Motions heard by Judge John M. Dunlow in Warren County Superior Court on Monday paved the way for the murder case against Lester Kearney, 35, of Littleton, N.C., to move closer to jury trial. Kearney is one of two men charged with first-degree murder in connection with a 2018 deadly home invasion and fire at the Lake Gaston home of John and Nancy Alford.

Kearney wore leg shackles as he was escorted into the courtroom by Warren County Sheriff’s Office deputies. Other sheriff’s deputies were stationed at courtroom exits.

In May of 2018, prosecutors announced that they would proceed with the case against Kearney as a potential death penalty matter. One year ago this month, a judge moved the case to trial status, meaning that future courtroom proceedings related to the matter would involved motions in preparation for trial or the trial itself.

On Monday, Dunlow recused himself from future proceedings due to a relationship with the victim’s family and ordered that another judge be assigned to hear the murder case. However, he heard general motions that would allow trial preparations to move forward.

Dunlow granted a request from defense attorney Thomas Sallenger that Kearney be transported from Central Prison in Raleigh where he is housed to the Warren County Sheriff’s Office at times when Sallenger needed to review video evidence with Kearney. Sallenger told Dunlow that meeting with his client for such review was difficult because Kearney was imprisoned out of the local area. In granting the request, Dunlow ordered Sallenger to arrange transportation for Kearney and meeting dates with the Warren County Sheriff’s Office.

Also charged with first-degree murder in connection with the case was Kevin Munn, 31, of Warrenton, N.C.

Munn entered a guilty plea to first-degree murder in May 2018 and agreed to testify in court and cooperate with authorities. In exchange, Munn is serving a life sentence instead of facing the death penalty.

Kearney and Munn are accused of breaking into the Alfords’ Wildwood Point Subdivision home on March 9, 2018. According to law enforcement reports, Mrs. Alford was kidnapped by one of the men and forced to withdraw money from a bank before driving the suspect back to her home. There, the couple were beaten and bound, and left to die after their home was set on fire. Mrs. Alford died at the scene. Her husband managed to escape and was hospitalized.

During a probable cause hearing in April 2018, Mr. Alford identified Kearney as the man who entered his home the previous month.

Kearney’s trial date has not been scheduled at this time.

Luci Weldon is asst. editor at The Warren Record in Warrenton, N.C.