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'Something is not right' says mother of a man who disappeared over a month ago in Winston-Salem

The family of a missing Winston-Salem man searched for him Friday in the city’s northern section, but they didn’t find him.

James Eric Matthews, 37, was reported missing on May 18, police said. Matthews was last seen driving a silver Chevy Tahoe as he left the 3900 block of Talcott Avenue, but officers recovered that vehicle May 30 at Motor Road and Patterson Avenue.

Matthews wasn’t found at that time. Matthew stands 6 feet tall and weighs about 180 pounds, police said.

“The police don’t know where he is,” said Patricia Harris of Hampton, Va. who arrived Thursday in Winston-Salem with her daughter. “That’s why we’re here to try to help find him.”

Investigators learned that Matthews’ credit cards were used May 28 at stores in the Northside Shopping Center, according to the Facebook page Crime Stoppers of Winston-Salem/Forsyth County. Surveillance photos showed a man using the cards.

“That’s not a good sign to me,” Harris said.

Harris described her son as a sweet and fun person who likes to laugh.

She said she normally spoke to her son daily on the phone. Harris last spoke to him on May 16.

“We had a very, very tight relationship,” Harris said.

On May 17, Matthews and his wife attended the funeral of his wife’s uncle, Harris said. Matthews and his wife then returned to Winston-Salem, Harris said.

Matthews and his wife visited his mother in Hampton for Mothers’ Day on May 12. Matthews and his wife have two daughters and a son.

Matthews delivered a sermon at Loving Kindness Kingdom Worship Center in Hampton, Va., where Harris serves as an apostle.

“He preached about forgiveness,” Harris said.

Matthews has many achievements in his life, his mother said. As a student at Hampton High School in Hampton, Va., Matthews played football and soccer and competed on the school’s wrestling team, Harris said.

Matthews enrolled as a student at Greensboro College, but he left school in January 2003 when his Army Reserve unit was called up for active duty in Iraq, the Greensboro News and Record reported in April 2004.

Matthews served a year in Iraq as an Army truck driver in the 991st Transportation Co. based in Salisbury. Matthews later received a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice from Greensboro College in 2005, Harris said.

“He had to work extremely hard to do that,” Harris said.

Matthews also received a master’s degree in education online from the Cambridge Graduate University International in Cambridge, Mass., Harris said.

Matthews also served as the youth pastor at the Thrive Church in High Point, his mother said.

Before he went missing, Matthews worked as a military service coordinator at the Winston-Salem Regional Office of the Veterans’ Administration, his mother said.

“He was promoted to that position on March 16,” Harris said.

Harris is worried about her son’s fate.

“I’m very nervous at this point,” Harris said. “I do feel that something is not right.”

Anyone with information regarding Matthews’ whereabouts can call Winston-Salem police at 336-773-7700, Crime Stoppers at 336-727-2800 or its Spanish line at 336-728-39045.

Winston-Salem police identify victim of fatal shooting, no suspects immediately identified

A Winston-Salem man was shot to death Friday inside his home in the city’s southern section, authorities said.

Michael Miles Zamora, 30, died at the scene at 1628 Thompson Drive, police Lt. Eric Montgomery said. Zamora was shot at least one time.

The shooting was reported to police about 2:30 p.m., Montgomery said. Officers found Zamora unresponsive inside the house. Detectives with the police department’s Criminal Investigations Division have assumed responsibility for the case. The preliminary investigation indicates the suspect fled the scene, police said in a news release.

The shooting was not the result of a domestic dispute, Montgomery said. He didn’t immediately know of a motive for the shooting.

“I don’t know of any threat to the public,” Montgomery said.

Police blocked the street in front of the house, but people who live in the neighborhood were allowed to return to their homes.

Several people who lived in the area told the Journal that they did not know Zamora. Detectives questioned neighbors about the shooting.

Authorities are asking that anyone with information regarding this investigation contact the Winston-Salem Police Department at (336) 773-7700 or CrimeStoppers at (336) 727-2800.

Photos: Scene of homicide on Thompson Drive

City awards pool improvement contracts

The city is planning improvements at Bolton and Long Creek swimming pools, but there’s no need to get out of the water this summer.

Improvements approved by the Winston-Salem City Council recently will be undertaken during the off-season, Assistant City Manager Tasha Ford said.

The same company, Aquatic Designs Inc., based in Climax, won the contracts for improvements at both pools.

The more extensive work, at Bolton Pool off Burke Mill Road, will be done at a maximum cost of $425,000. City officials said the work will consist of installing a stainless steel gutter system and work on the return floor inlets. The company will restore ceramic tile on the pool walls, floors and steps.

As well, the work will include replacing the plaster on the pool walls and guttering, and cleaning the interior surfaces of the pool.

City officials said the renovation work will start in September and be completed within 213 calendar days, with final completion no later than April 2020.

The city said the work at Bolton is being paid for with general-obligation bonds approved by the voters in 2018.

Work at the Long Creek pool will also taking place in the off-season so that it doesn’t interfere with pool use, Ford said.

The Long Creek improvements will be done at a cost of $210,000, and will consist of removing the existing filters, piping and valves from the pump room, and the removal of concrete decking so that main drain piping can be installed. Tile work, the installation of the main drain piping and other work as needed are included in the contract.

Long Creek Pool is on Bethania-Tobaccoville Road and is in the park of the same name that the city acquired from a former golf course in 2017.

The city gained about 164 acres of new parkland with the purchase, and provided residents on the fringes of North Ward with parkland nearby.

City officials said the improvements being done at Long Creek are being paid for from two-thirds bonds, a type of financing that does not require voter approval.

Second man charged in 34-year-old killing was in court Friday. Another man is already serving a life sentence for the murder.

A South Carolina man charged with strangling a 65-year-old woman to death in her home more than 30 years ago is now in the Forsyth County Jail.

Darren Leak Johnson, 53, of Springtree Drive in Columbia, S.C., made his first appearance in Forsyth District Court on Friday. He is charged with murder in the 1985 death of Blanche Bryson and had been in custody in South Carolina, awaiting extradition. Blanche Bryson was found dead in her Gilmer Avenue house on Dec. 10, 1985, a lamp cord around her neck and her house ransacked.

Johnson’s arrest was the direct result of an investigation by the N.C. Innocence Inquiry Commission into claims that Merritt Drayton (also known Merritt Williams) is innocent in Bryson’s death. Drayton gave statements in the 1980s that he and another man (he gave the names of several different men, none of them Johnson), broke into Bryson’s house and that the other man killed Bryson.

Johnson, however, has told investigators with the Innocence Commission that he was alone in Bryson’s house when Bryson came home and that he killed her with a cord. He also told investigators that Drayton was not there and that he never knew Drayton. Johnson’s DNA was found under Bryson’s nails.

Winston-Salem police interviewed Johnson as a possible suspect in 1988. At the time, Johnson denied involvement in the case, and police did not investigate further. Johnson’s DNA was never tested until after the Innocence Commission began its investigation.

Asked why no further investigation or DNA testing was ever done on Johnson, Assistant City Attorney Lori Sykes said she could not comment on a matter that is pending in the court system.

Merritt Drayton is serving two sentences of life with the possibility of parole, as well as an additional 10 years, in three different murders, including Bryson’s. He was also convicted of murdering Arthur Wilson in 1983 and killing Mary Smith in 1986.

After a four-day hearing that started June 4, the Innocence Commission, an eight-member body that includes judges, prosecutors and criminal-defense attorneys, ruled that there was sufficient evidence of factual innocence in the Bryson case to merit judicial review by a panel of three superior court judges.

Chief Justice Cheri Beasley of the N.C. Supreme Court will select the three superior court judges, and the panel will hold a hearing at some point in Forsyth County to determine if Drayton should be exonerated in the Bryson case.

The commission also reviewed Drayton’s claims of innocence in the Wilson case but found insufficient evidence of innocence. That case is closed. Drayton filed his claims in the Wilson case in 2011 and filed his claims in the Bryson case in 2015. The commission has reviewed more than 2,600 claims since it started operating in 2007. The agency’s work has resulted in 11 exonerations.

On Friday, Forsyth District Judge Laurie Hutchins assigned Johnson an attorney through the Forsyth County Public Defender’s Office and set Johnson’s next court date for July 11. Prosecutors will seek an indictment for murder that will send the case to Forsyth Superior Court, where either a trial date will be set or a plea deal reached.

Johnson has given a statement to Winston-Salem police, but police have not revealed what Johnson said.

Forsyth County prosecutors have argued that Johnson’s arrest in Bryson’s murder does not necessarily mean that Drayton is innocent. Forsyth County District Attorney Jim O’Neill has criticized the commission for investigating the Wilson and Bryson cases, calling it a waste of taxpayer dollars. He said Drayton fits the FBI definition of a serial killer.

In a brief filed with the commission, Forsyth County prosecutors allege Drayton has consistently given the same story to police and in sworn testimony in court hearings — that he and another man broke into Bryson’s house and that the other man killed Bryson. Forsyth County prosecutors say in their brief that Drayton named a man he called The Lieutenant as his accomplice.

But Drayton first named Sammy Mitchell, a notorious criminal in Forsyth County. Mitchell was linked to Darryl Hunt, who was wrongfully convicted in the 1984 death of Deborah Sykes. Hunt and Mitchell were convicted of killing Wilson, but Hunt was acquitted of the charge in a second trial.

Drayton also named several other people as accomplices in Bryson’s death, including someone he called Gadget, before he named The Lieutenant, according to commission documents. He never named Johnson, and in a deposition with the commission said he had never heard of Johnson.

Winston-Salem police compared the fingerprints of many of the men Drayton named to prints found at the crime scene. None matched.

Robbin Carmichael was arrested a year after Drayton was convicted in Bryson’s death and told police that he was involved. His fingerprints were found on Bryson’s car, which was stolen and later found off 21st Street. He was convicted of second-degree murder and other charges and was released from prison in 2008.

Carmichael and Johnson, in interviews with the commission, said they never knew Drayton and that Drayton was not at Bryson’s house on that 1985 night.

Forsyth County prosecutors dispute that. They say Johnson, who was high on LSD, could have acted in concert with Drayton without either knowing the other’s real name and then gone their separate ways. The only physical evidence that linked Drayton to the crime scene was two strands of hair found in a brown toboggan hat seized by police. A report from a hair specialist said the hairs could have come from Drayton.

In his interview, Drayton told commission investigators that Winston-Salem police drove him to Bryson’s house before he gave any statements and that he lied about stealing lamp shades but police strongly believed he had to have taken something. Drayton said he culled details about the case from newspaper articles, neighborhood gossip and information that Winston-Salem police detectives fed him.

He also said Winston-Salem police wanted him to implicate Mitchell and another man, who was a reputed drug dealer, in the Bryson case.