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GREENVILLE — After nearly three hours of deliberation, a Pitt County jury found Gregory Kent Parks guilty Wednesday morning in the death and disappearance of 20-year-old Isabel “Chaveli” Palacios.
As Superior Court Judge Wayland Sermons Jr. read the verdicts aloud, Parks looked straight ahead, showing no emotion. But tears flowed for Palacios’ family including her mother, sister and aunts who have been present during the nearly month-long trial.
Other family member and friends of Palacios took up several rows inside the courtroom; they cried, too.
Parks, 59, will spend the rest of his life in prison without the possibility of parole. He was found guilty of first-degree murder under the felony murder rule by way of the commission of attempted second-degree rape and second-degree kidnapping.
The jury also found Parks guilty of first-degree kidnapping, obtaining property by false pretense and being a habitual felon, which is a sentencing enhancement. That enhancement status carries another 10 to 13 years.
Palacios, a young mother from Bailey, was last seen at Parks’ Wilson home on July 31, 2015. No one has seen nor heard from her since, and police have never recovered her body.
Sermons also ordered Parks to receive drug and alcohol treatment as well as sex offender and sexual abuse treatment while in prison.
‘I ALWAYS KNEW THERE WOULD BE HOPE, JUSTICE’
Palacios’ mother, Dominga Palacios, told The Wilson Times prior to Parks’ sentencing phase she was happy that justice was served for her daughter.
“I’ve been waiting for over two years,” she said through an interpreter. “But I always knew there would be hope, justice.”
She said there is also a lot of sadness that remains for her family.
“Because we haven’t found her body,” she said. “I wish I could find her body.”
Family members have relied heavily on their faith throughout the dark time in their lives.
Palacios’ sister, Mary Calvo, told the Times they are still looking for closure not only for themselves but for Palacios’ 5-year-old daughter.
“She always asks, where’s her mommy?” Mary said. “That’s the hard part — answering her questions.”
Calvo said she hopes one day officials will find her sister’s body so she can rest in peace and her daughter can have closure.
Before jurors began deliberations Tuesday afternoon, Palacios’ family and friends stepped out into the courthouse hallway, locked hands and formed a circle with detectives who worked on the case.
Together, they bowed their heads and prayed. Jurors deliberated for about two hours Tuesday and 45 minutes Wednesday morning before rendering their verdicts. Parks looked on with a blank stare Wednesday as court proceedings unfolded.
The jury foreman told The Wilson Times later Wednesday that Wilson County Assistant District Attorney Joel Stadiem and Parks’ defense attorney, Tom Sallenger, both did an exceptional job in the case.
Stadiem argued to jurors that Parks killed Palacios inside his bedroom. When police executed a search warrant on Parks’ Ward Boulevard home, they found what investigators described as a “crime scene.”
That evidence included Palacios’ blood and DNA throughout Parks’ home, most of which was inside his bedroom. Stadiem told jurors that Parks cleaned up after he brutally beat Palacios to death. Palacios and Parks had been smoking crack cocaine for several hours, according to testimony.
Parks lured Palacios to his home with those drugs, but after they ran out, Parks expected payment in return — sex, Stadiem said. But Palacios fought back, which made Parks angry, according to prosecutors.
Parks claimed that Palacios, whose vehicle was at his home, left his house around 2:30 p.m. that day. He testified that she told him she was going to find more drugs. He said she had lost her keys and told him she was getting a ride with another man.
Parks said he never saw her again after that.