with Presiding Superior Court Judge Allen Baddour who was told Arrington had decided not to testify as part of his own defense.

Baddour asked Arrington if he had discussed his choice not to testify with his attorneys and if his attorneys had advised him on the matter.

Arrington answered, “yes.”

The judge emphasized to Arrington that it was his personal and ultimately sole decision whether or not to testify in his own defense, regardless of any advice given to him. Arrington indicated to the court that he understood and would not testify.

Baddour told attorneys that his instructions for the jury will include the charges of first-degree murder on premeditation, deliberation and felony murder with robbery with a dangerous weapon as a felony and robbery with a dangerous weapon.

The state requested that a charge of aiding and abetting be added to the jury’s instructions. After the defense argued against that, Baddour ultimately decided to include that charge in his eventual jury instructions.

The trial resumes Wednesday morning.

Colin Warren-Hicks: 919-419-6636, @CWarrenHicks