Leaders Fear Violent Reaction to Killing of Indian Candidate
WAKULLA, N.C. (AP) _ Community leaders appealed for calm after the slaying of an activist who had sought to become the first Indian judge in racially tense Robeson County, but two other candidates reported receiving death threats.
Julian Pierce, 42, was killed in his home early Saturday by three shotgun blasts fired at point-blank range, in what authorities called the first assassination of a candidate for political office in the state. No arrests have been made.
Since the killing, Pierce’s opponent in the judgeship race and a friend of Pierce running for office in Forsyth County have reported receiving death threats, The Charlotte Observer said today.
The Rev. Joy Johnson of the First Baptist Church said Sunday he hoped the crime could be solved ″before the heat rises and before there is a war.″
″We’ve had a calm night and day, but it will take at least a few more days until the tension is out of the air,″ said Johnson, who along with other community leaders appealed to residents on Sunday to avoid violence. ″Anything could spark something. I hope that doesn’t happen.″
Pierce, a lawyer, was running for a Superior Court judgeship in Robeson County, where few Indians hold office or work in law enforcement, despite a population that is 37 percent Indian.
He was alone Saturday morning in his brick ranch house, which is flanked by farmland and another small house, authorities said.
″The best we can establish, he got home shortly after midnight, he undressed and went to bed,″ said Robeson County Sheriff Hubert Stone. ″Then someone came to the back door, knocking. Pierce slipped on a pair of jeans and went to the door. When he got to the door, the person either shot through the window or stuck the gun through the window and shot Pierce in the chest.
″As Pierce turned, he was then shot in the lower left side. Pierce fell to the floor,″ the sheriff said.
″It just looked like he was actually assassinated,″ he said.
Earl Moore, who said he had known Pierce for 15 years, said the candidate ″knew that something could happen″ to him. Moore said he knew of a threat against Pierce, but said he would talk only to federal officials in Washington, not to county, state or federal officials in North Carolina.
Jim Hatcher, a friend of Pierce who is running for a seat on the Board of County Commissioners in Forsyth County, across the state around Winston-Salem, told the Observer that he received an anonymous telephone call late Sunday in which someone said ″get out of town.″
″I plan to talk to Gov. Martin,″ he said. ″The people are wanting to talk, but they’re scared. Either Martin’s going to do something, or else.″
Hatcher is the uncle of Eddie Hatcher, who, with Timothy Jacobs, took over The Robesonian newspaper in Lumberton on Feb. 1 to protest alleged government corruption in Robeson County.
Lumberton police said they began guarding District Attorney Joe Freeman Britt’s home Sunday after he reported receiving threats. Britt, who was running against Pierce, and his family were in seclusion under police protection.
Pierce grew up in neighboring Hoke County and worked in a Virginia shipyard after graduating from college. He returned to North Carolina and attended North Carolina Central University law school, then worked for the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission from 1976 to 1978.
He moved to Robeson County to serve as the first director of Lumbee River Legal Services, representing those too poor to afford lawyers and practicing public interest law.
″He was an easygoing guy. He never had no problem with anyone that I heard tell of. People liked him,″ Stone said.
Pierce’s supporters said they might try to field another candidate in the upcoming primary.
″The question is whether or not that will be allowed, under the general statutes,″ said Sam Kerns of Pembroke. ″We’ll be meeting again ... but I really don’t think that it may be possible, according to the law.″
Pierce’s campaign manager, Harvey Goodwin, said supporters are considering a request for a special session of the state Legislature to consider postponing the judicial race.
Britt, a white, has been district attorney in the county for 14 years. But Pierce was considered the leader in the race because of a controversial vote by Indians earlier this month to consolidate the county’s five school systems, which are divided largely along racial lines.
The election was to be decided May 3, the date of the Democratic primary, since no Republicans were in the race.
The judgeship Pierce had sought was created to help ensure that minorities would have an opportunity to elect a judge. The Legislature gave the county its own judicial district, separating it from adjoining Scotland County.
Indian leaders met Sunday but would not allow reporters to attend. A meeting Saturday resulted in a request to state officials to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate Pierce’s death.
Robeson County, which borders on South Carolina, is also 37 percent white and 26 percent black. It is one of the state’s poorest counties, and has long been torn by racial animosity.
Activism, particularly by Lumbees, has thrived since November 1986, when a sheriff’s deputy fatally shot an unarmed Lumbee.
Anger at what the Indians call corrupt local government and entrenched racism boiled over Feb. 1, in the hostage-taking at The Robesonian newspaper.
Pierce’s killing ″makes me think there’s no hope for the Indians,″ said one Lumbee, Janice Locklear. ″I’m so mad I could fight.″