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Some Still Wary Of Explanation In Activist’s Death

March 30, 1988

LUMBERTON, N.C. (AP) _ A broken romance, not political assassination, was the motive behind the shotgun killing of an Indian judicial candidate by a Lumbee Indian who later committed suicide, a sheriff says.

Another Indian, Sandy Gordon Chavis, 24, was charged with first-degree murder Tuesday as an accomplice in the slaying of Julian Pierce, a popular, 42-year-old legal services lawyer who was running for Superior Court judge in racially troubled Robeson County.

County Sheriff Hubert Stone, who had initially called Pierce’s killing an assassination, said a friend of Chavis, John Anderson Goins, 24, had been having problems with his girlfriend, whose mother was Pierce’s fiancee.

″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,″ Stone said.

Goins’ body, with a bullet wound to the head, was found in a closet at his father’s home Tuesday by police who had a murder warrant for his arrest. Stone called the death a suicide.

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

On the eve of Pierce’s funeral today, however, some county activists said they doubted Stone’s conclusion.

″In light of our history here, any hasty conclusions to a murder in Robeson County will always be highly suspect in the community,″ said the Rev. Mac Legerton, director of the Center for Community Action in Lumberton.

″You got a few who believe it’s the real thing, but I don’t,″ said the Rev. S.D. Lewis, assistant pastor at Hilly Branch Baptist Church, a predominantly black church in Lumberton. ″They’re trying to pull a cover-up on us.″

Before Tuesday’s arrest, commissioners in the 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 in Robeson County 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.

Indian leaders have also called for a special session of the Legislature to change a law that would automatically hand the judgeship over to Pierce’s election opponent, District Attorney Joe Freeman Britt, who is white.

Gov. Jim Martin said Tuesday he would continue to investigate the possibility of a special session. He also said he had talked with Britt about a special prosecutor, but the district attorney ″was not prepared to do that.″

Under state law, a special prosecutor could be appointed only if Britt requested one from Attorney General Lacy Thornburg.

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.

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

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