It’s not often for a courtroom to be a place for hugs, but it happened Monday when family members of a murder victim and family of the murderer came together to support each other.
Joshua Nathaniel Beard, 40, entered a guilty plea Monday during Burke County Superior Court in the killing of Robin Berry Teague, 63, who was found dead June 17, 2018.
Beard was sentenced by Buncombe County Superior Court Judge Jacqueline Grant to 20 to 25 years in prison. A slew of other charges against Beard were dropped as a result of the plea deal. Had the case gone to trial, Beard would have faced the death penalty.
Teague was found that day by one of her daughters, severely beaten with a bookcase covering her body on the floor of a home on her property in Icard. Teague’s daughter had passed Beard as she walked into the house, and when she started yelling for help for her mom, Beard attacked her with a broom, Assistant District Attorney Michelle Lippert said.
The daughter escaped and called 911, watching as Beard drove away in a pickup truck that belonged to his father. Police used surveillance footage from surrounding businesses to track Beard from the time he left Teague’s property to his home near Cajah’s Mountain, and he later was arrested in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, Lippert said.
DNA collected from beneath Teague’s fingers was sent off to the State Bureau of Investigation’s crime lab, where it was found to be a match for Beard, Lippert said.
The autopsy performed on Teague found blunt-force trauma to be the cause of her death, with evidence of strangulation and injuries to both the upper and lower parts of her body, including rib fractures, Lippert said. Investigators told the state that the condition Teague was in when she was found was one of the worst they had seen.
One of Beard’s defense attorneys, Lisa Dubs, spoke to the court on his behalf Monday, telling the victim’s family that he was sorry.
She said Beard had mental health problems, and that he wasn’t on his medication at the time of the murder. His father had tried to have him committed, Dubs said, but the father wasn’t able to get through all the steps for the commitment.
For the state, members of Teague’s family stepped forward to speak about Teague and how her killing had affected them.
Among those family members was Kayla Winebarger, one of Teague’s granddaughters.
“Life is a precious thing,” Winebarger said. “You never know when you’re going to lose it. Unfortunately, for my grandmother, it was taken too soon. My grandmother was a very important person in my life. I saw her as a role model. She was like a mother to me, more than just a grandmother.”
She said she didn’t feel like herself without her grandmother’s presence in her life.
“I hate when I have to talk about my grandmother’s life and you come into the picture,” Winebarger told Beard. “You had no reason to take her away from her family the way that you did.”
Teague’s murder sent her into a depression, one that she said caused her to lose friends.
“Everything around me reminded me of her,” she said. “Our family has drifted apart after her passing. She was the center of our family. People told me that they were sorry for my loss, but I felt unchanged. She was still gone.”
Now, she’s left to think about the milestones Teague will miss in her life, like the day she gets her driver’s license, or when she graduate’s high school and goes to college.
“I wish that she (could be) here to see me get married, and meet my future children that would’ve loved her because everyone did,” Winebarger said. “Her story impacted so many lives around me. There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t think of her. Goodbyes hurt the most, and this story is not finished.”
Amber Winebarger, Teague’s oldest daughter, also addressed the court Monday.
“On June 17, 2018, it was like my world fell apart,” she said.
She said she got a call from the sheriff’s office that her mom had died. When she saw the crime scene tape up at her mom’s house, she said she still couldn’t believe it.
“My mother, she was always so beautiful, smart, talented, so strong,” Amber said. “She was my best friend.”
It was a struggle, she said, to tell her children that Teague had been beaten so severely that they couldn’t see her.
Amelia Peacock, another of Teague’s daughters, clutched her great-grandmother’s Bible and the last photo taken of Teague while she spoke to the court. She told reporters after court that she had seen her mother carry that Bible to church the morning she was killed.
“This is my great-grandmother’s Bible, it was my mom’s Bible,” Peacock said in court. “...The only thing that’s kept me alive, pretty much, is just knowing that she doesn’t know any of this pain anymore. She doesn’t know what happened, she’s in heaven, she doesn’t know any of this.”
Forgiveness is something Peacock said she’s working on.
“Forgiveness is a big thing,” Peacock said. “I realize that I can’t live my life without forgiving you, and I want to do that so bad, because I know that God has done that, and I pray that he’s with you wherever you go. I pray that he speaks to you, speaks to your heart, and I want you to know that because you are someone’s child, too.”
She turned to Beard’s family to tell them she was sorry for what they are going through, too.
“We have prayed for you, and I pray for you continuously, because I know there’s no comfort I can give you, but all I can do is love you in the best way that I can and just wish that it weren’t this way,” Peacock said. “I have no hard feelings toward you and I just want you to know that I’ll always be praying for you. Always.”
When all was said and done, Teague’s family members and Beard’s family members wrapped each other in hugs in the courtroom’s gallery.
“You talk about her still being in heaven,” Grant said just a few minutes before. “And we know that she may not physically be with us, but spiritually she is with you always, and I was really impressed with the family member, Amber … it’s one thing to call yourself a Christian, but in times like these when you have to actually live the life of a Christian, and practice forgiveness, and that’s what you’ve represented and your family has represented.”