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Crime
Minimum 18 years for woman, 88 years for her husband on child sex abuse and other charges in Forsyth court

A Winston-Salem woman will spend at least 18 years in prison for failing to stop her husband from repeatedly raping a 15-year-old girl and then allowing that girl and several other children to live in an abandoned boarded-up house with no running water, a Forsyth Superior Court judge ruled Wednesday.

Marcy Lynn Helms, 39, pleaded guilty last week to numerous charges, including attempted statutory rape of a child younger than 15, felony child abuse involving a sexual act and contributing to the delinquency of a juvenile. Superior Court Judge Richard Gottlieb accepted her guilty pleas in a hearing on Oct. 23 but delayed sentencing.

On Wednesday, Judge David Hall of Forsyth Superior Court consolidated the charges into two counts, per a plea arrangement, and sentenced her to a total of 18 years to 31 years and eight months in prison. After she is released from prison, she will have to register as a sex offender for 30 years.

Her sentencing came a day after her husband, Brandon Irving Helms, 34, entered an Alford plea in the case, which means he didn’t admit the acts but acknowledged that prosecutors could likely prove the charges against him. Those charges included more than 20 counts in connection with the rape and sexual abuse of the girl, who is now 17, and neglect of the girl and the other children for allowing them to stay in a condemned vacant house on East 27th Street that was scheduled to be torn down. Forsyth County prosecutors said Brandon Helms raped and sexually abused the girl, starting when she was 8. He also impregnated her, continued to rape her throughout her pregnancy and then after she gave birth in the house, they said.

Prosecutors said the Helmses failed to get medical help for the girl during the 2½ days she was in labor and after she gave birth.

The investigation began on May 8, 2018, after social workers with the Forsyth County Department of Social Services received an anonymous complaint that children were living in the dilapidated house. Upon checking, Winston-Salem police and social workers found unsafe conditions at the house and evidence that children lived there. Later, Wannette Jones, a social worker who was sent to the house to investigate, met the man who made the complaint and the two exchanged phone numbers. Then, while Jones was headed back to the office, the man called her and told her that the children were leaving the house. Jones called police, who stopped a car that Brandon Helms was driving.

Police found five children, including two toddlers and the girl in the car. One of the toddlers was the girl’s child who had been fathered by Brandon Helms.

Brandon Helms pleaded not guilty to the charges and was scheduled to go on trial, starting Tuesday. Court officials brought in a jury pool of 120 people Tuesday morning to begin jury selection. Twelve had been selected as potential jurors and seated in the jury box when Helms indicated that he would be willing to plead guilty. But he had one condition — that he and his wife have the opportunity to talk while still in custody at the Forsyth County jail. They were allowed 15 minutes. Hall sentenced him Tuesday to 88 years and four months to 136 years in prison.

Lisa Costner, Marcy Helms’ attorney, said her client agreed to plead guilty because it was the only way to prevent the girl from having to testify. The day after her plea, Helms met with Forsyth County prosecutors Pansy Glanton and Kia Chavious as well as Winston-Salem police detectives and told them everything she knew about her husband’s sexual abuse of the girl, Costner said.

Marcy Helms told prosecutors she would be willing to testify against her husband if needed.

Hall said he was disturbed by what he heard Tuesday about what Brandon Helms was convicted of doing to the girl as well as Marcy Helms’ role in allowing the abuse.

“I’m very troubled by this,” he told Costner.

Costner told Hall that Brandon Helms emotionally abused and manipulated Marcy Helms for years, using religion to justify his control. That’s no excuse for her role in the case, she said, but it helps explain why she didn’t do anything to stop it.

“She found herself in a situation that she knew was wrong but she felt trapped,” Costner said.

Costner said Marcy Helms recognizes now how wrong her actions were and feels great remorse for them. She said Marcy Helms has found a new religious faith and has worked to help other inmates while she has been in the Forsyth County jail.

Glanton said it was incredibly difficult to offer a plea deal to Marcy Helms. One of the factors she said she considered was the teenage girl, who didn’t want a long sentence for Marcy Helms. The other consideration was that a plea deal would mean that the girl would not have to take the stand, she said.

The girl, who attended the court hearings for both Brandon and Marcy Helms, told Hall she appreciated that Marcy Helms was willing to meet with Brandon Helms to keep her from having to testify in the case and that Marcy Helms had agreed to testify against her husband. She said she thought Marcy Helms was strong for doing those things and hoped she would continue on a path of getting better.

Hall said he was impressed by the girl’s strength.

“You’re one of the most remarkable people I’ve ever seen,” he told her. “I’ve never seen anyone as strong as you.”


Local
Rain, wind and possible storms on Halloween could hamper trick-or-treaters and football fans

Ghosts, ghouls and goblins might have to take their Halloween festivities indoors tonight, with steady rain and gusty winds likely in the Triad and Northwest North Carolina.

Likewise, fans who will attend tonight’s football game pitting Georgia Southern against Appalachian State in Boone will experience heavy rain, possibly snow and strong winds as they watch the game in Kidd Brewer Stadium, forecasters say.

The low temperature tonight in Winston-Salem will be around 43 degrees with an 80% chance of rain and thunderstorms possible.

Wind speeds will range from 11 to 16 mph with gusts reaching 28 mph.

“We are going to have a line of strong storms that are going to push through,” said James Morrow, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Raleigh. “These storms can produce damaging winds and a short-lived tornado or two in the area.

“Unfortunately, during the peak trick- or-treating time, (and) once we get the northwest winds going, you will have some cooler air moving in,” Morrow said.

Children and adults are encouraged to dress warmly tonight, Morrow said.

“It will be chilly,” he said.

The cold front arriving in Northwest North Carolina will likely produce heavy rain in some areas, possibly with thunderstorms, and strong winds that could topple trees, causing power outages, said Patrick Wilson, a weather service meteorologist in Blacksburg, Va. The storms could produce 2 to 3 inches of rain, he said.

Halloween decorations could be blown down amid strong winds gusting to more than 40 mph, Wilson said. Heavy rain may cause creeks and streams to rise and cause ponds in low-lying areas to flood, he said.

Tonight’s low temperature in Boone will be around 31 degrees with a 80% chance of rain and snow. Wind speeds will range from 15 to 21 mph with gusts reaching 44 mph.

Carl Erickson, a senior meteorologist with Accuweather in State College, Pa., encouraged football fans in Boone to wear rain gear and layers of clothing. The game starts at 8 tonight in Boone.

Where to celebrate on dry ground

Winston-Salem State University will hold its Community Ram-O-Lantern event at 4 p.m. today in the Reaves Student Activity Center, said Jay Davis, a university spokesman. The event is free and open to the public.

“With a large indoor location, WSSU is expecting hundreds of children and their families on campus for the event,” Davis said.

The event will include hayrides, games, activities, mascots, candy and craft stations, WSSU said. A Greasy Red Spoon Vendor’s Fair will have more than 500 food and merchandise vendors.

Attendees are encouraged to wear family-friendly costumes, but adults are discouraged from wearing masks, WSSU said.

Also in Winston-Salem, Hanes Mall will hold its annual “Halloween at Hanes — Trick or Treat” at 5 p.m. today, according to its website.

“We invite all little ones, from ghost to ghouls, to haunt the mall looking for goodies ...” the mall said. “Participating retailers throughout the center will provide treats until 7 p.m. or while supplies last.”

Attendees are encouraged to wear “tasteful costumes,” the mall said. Masks and fake weapons are not permitted.

Sarah Kotelnicki, the mall’s marketing director, said about 87 stores at the mall will participate in the event. The mall’s customer service deck also will distribute candy, she said.

“Most of the tenants will have candy or little trinkets to hand out along the way,” Kotelnicki said.

But if you’re going out ...

Outdoor trick-or-treaters will get wet amid windy, wild and dark conditions tonight, Erickson said. Along with their costumes, children and adults should wear clothes to keep dry, he said.

Winston-Salem residents are urged to take appropriate precautions with their Halloween trick-or-treaters amid the rainy and windy weather, the city said in a statement.

Parents and caregivers are encouraged to have their kids trick-or treat before dark and to ensure they are prepared for the temperature drop and inclement weather, the city said. Sunset is at 6:39 p.m.

Adults should accompany trick-or-treaters and be aware of the possibility of falling tree limbs, the city said. “All trick-or-treaters who are out after dark should carry flashlights so they can see, and be seen, in the dark,” the city said.


Local
'Don't be stupid' approach to electric scooter rebirth in Winston-Salem is clean and mostly incident-free

The two young men — they appeared to be kids as neither had a chin hair worthy of a razor — looked confused and unafraid of traffic.

They hopped on two of the 100 scooters foisted on the downtown earlier this month. They’d waived via a smart phone app their right to complain about bruises or mishaps and paid $1 each to unlock them.

They fiddled with the accelerators, grinned and zipped off down 5th street. They turned around near the library and headed back. Approaching the Benton Convention Center, one young man turned the wrong way onto a one-way street and the other pulled up on the sidewalk to wait.

Electric scooters — known as micro-mobility to city planners and the companies that profit from scooting — are back.

But this time, about a month in, the new and improved roll-out has been orderly, reasonable and (mostly) free of kerfuffle.

Easy to follow rules

The first time the city dealt with scooters was by comparison a guerrilla campaign.

The Bird Company of Santa Monica, Calif., off-loaded a fleet of more than 1,000 electric scooters on every conceivable city intersection and block in August 2018.

Bird droppings, as it were.

The plugged-in, wired-up, in-the-know crowd knew what they were and how to operate them, but it took a minute for the rest of us troglodyte, pen-and-paper types to catch up. And that included more than a few city officials.

It didn’t take long before complaints and problems, mostly caused by operator-error, piled up. Jugheads flew down sidewalks, nearly sideswiped cars and abandoned them in rights-of-way, in front of reputable businesses and anywhere they damn well pleased.

The Winston-Salem City Council, you might recall, banned the scooters last November, a move which was always going to be temporary.

By March, council had reconsidered and approved a 19-page ordinance with some 15 subsections. Clearly, and necessarily, it was written by (and for) lawyers.

Its key provisions, most of which seemed aimed at preventing another Wild West-style Bird infestation, can be summed up in plain English: Don’t be stupid.

Supplier companies agree to use GPS to compile data about usage and incidents and provide reports to the city manager upon demand.

To obtain operating permits, the companies further agree to pay a $1,000 annual fee plus $100 per scooter, $50 per electric-assist bicycle and $25 per human-powered bike.

They also must agree to respond promptly to complaints and hop-to when reports surface about the devices being dumped in stupid places.

(Interestingly, the city also requires companies to “state clearly, conspicuously and transparently” that personal data will be collected and that they must ask users’ permission to sell it.)

For riders, the basic rules can be summed up similarly. Users must be older than 16, obey all traffic laws, and stay off the sidewalk and out of Old Salem. Helmets are recommended, but not required.

In other words, don’t be stupid. And that’s easier said than done.

View from ground level

Two companies — Zagster in partnership with Spin scooters and VeoRide — filed applications and were awarded permits in August.

Spin put out 100 scooters earlier this month with plans to expand to 500 by year’s end. VeoRide is expected to have its scooters out soon.

If the math checks out, always a big “if,” Zagster/Spin shelled out $11,000 to start — $1,000 for the annual fee and $10,000 for the scooters at $100 each for the first fleet of 100.

At a base rate of $1 to unlock and 25 cents per minute, each of those 100 scooters would have to be ridden 32 times for 10 minutes to make that $11,000 back. That can be done on a nice weekend; the rest is gravy.

So if stupid is as stupid does, how goes the re-introduction?

Damon Dequenne, the assistant city manager charged with riding herd over this iteration, reports that official complaints have been few.

“We’ve had a few instances of riders using the sidewalks downtown and those have been addressed quickly,” he wrote in an email. “I can state that the complaints have almost been completely abated compared to our last experience. The policy and the vendor appear to be working well.”

Much the same has been reported at the ground level. A few boneheads have done bone-headed things — witness the kids at Fifth and Marshall — but nothing over the top yet.

“I would say it is better this time,” said Sgt. Kevin Bowers of the Downtown Bike Patrol. “Personally I’ve seen people on sidewalks and two riders per scooter but that gets shut down when we talk to people.”

The best improvement, Bowers said, is in the response time from the vendor. When he saw a couple kids take off on a scooter that had been left on by a careless rider, he contacted a company rep.

“They shut it down remotely within minutes,” he said.

Philip “Opie” Kirby, the owner of Finnigan’s Wake, likes the new ruled-based, ease-in approach to micro-transportation.

“(Scooters) don’t seem like they’ve taken the city by storm like last time,” Kirby said. “It’s a good thing if people are doing it right.

“When your mom or my mom has lunch at Finnigan’s Wake, when they walk out and a scooter whizzes by, that’s when it scares me. I don’t want my customers feeling like they need to carry a stick to check the sidewalk before they walk out.”


Z-no-digital
Teen charged with murder in death of Jayden Jamison; authorities respond to rash of violence in and around Winston-Salem

A wave of violence crashed over Winston-Salem and Forsyth County this week, with four people killed since Monday.

Among the dead is 16-year-old Jayden Jamison, who was a football player and student at Winston-Salem Preparatory Academy. Jamison was found shot to death in a silver SUV at the intersection of Pittsburg Avenue and Burton Street around noon Tuesday.

Wednesday morning, police and the U.S. Marshals Service arrested 17-year-old Zacchaeus Semaj Williams on murder charges in connection to Jamison’s killing. Authorities went to arrest Williams around 9:30 a.m. at his home in the 400 block of West 26th Street, placing him in custody before he could escape out of his back door, according to Winston-Salem police officer Lt. Gregory Dorn. Williams also faces a charge of robbery with a dangerous weapon stemming from an unrelated incident on Oct. 14.

Jamison’s death may have been the result of a botched robbery, Dorn said.

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Dorn said this week’s violence has been an unexpected surge and called the rash of killings unpredictable. He also spoke about the weight the community feels when a young person dies.

“It all hits home for us,” Dorn said. “It’s not their time to die, and it’s tragic. You really see some raw emotions that (are) hard to deal with. There’s anger, and we have to be the shield for that, and deflect some of that.”

Dorn said the possibility of retaliatory violence for the killings is relatively low, something he attributes to his detectives.

“Once you let a family know you’re working on something, the family can quell some of that (anger) and know there’s not a reason to retaliate,” Dorn said.

Brent Campbell, a spokesperson for Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools, did not acknowledge where Jamison attended school prior to his death, but offered condolences on behalf of the school system. Police confirmed Jamison went to Winston-Salem Prep.

“The sudden and untimely death of a student is never easy, and our thoughts are with his family and friends,” Campbell wrote in an email. “Our crisis counseling team is assisting students and staff members who need help during this difficult time.”

Tuesday was a teacher work day for the school system.

Jamison’s football coach at Winston-Salem Preparatory declined an interview request, saying someone in school administration informed him he could not speak to the media about Jamison.

One of Jamison’s former coaches, Brandon Mock, called Jamison’s killing crazy and said in a Facebook post that it “hurts bad.” Mock wrote that he and Jamison had recently talked.

In a separate post, Mock posted a screenshot of their most recent conversation.

Mock couldn’t be reached for comment Wednesday.

Jamison is the second Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools student killed in October. On Oct. 17, police found Jumil Robertson, a 17-year-old senior at Glenn High School, shot to death on the side of Argonne Boulevard. Four people are charged in Robertson’s death.

School system Superintendent Angela Hairston said she is praying for the families of everyone killed.

“Anytime young people are injured or become victims, certainly it impacts our students and impacts our teachers,” Hairston said. “It has a tremendous impact on everyone in our school community. Anything like this is devastating to all of us that might be involved. I hope we will come together as a community and see some positive shifts.”