Jason Michael Mitchell, who until recently was accused of burying human remains on the property he shared with his wife, has died, Forsyth County District Attorney Jim O’Neill confirmed late Tuesday afternoon.
Forsyth County sheriff’s deputies were dispatched at 6:03 p.m. Monday to 3555 Brookbank Drive in Pfafftown, where Jason and Mary Mitchell lived and where the still-unidentified remains were found four years ago. Christina Howell, a spokeswoman for the sheriff’s office, said deputies went out to the house on the report of a shooting. She confirmed that the body of a person was found at the house but declined to say whether it was Mitchell.
She said investigators have determined that the person who was found at the house died from an apparent suicide. The sheriff’s office would not release further information.
“Out of respect for the family, we do not and will not release information on suicides,” Howell said.
When asked if Mitchell’s death was being investigated as a homicide or a suicide, O’Neill said that the Rules of Professional Responsibility prohibited him from commenting about a pending investigation.
On Monday night, a Winston-Salem Journal reporter arrived at the Mitchells’ house and saw that a Forsyth County sheriff’s deputy patrol car was parked in front. The reporter walked three steps when a deputy approached and said the family wasn’t in any shape to talk about what happened and referred all questions to Howell.
Mitchell’s death comes nearly a month after Forsyth County prosecutors dropped the criminal cases against Mitchell, 38, and his wife, Mary Utleye Mitchell, 52. The Mitchells had each been charged with one count of felonious destruction of a human body or remains to conceal a death. Assistant District Attorney James Dornfried said in court papers that even with several public and private laboratories testing the remains, lab analysts had been unable to get a DNA sample.
And the remains provide no information about the manner of death, he said in court papers.
Without that critical information, Dornfried said in court papers, it would have been hard for prosecutors to successfully take the Mitchells to trial.
Although Jason Mitchell is dead, Forsyth County prosecutors reserve the right to re-open a criminal case against Mary Mitchell if new testing provides the information they need for a successful prosecution, including identifying the remains. If not, prosecutors would have to wait for new advancements in DNA testing, which could take years.
John Bryson, Jason Mitchell’s attorney, could not immediately be reached for comment. Bryson and Mary Mitchell’s attorney, Michael Grace, both filed motions to dismiss the criminal charges based on a speedy-trial violation. In the court papers they filed, they said the remains have been sent to the University of North Texas for further testing.
But they said in court papers that the university wouldn’t begin testing until October and wouldn’t have a final report based on the findings ready until March 2020. The new testing, the attorneys argued, only further delayed a case they said had dragged on for four years.
Officials with the Forsyth County Sheriff’s Office have released limited details about the case involving the remains. After initially releasing information about where the remains had been tested, officials with the sheriff’s office began referring questions to the district attorney’s office. O’Neill declined to comment, saying it was a pending case.
The case has been linked to Gordon Reid, a 61-year-old man who was reported missing Feb. 4, 2015. Reid’s name appeared on a court order to seal a search warrant for the Mitchells’ house. Reid was last seen at 158 Motor Road, which is next door to a house owned by the Mitchells.
The Mitchells’ attorneys have said in a motion that prosecutors had intended to produce evidence of a dispute between Reid and the Mitchells. But prosecutors, they said, had never produced any evidence of Reid being dead or of the remains having been identified as his.
Search warrants remain sealed, but the Winston-Salem Journal has asked whether they can be unsealed since the criminal case has been dismissed. It is awaiting an answerA clerk has sent the search warrants to Judge David Hall of Forsyth Superior Court, who originally sealed them. It is not clear whether Hall has reviewed the warrants. He currently is presiding over a murder trial that is going into its second week.
On Sept. 10, Judge Todd Burke of Forsyth Superior Court signed an order returning items that the Winston-Salem police seized during a search of the couple’s property in 2015. Those items included numerous guns and ammunition as well as two motor vehicles. One of them, a 1991 Ford 250 pickup, was ordered to be returned to Jason Mitchell; the other was returned to another woman who is listed as the owner, according to court papers.
WASHINGTON — U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Tuesday put into motion a formal impeachment inquiry against President Donald Trump, yielding to mounting pressure from fellow Democrats and plunging a deeply divided nation into an election year clash between Congress and the commander in chief.
The inquiry focuses partly on whether Trump abused his presidential powers and sought help from a foreign government to undermine Democratic foe Joe Biden and help his own reelection. Pelosi said such actions would mark a “betrayal of his oath of office” and declared: “No one is above the law.”
The impeachment inquiry, after months of investigations by House Democrats of the Trump administration, sets up the party’s most direct and consequential confrontation with the president, injects deep uncertainty into the 2020 election campaign and tests anew the nation’s constitutional system of checks and balances.
Trump, who thrives on combat, has all but dared Democrats to take this step, confident that the specter of impeachment led by the opposition party will bolster rather than diminish his political support.
Meeting with world leaders at the United Nations, he previewed his defense in an all-caps tweet: “PRESIDENTIAL HARRASSMENT!”
Pelosi’s brief statement, delivered without dramatic flourish but in the framework of a constitutional crisis, capped a frenetic week-long stretch on Capitol Hill as details of a classified whistleblower complaint about Trump burst into the open and momentum shifted toward an impeachment investigation.
For months, the Democratic leader has tried calming the push for impeachment, saying the House must investigate the facts and let the public decide. The new drive was led by a group of moderate Democratic lawmakers from political swing districts, many of them with national security backgrounds and serving in Congress for the first time. The freshmen, who largely represent districts previously held by Republicans where Trump is popular, risk their own re-elections but say they could no longer stand idle. Amplifying their call were longtime leaders, including U.S. Rep. John Lewis of Georgia, the civil rights icon often considered the conscience of House Democrats.
“Now is the time to act,” said Lewis, in a speech to the House. “To delay or to do otherwise would betray the foundation of our democracy.”
At issue are Trump’s actions with Ukraine. In a summer phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, he is said to have asked for help investigating former Vice President Biden and his son Hunter. In the days before the call, Trump ordered advisers to freeze $400 million in military aid for Ukraine — prompting speculation that he was holding out the money as leverage for information on the Bidens. Trump has denied that charge but acknowledged he blocked the money, later released.
Biden said Tuesday, before Pelosi’s announcement, that if Trump doesn’t cooperate with lawmakers’ demands for documents and testimony in its investigations the president “will leave Congress ... with no choice but to initiate impeachment.” He said that would be a tragedy of Trump’s “own making.”
The Trump-Ukraine phone call is part of the whistleblower’s complaint, though the administration has blocked Congress from getting other details of the report, citing presidential privilege. Trump has authorized the release of a transcript of the call, which is to be made public today
“You will see it was a very friendly and totally appropriate call,” he said.
Trump has sought to implicate Biden and his son in the kind of corruption that has long plagued Ukraine. Hunter Biden served on the board of a Ukrainian gas company at the same time his father was leading the Obama administration’s diplomatic dealings with Kyiv. Though the timing raised concerns among anti-corruption advocates, there has been no evidence of wrongdoing by either the former vice president or his son.
While the possibility of impeachment has hung over Trump for many months, the likelihood of an inquiry had faded after special counsel Robert Mueller’s Trump-Russia investigation ended without a clear directive for lawmakers.
Since then, the House committees have revisited aspects of the Mueller investigation while also launching new inquiries into Trump’s businesses and various administration scandals that all seemed likely to drag on for months.
But details of Trump’s dealings with Ukraine prompted Democrats to quickly shift course. By the time Pelosi spoke to the nation Tuesday, about two-thirds of House Democrats had announced moving toward impeachment investigations.
The burden will likely now shift to Democrats to make the case to a scandal-weary public. In a highly polarized Congress, an impeachment inquiry could simply showcase how clearly two sides can disagree when shown the same evidence rather than approach consensus.
Building toward this moment, the president has repeatedly been stonewalling requests for documents and witness interviews in the variety of ongoing investigations.
After Pelosi’s announcement, the president and his campaign team quickly released a series of tweets attacking Democrats, including a video of presidential critics like the speaker and Rep. Ilhan Omar discussing impeachment. It concluded: “While Democrats ‘Sole Focus’ is fighting Trump, President Trump is fighting for you.”
U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Pelosi’s well-known “efforts to restrain her far-left conference have finally crumbled.”
Pelosi has for months resisted calls for impeachment from her restive caucus, warning that it would backfire against the party unless there was a groundswell of public support. That groundswell hasn’t occurred, but some of the more centrist lawmakers are facing new pressure back home for not having acted on impeachment.
While Pelosi’s announcement adds weight to the work being done on the oversight committees, the next steps are likely to resemble the past several months of hearings and legal battles — except with the possibility of actual impeachment votes.
The House today, Wednesday, is expected to consider a symbolic but still notable resolution insisting the Trump administration turn over to Congress the whistleblower’s complaint. The Senate, in a rare bipartisan moment, approved a similar resolution Tuesday.
The lawyer for the whistleblower, who is still anonymous, released a statement saying he had asked Trump’s director of national intelligence to turn over the complaint to House committees and asking guidance to permit the whistleblower to meet with lawmakers.
Pelosi suggested that this new episode — examining whether a president abused his power for personal political gain — would be easier to explain to Americans than some of the issues that arose during the Mueller investigation and other congressional investigations.
She put the matter in stark terms: “The actions of the Trump presidency revealed dishonorable facts of the president’s betrayal of his oath of office, betrayal of his national security and betrayal of the integrity of our elections.”
In a 7-1 vote Tuesday night, the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools Board of Education appointed Marilyn Parker to the school board during a special meeting.
Parker, a Republican, will represent District 2 on the school board. She will replace Lori Goins Clark, who resigned Aug. 29, citing personal and family reasons. Clark’s resignation came amid revelations that she inadvertently sent a text message to former interim Superintendent Kenneth Simington that contained a racially insensitive image of a cartoon character.
This is the second time Parker has been appointed to the board. She was appointed to finish Mark Johnson’s two-year term after he was elected as N.C. superintendent of public instruction in 2017. Before that, she served 16 years as an elected representative on the board. She is currently the preschool director for Ardmore United Methodist Church. She is also a volunteer at Cook Literacy Model School.
Parker has been a public school teacher, and her children attended local public schools. She has a bachelor’s degree in early childhood education and a master’s degree in education.
On Tuesday, school board members Lida Calvert-Hayes made the motion to nominate Parker and Elisabeth Motsinger seconded it.
“When we were going through the revitalization of Cook (Literacy Model School), Marilyn spent so many days and so much time reading to our Cook kids,” said Calvert-Hayes, who spoke of a number of Parker’s accomplishments, including her previous experience on the board. “I don’t know how many years Marilyn has done that, but I can say Marilyn has been an asset to our turn-around-schools.”
She also said she believes that Parker will be an asset to the school board.
Motsinger said she is excited about having Parker back on the board.
“Marilyn has always been concerned about the children, particularly children who are often forgotten,” Motsinger said. “She tends to see all of our kids and she’s had as warm relationships with our staff as anybody I’ve ever known.”
Board vice chairwoman Barbara Burke asked if it would be possible to ask Parker some questions.
Chairwoman Malishai Woodbury said questions are not a part of the appointment process and Parker was under no obligations to answer questions.
As an alternative, Woodbury suggested Burke ask other board members who knew Parker to provide some answers to her questions.
“Since she’s not able to come forth and answer any questions, I don’t have any for Mrs. Parker,” said Burke, who voted against the appointment.
Burke, who in a previous board meeting had expressed her desire to accept applications rather than appoint somebody to fill the vacant seat, said she was concerned about using an appointment process, but her concern was not with any individual candidate, including Parker.
Woodbury said she asked around after hearing that some board members were interested in Parker being on the board.
“What I heard about Marilyn Parker was that she was a moderate Republican. ... I heard that she was an independent thinker, that she would vote her own conscience based on the good of children. She knows our children because she has worked here in our school system over at Cook Elementary.”
Parker will be sworn in at the Oct. 8 school board meeting.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s announcement Tuesday that the Democratic-controlled U.S. House will begin an impeachment inquiry into Republican President Donald Trump drew criticism from some Republican members of North Carolina’s delegation to Congress.
Local Democratic leaders supported the move.
Pelosi said the inquiry was necessary to determine whether Trump betrayed his oath of office, U.S. national security and the integrity of the country’s elections.
Democrats suspect Trump of pressuring Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in a July 25 phone call to investigate Joe Biden, the former vice president and potential 2020 Democratic presidential nominee, and his son, Hunter.
In a statement, U.S. Rep. Virginia Foxx, R-5th, said she was disappointed with Pelosi’s announcement of an impeachment inquiry into Trump. The 5th District includes Forsyth County and much of Northwest North Carolina.
“I cannot say I’m at all surprised,” Foxx said. “Obsession over the 2016 election results has consumed the Democratic Party and dominated (its) agenda as the House majority.
“Instead of working with President Trump to sustain our strong economy and lower the costs of prescription drugs, Democrats are grasping to impeach the president,” Foxx said. “Instead of waiting for the transcript of his conversation with President Zelensky of Ukraine, which the president will release ... or seeing if committee proceedings bear out the whistleblower’s allegations, (Pelosi) has decided to make members of her party happy rather than legislate for the American people.”
Before Pelosi’s announcement, Trump said he will release a transcript of his July 25 phone call with Zelensky today. Trump said the call was “totally appropriate” as he sought to tamp down a tidal wave of scrutiny over his dealings with Ukraine.
U.S. Rep. Ted Budd, R-13th, released a statement after Pelosi spoke about the impeachment inquiry. The 13th District includes Davidson and Davie counties.
“President Trump is right to release the full, unredacted transcript of his call with the Ukrainian president,” Budd said in the written statement. “That’s the first-hand account of the call.
“It’s incredibly reckless for House Democrats to base an impeachment inquiry on the second-hand account of a whistle-blower whose attorney worked for (Democratic Sen.) Chuck Schumer and Hillary Clinton,” Budd said.
U.S. Rep. Mark Walker, R-6th, said in a statement Tuesday that said in part, “House Democrats have been tilting at windmills in search of impeachment for the last three years, and they now think they have found their Don Quixote in a leaker who is pushing secondhand rumors.”
“After saying it ‘divides the country,’ Speaker Pelosi now says impeachment is a ‘healing process’ and is taking an action supported by barely one-third of American voters,” Walker said.
A spokeswoman for U.S. Rep. Alma Adams, D-12th, couldn’t be reached for comment. However, Adams said in a previous statement that she supports an impeachment inquiry into Trump’s actions.
“The president has demonstrated a clear disregard for the rule of law, and he must be held accountable,” said Adams’ 12th District is now in Mecklenburg County but it formerly included a portion of Forsyth, among other areas.
Larry Johnson, the chairman of the Forsyth County Democratic Party, said Tuesday night he wasn’t surprised that the impeachment inquiry will happen.
“Congress has responsibilities to do certain duties, and holding the president accountable is one of those things,” Johnson said. “The United States is governed by the rule of law. The president has violated the laws of the U.S.”
Aaron Berlin, the chairman of the Forsyth County Republican Party, pointed to Biden’s statement to MSNBC two months ago in which Biden said ‘Nancy Pelosi is doing a masterful job.’
“Masterful, by definition, means the power to control others,” Berlin said. “As soon as Joe Biden gets into damaging, hot water, Pelosi sounds the alarm of impeachment.
“Instead of wasting taxpayer dollars on a political sideshow, Democrats should focus on what matters to American families: creating more jobs, lowering healthcare prices, passing the president’s pro-worker trade deal, fighting the opioid crisis, and more,” Berlin said.
U.S. Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C. a Winston-Salem native, didn’t release a statement Tuesday about the impeachment inquiry. Burr has stayed mostly quiet on whether the House should begin an impeachment inquiry into Trump.
The campaign of U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis, R-N.C., issued a statement regarding the impeachment inquiry. Tillis is running for a second term in the U.S. Senate next year and sought to tie the impeachment issue to his potential Democratic opponents in North Carolina.
“While Cal Cunningham and Erica Smith want to impeach the president or throw him in jail without any justification, Sen. Tillis supports the president, and will continue working with him on the initiatives that will improve the everyday lives of North Carolinians,” said Andrew Romeo, a Tillis campaign spokesman.
Romeo was referring to Cal Cunningham, a former Democratic state senator and Winston-Salem native, and state Sen. Erica Smith, D-Beaufort, who have said they will run for the Democratic nomination in the March primary in their bids to defeat Tillis in the November 2020 elections.
“Sen. Tillis’ agenda is creating jobs, securing the border, confirming conservative justices, and rebuilding the military,” Romeo said. “Sen. Tillis is pleased that President Trump will make available the transcript of his call with President Zelensky.
“He’s confident that the call was as President Trump said it was,” Romeo said, “and that the Democrats who have jumped to conclusions will look foolish as the facts come out and vindicate the president.” Romeo said.
In a statement, Cunningham defended his record and said members of Congress should uphold their "sworn duty to defend the Constitution."
“As a former prosecutor, I’ve faced down corruption, lawlessness, and abuse of power in state and federal courtrooms and in the war zone in Iraq. In each case, the mission was the same: uncover the facts and pursue the rule of law," he said in the statement.
Cunningham added: "I call on Sen. Tillis and Republicans in Congress to demand the White House release the whistleblower complaint so that all of us can learn the facts."
John Dinan, a political-science professor at Wake Forest University, said that Pelosi has worked hard to restrain several progressive House Democrats who have been eager to begin impeachment proceedings.
Pelosi wanted to protect “some more moderate Democrats in swing districts from having to take difficult votes on impeachment and in part also because of a concern that focusing on impeachment would take away from coverage of other Democratic policy priorities on health care and other issues,” Dinan said in an email.