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Sheriff Says Indian Slaying Romantic, Not Political

March 30, 1988

LUMBERTON, N.C. (AP) _ A young man was charged Tuesday with killing an Indian judicial candidate and an alleged accomplice committed suicide, in a case the sheriff called ″just another murder″ stemming from a broken romance, not a political assassination.

The death Saturday of Julian Pierce initially was characterized by authorities as a possible political slaying, and some people in Robeson County speculated it was the work of someone who objected to an Indian becoming a judge. The county’s population is evenly divided among Indians, blacks and whites.

″I can assure the world that there was no political involvement in the case,″ Sheriff Hubert Stone said at a news conference. ″I think the people of Robeson County will understand that it’s just another murder.″

Pierce was a popular, 42-year-old legal services lawyer and Lumbee Indian. He was running against the county district attorney for Superior Court judge in a county where racial tensions erupted last month in a hostage-taking at a newspaper.

Sandy Gordon Chavis, 24, a Lumbee Indian, was arrested Tuesday on a murder warrant and was being held at the county jail, Stone said.

The dead man was identified as John Anderson Goins, 24, also an Indian, whose body was found in a closet at his father’s home Tuesday with a bullet wound to the head. A murder warrant also was issued for Goins, Stone said.

Pierce was dating Ruth Locklear, whose daughter, Shannon Bullard, had been involved with Goins, Stone said.

″They (Goins and Miss Bullard) started having problems and they broke up,″ Stone said. ″Two warrants were issued last week by the girlfriend’s mother, charging Goins with trespassing. Goins felt Pierce had something to do with it. He got mad and he killed him.″

Pierce was shot in the chest and side early Saturday morning. Gunmen blasted through a broken window in his kitchen door and entered the room to shoot him again in the head with a 12-gauge shotgun, Stone said.

Stone said Chavis said in a confession that Goins had pulled the trigger on the pump shotgun that killed Pierce. The gun belonged to Chavis’s brother, Stone said.

Chavis accompanied Goins, who was described as a longtime friend of his, during the crime, Stone said.

Goins had gone to Ms. Locklear’s house after the slaying, but ″didn’t tell her he had killed Mr. Pierce,″ Stone said.

Neither Chavis nor Goins, a security guard in Raleigh who had recently dropped out of North Carolina State University, had criminal records, Stone said. Both were from Pembroke.

Stone said Goins apparently left notes to his parents in his apartment, but he wouldn’t elborate on their contents.

Pierce had been running for Superior Court judge in the May 3 Democratic primary against District Attorney Joe Freeman Britt, who has a reputation for never losing a death penalty case. Because there was no Republican opposition, the primary winner would have been elected in November.

Because Pierce is dead, state law provides that Britt, who is white, would become judge. But Pierce’s supporters planned to meet Thursday with Gov. Jim Martin to request a special legislative session to seek an exception to the law.

About 15 black and Indian attorneys met Monday to select a candidate to take Pierce’s place. Afterward, they said one to four attorneys were being considered.

Despite the arrest, a leader of the American Indian Movement said AIM was joining with community leaders to ask for ″a full-scale independent investigation into all the details surrounding this, the killing of Julian Pierce, and the death of one of the suspects.″

″All we are saying is there are unanswered questions,″ said Vernon Bellecourt of AIM’s San Francisco office, who said he had been in Robeson County since Monday night.

Bellecourt said county residents who knew Goins were shocked and couldn’t believe he would take his own life. He said AIM would leave a representative in the county to look into the various Indian allegations and document what he said were 18 unsolved murder cases.

When asked if there were 18 unsolved murders, Stone said: ″There’s probably more than that if you go back to the year 1800.″ As for why there was an arrest so quickly in the Pierce killing, he said, ″you get breaks on some of them and no breaks on others.″

Before Tuesday’s arrest, commissioners in the racially troubled county of 100,000 people in southeastern North Carolina had urged the appointment of a special prosecutor to investigate Pierce’s killing because of fears it was racially linked.

Anger at what the Indians called corrupt local government and entrenched racism boiled over Feb. 1, when two Lumbees took hostages at The Robesonian newspaper in Lumberton, the county seat.

The siege ended when the governor agreed to appoint a task force to investigate allegations that law enforcement was biased against racial minorities and that drug traffickers had haven in the county.

The Lumbees, who are native to the region, are not a federally recognized tribe.

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