SALISBURY, N.C. (QUEEN CITY NEWS) — A Rowan County judge sentenced the second of three defendants connected to the brutal beating, murder and dismemberment of a man’s body after a drug purchase. 

Lauren Grimes, 23, pled guilty Wednesday afternoon to felony accessory after the fact – murder in the killing of Michael Earley. 

Grimes, who appeared soft-spoken in court Aug. 9, admitted that she helped clean her vehicle after it was used to transport a beaten Earley to the spot where he would eventually die.

Court documents show in May 2019, Grimes, along with Madison Harrington and Carlos Rosas Jr., met up with Earley to purchase weed. This was done in Grimes’ vehicle.   

At one point the trio decided to steal the drug from Earley, but he struggled.   

During this time, Rosas admitted to hitting him three times with a baseball bat.   

Grimes also admitted she helped dig the grave and tried to hide and dispose of Earley’s body.   

The Rowan County district attorney told the judge on Wednesday that there was no evidence to show whether Grimes helped dismember Earley’s body.   

Going into Wednesday’s sentencing hearing, Grimes was faced with the potential to spend up to 10 years in prison.   

However, a judge ruled that she would face at least 58 months, and no more than 82 months, which comes out to between five and seven years. This includes the four years she has already served.

During the sentencing hearing, the judge took several moments to collect his thoughts given the graphic nature of the murder.   

Before his ruling he said this was a prime example of “what could go wrong when nothing’s supposed to go wrong.”  

While they were expected to appear in court, Michael’s family members did not show up for the sentencing, citing the mental toll the hearings had had on them.   

However, a statement was read from Earley’s father which read, in part:

I ask the Court to please remember; before you sentence this defendant, my son, Michael Elijah Earley, will never come home after 5,10,20 years. He will never have another birthday party, never enjoy another Christmas with his family, never have another Thanksgiving dinner. We will NEVER see his happy smile, nor hear his laughing voice again. If you would ask yourself, If Michael was your son, would you be ok with the verdict?

Earley’s girlfriend at the time of his death, Katelyn Smith, along with his longtime friend Tristan Tharney, both shook their heads when Grimes tried to apologize for her involvement in his death.   

After the hearing, the two also said they were not happy with the judge’s decision to give Grimes less than the maximum sentence.   

“We can take a life and covering it up and get less than 10 years,” Tharney said. “It’s disgusting.”  

Smith echoed that sentiment. 

“I just don’t think it’s fair,” she said. “She was involved in a murder, and she’s not getting what she’s deserved.”

Earley’s mother, Jessica, who was unable to attend the sentence, told Queen City News she felt the DA had dropped the ball in her son’s case.   

“My son deserves better than this,” she said. “The DA dropped the ball on this!! All three should have been charged with murder right out the gate.”   

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Rowan County Sgt. Patrick Schmeltzer said he respected the judge’s ruling in this case. 

“I think he took some time to deliberate how he wanted to go with this,” he said. “And I think he has to look at several different factors. The fact that she has no record, I think played a big factor in that. … I don’t guess I’m not going to second-guess what he does. I think he, he made his decision pulling all the factors into it and doing the right thing for him in his mind.”   

The hearing for Earley’s co-defendant Harrington hearing has yet to be scheduled.