Murder trial begins for traffic stop shooter

The murder trial of Edwardo Wong began on Sept. 3 after nearly three weeks of jury selection. Wong is being charged with first-degree murder in the shooting death of state Trooper David Shawn Blanton Jr. during a traffic stop on Interstate 40 near Canton on July 17, 2008.

Blanton’s murder occurred more than two and a half years ago and has devastated thousands of citizens in the surrounding counties. Blanton was born in Cherokee, North Carolina and resided in the area all of his life. He attended Smoky Mountain High School, where he demonstrated a passion for sports by wrestling, running track, and was All Conference in football. After graduating high school, Blanton continued to be active in sports by playing fast pitch softball. At the time of Blanton’s death, he was the head coach for the JV softball team at Smoky Mountain High.

Blanton began working for the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians as an emergency dispatcher until he enrolled in the 29-week long program to become a North Carolina Highway Patrol. On May 11, 2006, Blanton graduated from the program and became the first enrolled member of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians to serve as a North Carolina State Trooper. He was assigned to Troop G in Haywood County.

While serving in Haywood County, Blanton met 2006 Western Carolina University graduate, Michaela Layman. Layman attended WCU, where she majored in Spanish and Dance and was a member of WCU’s Dance Team. Blanton and Layman married on August 23, 2007, and welcomed their son, Tye, seven weeks before his due date on May 31, 2008. Tye’s early arrival came with several medical conditions, but he put up a tremendous fight and earned the title of “Little Trooper.” Tye died a short four months after he was born in October of 2008.

Seventeen days after welcoming his newborn son into the world, Blanton was shot at 10:30 p.m. on July 17, during a routine traffic stop. Blanton was rushed to Memorial Mission Hospital in Asheville, the same hospital where his son was being treated.

Blanton stopped Wong after running his license plate tags and discovering the tags were invalid. After a struggle, Wong shot Blanton three times, once in the ear, once in the wrist, and once in the shoulder. While Blanton lay helpless, Wong took the troopers service weapon and fled the scene. Wong was captured shortly after by the Haywood County sheriff’s office and was charged with murder.

The delay of a trial was due in large part of jury selection; because of the emotion involved in the case, it was moved from its original county in Haywood to Newton, North Carolina to reduce media interference. The delay continued while Jim Moore and Reid Brown, the assistant district attorneys handling the case for District Attorney Michael Bonfoey’s office, focused their questions during jury selection on two things; whether or not potential jurors would be emotionally and physically able to listen and watch the 19-minute video of the traffic stop, where the trooper can be heard pleading for his life by telling Wong he has a wife and child, and where the jurors stood on the possibility of the death penalty, which Wong faces if convicted. After a long deliberation process the fourteen jurors and two alternates were finally selected.

Wong does not deny that he killed Blanton, but through the trial his attorneys hope to prove that although he is guilty of murder, because it was not pre-mediated or deliberate, or because of brain trauma he endured as a child, he should not be convicted of first-degree murder and have to face the death penalty. Wong’s attorneys have stated that he will plead guilty to murder if offered life in prison; Blanton’s family and widow feel that the death penalty is the only hope for justice.

A little more than a week into the trial, the courtroom has already been filled with such a high level of emotion and proves that the remaining weeks on the journey to seek justice for the death of true mountain hero is going to be anything but swift and easy.