The Reverend Jean Darter, a retired Baptist minister, was found dead in his Reidsville, North Carolina home on the evening of August 28, 1984 by his daughter. Darter had been tied to a bedpost at the foot of his bed by a belt that was wrapped around his neck. Both of his arms had been slashed open, his head was bloated, and his face was covered with blood. There were numerous cuts and bruises on his head and his left cheek bore an imprint that matched the bottom of a broken Tab bottle lying on the bed. Blood and fragments of glass were in his eyes and a bloody razor blade lay near his right hand. Certain items were missing from the home.
Expert medical testimony showed that any of three major areas of trauma could have been life threatening but that Darter's death was due to ligature strangulation caused by the belt around his neck. His death had occurred over a period of five or six minutes or longer depending upon the amount of force used during the strangulation. Darter would have lost consciousness within three to five minutes after his breathing stopped.
Fingerprints were found in Darter’s home on a hall telephone, in the bedroom, and in the kitchen. Some of the fingerprints found matched those of Simpson. Others matched the fingerprints of Simpson's girl friend, Stephanie Eury, a 16-year-old black female.
Police traced a phone call from Darter’s home to a friend of Simpson who identified Simpson as the caller. On that basis Simpson was arrested on September 21 on a warrant for an unrelated assault in Greensboro. After advising Simpson of his Miranda rights, the arresting officers briefly questioned him about the unrelated assault. They then began to discuss Darter’s murder with him. Simpson initially denied any knowledge of the murder. Officers stopped questioning him once he agreed to take a polygraph test. After the polygraph procedures were explained to him and he was told the machine would reveal any lying on his part, Simpson said that the machine would show he was lying and that there was something he needed to tell the officers.
Shortly thereafter Simpson was again advised of his Miranda rights. He then gave a statement in the nature of a confession indicating that he and Eury had gone to Darter's home on August 26 at her suggestion on the pretext that they were travelers who needed help. Once there the Reverend gave them food and money and allowed them to use the telephone in his home. After leaving the Darter home Simpson and Eury decided to go back and rob Darter.
Simpson said that on the evening of Monday, the 27th, he and Eury left Eury’s home and began to plan the robbery and murder of Darter. Simpson stated that: "Stephanie said if we go in there and rob the man we can't let him live and I said that is the truth."
They then went to Darter’s home, and after making sure that no one could see them, knocked on the door. Darter let them in. When Darter attempted to call police to help Simpson and Eury, Simpson pulled Darter away from the telephone. He told Eury to cut the phone cord, which she did. Eury ran to the living room and pulled the drapes while Simpson held Darter down on the bed in the bedroom.
Eury began to ransack the residence for valuables to steal. When she brought food to the bedroom to show to Simpson he told her to look for money. He continued to hold Darter on the bed and told Darter, "I want some money or else." Simpson stated that Darter said that he had no money and to go ahead and kill him adding that, "The preacher was smiling as he told me to kill him because he was going to heaven and this made me mad."
Simpson called to Eury to check the bedroom for money. He grabbed a belt from the footboard of the bed and looped it around Darter's neck. He held the belt tightly around Darter’s neck with his right hand while he went through items on the bed with his left hand and "told the preacher that he better tell me where some more money was but the preacher could not talk as he was choking." The belt around Darter’s neck broke, and Simpson grabbed a thicker leather belt from the footboard and looped it around Darter's neck, pulling it tight.
Simpson called to Eury "to bring me something in the bedroom to kill this preacher with." When the items Eury brought Simpson to kill Darter with proved unsatisfactory, he had her hold the belt and pull it tighter around Darter's neck while he went to the kitchen "and looked around for some device to beat the old preacher and finish him off."
Having found a full sixteen-ounce soft drink bottle of Tab, Simpson returned to the bedroom. He and Eury then pulled together to tighten the belt around Darter's neck. Simpson then hit Darter in the face with the bottle three times at which point it broke. Simpson tied the end of the belt to the footboard of the bed and went to the bathroom of the home and got a razor blade.
During this time Eury continued to search the house and gather up more items. Simpson cut both of Darter's arms while Eury gathered up items to be stolen and put them in a grocery bag and a plastic laundry basket. They then cut off the lights in the home and left with the items they had stolen. After Simpson confessed warrants were issued charging him with first-degree murder, robbery with a dangerous weapon, and conspiracy to commit murder.
Simpson was tried in Rockingham County Superior Court. In 1985 he was sentenced to death and then resentenced after it was ruled the trial judge's refusal to allow more than one of Simpson's attorneys to present final arguments to the jury was in error. In 1988 Simpson was again sentenced to death, but a subsequent appellate court ruled that the jury had been erroneously instructed that the finding of mitigating circumstances had to be unanimous and vacated the sentence. Ultimately, Simpson's third death sentence was confirmed. Governor Michael F. Easley denied Simpson clemency. Accomplice Eury was convicted of first-degree murder and given a life sentence.