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DA: Missing man's body not needed for a murder conviction

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NASHVILLE — While a Wilson man has been officially listed as a missing person for 16 years, his family and local authorities are sure he’s dead, killed the night he vanished.

Travis Lamont Lynch, 21, disappeared on Christmas Eve 2003. His body has never been found, but a body isn’t needed for a successful prosecution.

“The elements required to be proved beyond a reasonable doubt in homicide cases do not change with the presence or absence of a body,” District Attorney Robert Evans said last week.

Evans didn’t comment on the details of Travis’ disappearance, but spoke in generalities.

“Cases are fact-specific,” Evans said.

Murder convictions without a victim’s body happen. In 2017, Evans’ office successfully prosecuted a Wilson man for first-degree murder although the body of the woman he killed hasn’t been found.

Gregory Parks, 61, is serving a life sentence at Tabor Correctional Institution in Columbus County for the slaying of Isabel Chaveli Palacios. The 20-year-old Bailey woman was last seen at Parks’ Ward Boulevard home on July 31, 2015. 

The state proved to a jury that Parks killed Palacios based on compelling evidence, including the discovery of Palacios’ blood in Parks’ bedroom.

The N.C. Court of Appeals upheld Parks’ conviction.

Parks returned to court last year to face a first-degree murder charge in the 1984 rape and stabbing death of 13-year-old Marsha Anita Whitted. Investigators connected Parks to the crime after he had to submit DNA in the Palacios case.

Parks has previous convictions for common-law robbery, rape, assault on a female, participation in prostitution of a minor and manslaughter, according to the N.C. Department of Public Safety. 

“Obviously, the absence of a body increases the difficulty a prosecutor has in meeting the burden of proof, assuming there is sufficient evidence to proceed at all,” Evans said.

In Travis’ case, not only did he disappear, but his 1992 Pontiac Grand Prix vanished along with him.

Sean Whitley, a Nash County man locked up on federal drug trafficking convictions, has been named by the Nash County Sheriff’s Office as a person of interest in Travis’ case.

Investigators said they haven’t ruled out Travis’ girlfriend Carlisha Whitley as a suspect.

Sean Whitley is Carlisha Whitley’s uncle. Travis spent time with them at a Bailey nightclub the night he dropped off the face of the earth.

Sheriff’s Maj. David Brake said in January that a small circle of people are involved in Travis’ disappearance and probable death.

“We want the people in that circle to sweat,” Brake said. “And we want people to be inspired to call us.”

Anyone with information about Travis’ fate can call sheriff’s Maj. Miste Strickland at 252-532-4574. There’s a reward of up to $20,000 for information leading to an arrest in the case.