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Man convicted of raping 15-year-old, allowing children to live in condemned Winston-Salem house

A Winston-Salem man repeatedly sexually abused and raped a young girl for seven years, got her pregnant and continued to rape her even after she gave birth at age 15 to his child, a Forsyth County prosecutor said in court Tuesday ahead of the defendant’s plea.

Brandon Irving Helms, 34, entered an Alford plea in Forsyth Superior Court to more than 20 charges in connection with the rape and sexual abuse of the girl, including statutory rape of a child younger than 15, felony child abuse involving a sexual act and taking indecent liberties with a child.

An Alford plea means that Helms did not admit guilt but acknowledged that Forsyth County prosecutors had enough evidence to convict him at trial.

The Alford plea also included charges related to children living in an abandoned house in Winston-Salem and minor traffic infractions.

Helms’ wife, Marcy Lynn Helms, 39, pleaded guilty to charges on Oct. 23 in Forsyth Superior Court that were based on the allegation that she knew her husband was raping and sexually abusing the girl, now 17, and did nothing to stop it. She is scheduled to be sentenced today.

Marcy Helms has also been convicted for allowing the girl and several other children to live in an abandoned house on East 27th Street that was set to be demolished. The house was boarded up and had no running water. Social workers and Winston-Salem police testified that the house smelled of human feces and that it had unsteady floors and a tarp covering a hole in one of the ceilings.

In her statements Tuesday, Assistant District Attorney Pansy Glanton told the court that the teenage girl was in labor for 21/2 days and delivered her child on a table. She also said the Helmes did not get medical attention for her or the baby after the birth.

The Winston-Salem Journal does not typically identify alleged victims of sexual assault.

After Brandon Helms’ plea, Judge David Hall of Forsyth Superior Court essentially gave him a life sentence — a total of 88 years and four months to 136 years in prison. Hall, telling Helms he will die in prison, also said if, by chance, he is released from prison he will have to register as a sex offender for the rest of his life.

Brandon Helms had pleaded not guilty to the charges and was going on trial for the next two weeks.

Jury selection had just begun Tuesday morning, with a jury pool of 120 people. Twelve potential jurors were called to sit in the jury box when Hall was notified that Helms was willing to enter an Alford plea to the charges.

His attorney, Dan Anthony, told Hall that Helms was willing to enter the plea if Hall would grant him the opportunity to talk to Marcy Helms. The couple were given 15 minutes to talk after Helms entered his plea.

Glanton described how the sexual-abuse case unfolded:

Officials at Forsyth County Department of Social Services received anonymous complaints that children were living in the abandoned house on East 27th Street. On May 8, 2018, Wannetta Jones, a social worker, went to the house to investigate and do a welfare check. Brandon Helms opened the door but refused to allow Jones into the house. He also denied that children were in the house.

A standoff ensued, and Jones and her supervisor contacted Winston-Salem police officers to help Jones gain entry. Eventually, the owner of the house allowed police and Jones to enter the house, where they did not find any children but did see plenty of evidence that the house was unsuitable for children to live in, Glanton said.

Glanton said city inspectors had already condemned the house, which was scheduled to be demolished the next day. After several hours, Jones, Winston-Salem police and Winston-Salem fire officials left the house. As Jones headed back to the office, the man who had called in the anonymous tip appeared at the end of a street. Jones and the man talked for a few minutes and exchanged contact information.

Several minutes later, as Jones was driving back to the office, the man called Jones and told her that he saw the children leaving the house and described the car. Jones contacted police. An officer stopped the car.

Brandon Helms was driving, his wife was in the passenger seat and the then-15-year-old girl was in the back seat with her infant daughter. Another infant girl, Marcy Helms’ daughter, sat in a child’s seat. Police later found two other children who were hiding under the floor boards in the back seat, Glanton said.

That day, Brandon Helms was arrested on several minor charges, including driving while license was revoked and driving without a driver’s licence.

The girl initially denied that she knew who the father of her child was but later told doctors at Brenner Children’s Hospital that Brandon Helms was the father. She later told investigators that Brandon Helms started raping her when she was 13.

In October, as prosecutors were preparing for trial, the girl said that the sexual abuse started when she was 8.

Forsyth County Assistant District Attorney Kia Chavious said Brandon Helms told his wife that he wanted the girl to be his “concubine” and forced the girl to call him “Lord.” Helms raped the girl numerous times in several different houses in Greensboro, Fayetteville and Winston-Salem, prosecutors said. He also raped her in cars when the couple and several children were homeless.

The girl sat in the courtroom Tuesday behind the prosecutor’s desk. She and the rest of the children are now in foster care. Hall called her a remarkable young woman.

“Thank you, your honor,” she said.

Chavious said that Helms stole the girl’s childhood and innocence and that he would have kept raping the girl if Jones had not gone to the abandoned house on May 8, 2018.

Brandon Helms took everything from the girl and the other children, the prosecutor said.

“He gave all of them a life sentence,” Chavious said.

Former Forsyth County Sheriff Ron Barker dies

Former Forsyth County Sheriff Ron Barker died Tuesday after a battle with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, relatives said.

Barker, 86, who was in hospice care, died at the home of his son, Mike Barker.

From 1990 to 2002, Barker served as sheriff of Forsyth County. In 2002, Barker was defeated in the Republican Party primary election by Bill Schatzman, who went on to serve as sheriff for 16 years until his election defeat by current Sheriff Bobby Kimbrough in 2018.

Tributes to Barker began pouring onto a Facebook page for former sheriff’s office employees as soon as his death was announced.

Kimbrough released a statement thanking Barker for his service, saying he was glad to have had the chance to speak with Barker before he died.

“With heavy hearts, we extend out our condolences to the Barker family at the loss of Sheriff Ron Barker,” Kimbrough said. “It is because of him, and men and women like him that have gone before us, that this agency is what it is today.”

He said the sheriff’s office sends “peace to his family and to our community during this time of mourning.”

Schatzman said he was saddened when he learned of Barker’s death.

“He was a dedicated law-enforcement officer who served the citizens of Forsyth County for many years,” he said of Barker. “My sincere condolences to his wife and all in the Barker family.”

Early life

Barker was born in Thomasville and while in high school worked in a hosiery mill. After graduating, he took a job selling freezers at Sears department store.

He received a bachelor’s degree in biology in 1963 at Wake Forest University. He also took graduate courses at Wake Forest and N.C. State University.

Barker came to law enforcement late. In fact, after he graduated from Wake Forest he taught science for about seven years, mostly at Kernersville Junior High School, Mike Barker said.

“He knew hundreds of people from just that,” the son said. “People are saying, ‘Best teacher I ever had.’ That was his first love.”

Ron Barker taught and coached football, baseball and basketball at the junior high, his son said, noting how he loved going with his dad everywhere he went.

While he was teaching, Mike Barker said, his dad took the night job of managing Skate City, now Skate World, at Talley’s Crossing in Kernersville.

“Back then, that was the place to go,” Mike Barker said. “They had live bands. He started hiring off-duty officers. There were troublemakers who came in. He had the deputies there for that and got to talking to them about what they were doing.”

Barker was intrigued by the work of the deputies. So in 1969, when he was 36 years old, he jumped from schools to the sheriff’s office. His son said that around 1970 or 1971 his dad had second thoughts and went back to teaching school. But only for a year. Then it was back to the sheriff’s office.

“I learned quickly that it takes a lot more than just qualifications to be a good sheriff’s deputy,” Barker said in a Winston-Salem Journal interview in 2002. “After a while on the street, you realize you are living a different life.”

Law-enforcement career

Barker helped start the department’s first homicide division after a string of killings in the mid-1970s. He also helped start neighborhood-watch programs and spent a good part of his early career on crime prevention.

When Sheriff Manly Lancaster stepped down in 1984 for health reasons, Barker was considered as a possible replacement. But the Forsyth County Board of Commissioners instead chose Preston Oldham, a no-nonsense former narcotics detective who was then leading the criminal-investigations division.

Oldham realigned the department, appointing Barker as captain of the detectives.

One of biggest homicide cases Barker oversaw the department’s investigation of the Klenner-Lynch-Newsom slayings.

The case involved a romantic relationship between Fritz Klenner and his first cousin, Susie Lynch. Lynch was involved in a custody dispute with her former husband, Tom, over their two sons.

In 1984, Tom’s mother and sister were killed in Kentucky. The case left investigators stumped until Susie’s father, mother and grandmother were killed in their house off Reynolda Road in Winston-Salem in 1985. Susie’s father, Bob, had agreed to testify on Tom Lynch’s behalf in the custody battle.

That clue allowed investigators to tie the homicide cases together. As they closed in on Klenner and Susie Lynch in Greensboro, the couple fled with the two children. After a slow-speed chase, their SUV exploded on a road in Summerfield about 12 miles northwest of Greensboro. Susie Lynch and Fritz Klenner died as a result of the explosion. The children had been poisoned with cyanide and shot in the head at close range.

In all, nine people died in the crime spree. The case was immortalized in the book “Bitter Blood,” by Jerry Bledsoe, which became a national bestseller. Barker was referenced a few times in the book.

Barker had interviewed Susie Lynch shortly after the killings. As recalled in “Bitter Blood,” he found her behavior odd.

“I’ve investigated a lot of murders,” Barker is quoted as saying in the book. “Usually the family asks you all kinds of questions. They stay on you constantly. Not one question did she ask. … She was cheerful. She didn’t seem remorseful at all.”

In 1986, Barker ran as a Democrat in the primary against Oldham and lost. Barker was demoted from captain to deputy duties in the radio room. Afterward, he resigned and landed a job as security manager at the Sears store in Hanes Mall.

He challenged Oldham again in 1990, running this time as a Republican. And the law-enforcement landscape in Forsyth had changed, spurred by a major crime.

On a July night in 1988, 24-year-old Michael Charles Hayes allegedly walked into the middle of Old Salisbury Road and began shooting. By the time he was done, nine people had been shot, four fatally.

The response from law enforcement had been chaotic, partly because the shootings happened so close to the Forsyth/Davidson county line that there was confusion over who had jurisdiction.

A Forsyth County sheriff’s deputy had asked a lieutenant for permission to shoot Hayes but was told to stand by. Hayes was ultimately shot and arrested.

In a verdict that received national attention, Hayes was found not guilty by reason of insanity.

The shootings and the response from authorities led to outrage in the community. Barker mentioned the Hayes shootings often while campaigning. He went on to win the election by about 6,000 votes.

‘Devoted to the job’

Unusual for a newly elected sheriff, his son said, Ron Barker didn’t assume office and star firing people.

As sheriff, Barker was interested in prisoner rehabilitation, and put into place programs to help with that. Barker’s son said his dad loved going to the jail and talking with the people who were incarcerated.

Tom Keith, a former Forsyth County district attorney, noted that he and Barker were elected the same year.

“I remember him as a kind, quiet, Southern gentleman — all law enforcement,” Keith said. “He would go out at night and work, and cruise around.”

Keith said Barker started using in-car cameras early on, something that was new.

“Later on, we had an incident where everyone said the deputy did something wrong. And the in-car camera said the exact opposite.”

Keith said Barker also got a grant to put cameras in schools. After Barker left office, Keith said, those cameras exonerated someone facing an in-school rape allegation.

The cameras in cars and in schools “were two great accomplishments,” Keith said.

Allen Gentry, former assistant sheriff during part of Barker’s tenure as sheriff, said Barker was an effective, mild-mannered and compassionate sheriff.

“He had the interest of the community for whatever he tried to accomplish,” Gentry said. “He was a good man.”

During Barker’s second term, the Journal wrote a series of articles that detailed the department’s hiring of his friends and family. Reporters found that at least 125 of the 610 people hired by the department since 1994 had relatives working for the sheriff.

Barker also hired several of his friends, including his barber and the son of a county commissioner.

Among those hired was Barker’s son, Brian. He was hired as a sworn officer despite having been involved in an armed standoff a few years earlier.

Barker withstood a GOP challenge in the 1998 election, defeating four challengers, including Schatzman, a retired FBI agent.

More controversy, however, followed his reelection.

In February 1999, not long after starting his third term, Barker’s son Brian was shot in the chest. He said two Hispanic men shot him during a traffic stop, leading to an intense manhunt.

Days later, Brian Barker admitted that he made up the story, blaming the incident on stress. He was charged with filing a false police report and resigned.

Sheriff Barker blamed the Journal nepotism series, saying the articles had pushed his son to the edge.

“You just kept beating him and beating him and beating him,” Barker said. “Slowly but surely that caused him to be depressed.”

Barker was also part of a sexual-harassment lawsuit involving one of the department’s highest-ranking officers. Barker was not accused of harassment, but the alleged victim argued that he had been told about it and didn’t do enough to stop it. A judge dismissed that part of the lawsuit, but the political damage was already done.

In the 2002 primary election, Barker once again faced four challengers, but voters opted for a change. Schatzman received 42% of the vote to Barker’s 24%.

Forsyth County Commissioner Gloria Whisenhunt said she and Barker entered political office the same year: She on the school board, and Barker as sheriff.

“We did work on some things together when I was on the school board,” Whisenhunt said. “I always found Ron to be very easy to work with. He was very sincere and devoted to the job.”

She was later elected to the Forsyth County Board of Commissioners, where she saw Barker frequently, especially at budget time.

“He was never trying to get something he didn’t think he needed,” Whisenhunt said. “I always found Ron easy to communicate with. He was a family man and he was a good person.”

Larry Womble, a former member of the Winston-Salem Board of Aldermen (now known as the Winston-Salem City Council), said Barker tried to make a difference in the local community as sheriff.

“You could go to him and let him know what were the community’s concerns,” Womble said. “He didn’t always agree with those concerns. I will always remember him in a good light.”

Barker’s law-enforcement career wasn’t quite over, even after he left office here. After he left the Forsyth office, he was hired by Davidson County Sheriff Gerald Hege as a reserve deputy, which Hege described as an act of appreciation from one law-enforcement officer to another.

Barker’s son Mike said his own career, and that of his son Kevin, in law enforcement were influenced by his dad’s example. Mike Barker said his other son Matthew was inspired to go into teaching by Ron Barker.

Barker, reflecting on his job in a 1997 interview, said he wasn’t in the job for his own benefit:

“I want to do what’s best for the citizens and not what’s best for me, but that ought to already be obvious to some people.”

Jeld-Wen to close Lexington plant in December and 135 workers will lose jobs

The Jeld-Wen Holding Inc. interior and exterior door facility in Lexington will close in December, putting 135 employees out of work, according to a WARN notice to the N.C. Commerce Department.

The notice was filed Monday with some jobs being eliminated immediately at the 647 Hargrave Road plant.

Although the notice listed a Dec. 27 closing date, Jeld-Wen said in a statement Tuesday that the closing could occur as early as Dec. 13.

“The entire facility will be closed and all employees at the facility will be impacted,” Jeld-Wen said in the notice.

All employees have been informed of their separation dates.

The eliminated job positions include lay-up assembler and support (27), general production (24) and cell assemblers (17).

The plant had as many as 195 employees as recently at November 2016.

The federal Workers Adjustment and Retraining Notice Act requires companies to notify Commerce and local elected officials of mass layoffs of more than 50 employees. Affected workers are to be given notice of a potential closing at least 60 days in advance.

The act provides certain benefits to laid-off workers, such as 60 days of pay and benefit contributions if the closing is immediate, as well as access to COBRA insurance benefits for 60 days. It also triggers emergency employment and job-training services from Commerce.

“The closure is part of our global footprint rationalization and modernization program, which is designed to build efficiencies in our network and improve service and quality for our customers,” Jeld-Wen said in its media statement.

“We have a comprehensive program in place to either retain talent or assist our employees with outplacement services as they transition from the company. The Lexington facility closure will support our value of improving daily by doing everything we can to advance the way we operate and do business,” the company said.

The closing announcement came 18 days after Jeld-Wen, based in Charlotte, issued a third-quarter earnings warning of a projected 3.9% revenue decline to $1.09 billion compared with a year ago.

The company forecast a potential 2% revenue decline for fiscal 2019.

“I am disappointed in our preliminary results for the third quarter, primarily driven by soft demand in North America and further deterioration in housing activity in Australasia,” Gary Michel, Jeld-Wen’s president and chief executive, said in an Oct. 10 statement.

“Profitability was impacted by the lower volumes, as well as manufacturing inefficiencies in our North America windows business, caused by continued erratic ordering activity in the retail channel, where we were unable to adjust our cost structure within the quarter to support the unexpected demand patterns.”

“We delivered core margin expansion in Europe driven by positive price and productivity, partially offsetting the North America and Australasia performance.”

Michel said Jeld-Wen is engaging in addressing the manufacturing inefficiencies.

“I recently visited several of these facilities and believe we have the right processes and controls in place to improve performance,” Michel said. “Additionally, we are also working with our retail customers to normalize their orders and support their demand patterns.

“I believe the issues that impacted our third-quarter results underscore the urgency to continue to implement our strategy, reduce our cost structure, eliminate complexity in our operations, and increase agility throughout the organization.”

Winston-Salem police are investigating the shooting deaths of two people

Winston-Salem police are investigating the shooting deaths of a teenager who was killed Tuesday afternoon near Kimberly Park and a Forsyth County man who shot Monday in the city’s southwestern section.

Jayden Maurice Jamison, 16, of Hutton Street in Winston-Salem, was driving an SUV near the corner of Pittsburg Avenue and Burton Street shortly after noon Tuesday when he was shot, police said. Jamison was not alone in the vehicle when he was shot, but the suspects fled before police arrived. The car was found pulled onto the sidewalk at the intersection.

The department’s Criminal Investigations Division and its Violent Firearm Investigations Team have taken charge of the case.

The recreation center and areas surrounding Kimberley Park were closed Tuesday, police said.

Kimberley Elementary School had a teacher workday, and its operations were not affected by the shooting, police said.

Children played in backyards and in areas of the park near the area of the shooting.

Investigators erected a privacy screen around the SUV to prevent people from seeing inside the car. It wasn’t clear Tuesday if the victim was still in the vehicle.

A Germanton man who was shot Monday morning on Mulberry Street in Winston-Salem died Tuesday afternoon at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center, police said.

Eric Scott Coble, 43, of Joyner Manor Drive was found on his side shortly before 3:30 a.m.

Investigators say he was shot outside a home on the 600 block of Mulberry Street.

A neighbor who lives near the scene said she heard eight gunshots.

She then saw an SUV with two of its doors open and the victim lying on the sidewalk, said the neighbor, who declined to give her name because the shooting suspect remains at large.

The deaths of Coble and Jamison are the city’s 22nd and 23rd homicides this year, police said. During the same period in 2018, 22 homicides had occurred in Winston-Salem, police said.

Anyone with information about the deaths of Coble or Jamison can call Winston-Salem police at 336-773-7700 or Crime Stoppers at 336-727-2800. Crime Stoppers of Winston-Salem/Forsyth County also is on Facebook.