Defense Blames Brutal Murder on Mental Illness, Childhood Trauma

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Fred McCune photo

The capital murder trial of a Newport man charged with killing a Morehead City woman in 2016 began Monday in Carteret County Superior Court.

David Isaiah Godwin, 28, is charged the first-degree murder of Wendy Rae Tamagne, 37. If found guilty, Godwin will receive either a life sentence or the death penalty.

Philip J. Clark, III, of Beaufort and Ernest L. Conner, Jr., of Greenville are representing Godwin, and Assistant District Attorneys David Spence and Ashley Eatmon are representing the prosecution. Superior Court Judge Joshua Willey is presiding.

On July 5, 2016, authorities received a request for a welfare check from Tamagne’s mother, Jill Bergener who had grown concerned after not hearing from her daughter for several days.

When authorities arrived at Tamagne’s Country Club Road apartment later that morning, they found her body. Tamange had been beaten and stabbed, and her body had been dismembered.

Tamagne was last seen on July 3 at George’s Bar in Morehead City, and Godwin was with her.

During the prosecution’s opening statement, Assistant District Attorney David Spence told the jury that police discovered “a crime scene unlike anything ever seen in Morehead City.”  

Upon their arrival, authorities found a blood-soaked bed and a kitchen knife, which Spence described as “the biggest knife from the butchers block in the kitchen.”

During a subsequent search of the apartment, officers and detectives found several heavy-duty trash bags in a spare room. When one bag was opened, Tamagne’s right forearm was clearly visible. An additional trash bag revealed other body parts. The body of the victim’s cat was found in a nearby trash can.

Local authorities left the scene undisturbed until the State Bureau of Investigation could respond.

The assistant DA’s presentation included graphic photos of the crime scene and Tamagne’s dismembered body.

“According her the autopsy, her death was the result of three things,” Spence told jurors. “Blunt force trauma to the head, strangulation, and her throat was cut.”

Godwin, seated at the defense table, sat with his head lowered, never looking up as the prosecution presented more evidence.

The victim’s injuries showed no defensive wounds. Spence said it appears Godwin allegedly sat on top of Tamagne, rendering her unable to defend herself as he brutally beat her about the face and head. Neighbors told police they did not hear any disturbance during the night of the victim’s death.

Spence presented evidence taken from security footage at Lowe’s Home Improvement on July 4, which shows Godwin purchasing several hacksaws. Photos from the Morehead City CVS Pharmacy show him purchasing trash bags.

During his opening statement defense attorney Ernest Conner Jr. said he believes Godwin’s alleged actions were based on mental health issues and not premeditation.

“Mr. Godwin and Ms. Tamagne were friends and drinking buddies,” he said, and that his client’s actions were the result of a long history of mental health issues and alcohol abuse. He also indicated that Godwin had been treated with a range of medications, saying some were possibly contraindicated to others his client was taking.

“It’s a case about genetic mental conditions,” he told jurors. “This is not a ‘Who done it?’ This is a ‘Why did this happen?’”

According to the defense, alcohol was a contributing factor when mixed with Godwin’s mental health condition, medications, and the lasting effects of early childhood trauma.

“His mind was spinning,” Conner said, waving his hand in the air.

Throughout his life, Godwin had been diagnosed, by different doctors, with a variety of mental health issues ranging from Asperger’s Syndrome to bipolar disorder.

He said Godwin was born “mentally damaged” to parents who also had mental health issues, and that those issues were genetic and could be traced as far back as Godwin’s great grandmother.

As an infant Godwin was diagnosed with malnourishment and removed from his mother by the social services. He lived in seven different foster homes until Van and Linda Godwin adopted him when he was nine months old. Van and Linda had also opened their home to Godwin’s mother prior to his birth.

According to Connor, Godwin had no recollection of the night Tamagne was killed, but that Godwin said he knew he must have committed the crime.

Godwin told authorities he woke up naked around 9 am on July 4. After finding Tamagne deceased, he allegedly tried to cover up the crime, but gave up and fled the area.

Godwin took Tamagne’s truck, drove it to Clayton and abandoned it there before making his way to Raleigh. There, he caught a train to Warrenton, OR, where he turned himself in to authorities July 8.