A1 A1
Winston-Salem woman pleads guilty to allowing sexual abuse of 15-year-old girl and letting children live in an abandoned house

A Winston-Salem woman did nothing to stop her husband from raping a young girl over several years and getting her pregnant and also allowed that girl and several younger children to live in an abandoned house that the city was about to condemn because of its condition, a Forsyth County prosecutor said in court Wednesday.

Marcy Lynn Helms, 39, pleaded guilty in Forsyth Superior Court 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.

Her husband, Brandon Irving Helms, 34, is facing similar charges, and his trial is scheduled to begin next week in Forsyth Superior Court.

Judge Richard Gottlieb delayed sentencing of Marcy Helms to a later date.

Winston-Salem police and social workers with the Forsyth County Department of Social Services started investigating after getting an anonymous tip about children living in an abandoned house on East 27th Street, Forsyth County Assistant District Attorney Pansy Glanton said in court Wednesday.

On May 8, 2018, social worker Wannetta Jones went to the house. All of the house’s windows were boarded up, and there was no running water. Two rooms had electricity. Brandon Helms answered the door and denied there were children in the house. He also refused to let Jones inside, Glanton said.

Two hours later, Jones entered the house with Winston-Salem police and found children’s clothing, a playpen and various other items indicating that children lived there, Glanton said. After leaving the house, Jones was approached by a man who told her he had called in the anonymous tip. The two exchanged information and Jones drove away. Then Jones received a call from the man informing her that people were leaving the house.

Police stopped the car and found Brandon Helms behind the wheel. Marcy Helms was in the passenger seat, with several children in the back seat, Glanton said. Officers found a gun in Marcy Helms’ purse and she was subsequently charged with carrying a concealed weapon. Brandon Helms was taken into custody and charged with driving without a license.

The five children, ranging in age from 4 months to 15 years, were taken to a hospital. The 15-year-old girl told doctors that her daughter’s father was Brandon Helms. Glanton said what started off as an investigation into the care of the children in the abandoned house expanded into one involving statutory rape.

Glanton said the 15-year-old girl told investigators that Brandon Helms started raping her when she was 13. She later told investigators that the sexual abuse started when she was 8, when she lived in another state.

Brandon and Marcy Helms were homeless and they moved with the children from several different places in Winston-Salem, Greensboro and Fayetteville before arriving at the abandoned house in December 2018. By that time, the 15-year-old girl was already pregnant, and she gave birth in the house on Christmas Eve 2018.

According to Glanton, Marcy Helms didn’t try to get medical attention for the 15-year-old girl.

The girl also had told Marcy Helms that Brandon Helms had raped her repeatedly over several years, Glanton said. Marcy Helms didn’t do anything to stop the sexual assault of the girl and allowed it to continue for several years, the prosecutor said.

Glanton said there was no evidence that Marcy Helms had sexually assaulted the girl, but she did aid and abet her husband in the acts.

Marcy Helms also allowed the children to live in the abandoned house, where only two rooms were livable, but without a working kitchen or bathroom, Glanton said.

Lisa Costner, Marcy Helms’ attorney, did not dispute the factual basis for the plea and said she would save any arguments on behalf of her client for her sentencing.

Keeping it wild: Park plans preserve forests

Mother Nature’s getting a helping hand at two Forsyth County parks, as officials move toward forest planning that emphasizes ecology over timber sales.

Timber would still be logged on parts of C.G. Hill and Horizons parks, but done in such a way that the parks can be left in better shape, said biologist Kenneth Bridle, who has been working with the county on a modification of the original forest-management plans for the parks.

Under the original plans, stands of immature Virginia pines were to be removed through clear-cutting, and the remaining areas of hardwoods were to be thinned out on sections of the two parks.

Now, there will be no thinning of timber in the hardwood areas.

The change came about when members of the local Audubon Society and others found out about the plans. Bridle was asked to look over the plans and the lands, and the result is the new focus on ecological forest management. Bridle is stewardship director of the Piedmont Land Conservancy.

Wide areas of clear-cutting will still remove those Virginia pines, county officials say. But the hardwood areas would be left alone so that wildlife can take advantage of the opportunities offered by rotting branches and downed trees.

Some might be shocked to see any forests cut in a park, Bridle said.

“It’s going to be disturbing, upsetting, but feel the pain, wait for the gain,” Bridle said, during a tramp through the woods on the western side of C.G. Hill.

Bridle said the clear-cutting would give the parks a chance to replace those Virginia pines with better trees: Shortleaf pine, for instance, with selected hardwoods mixed in.

At C.G. Hill, the area in the forest-management plan lies mostly west of the upper walk, and consists of some 140 acres of woods. It is a part of the park with no organized trail system, although a scenic dirt road winds its way through the woods to an old home site.

The county’s master plan for C.G. Hill includes spaces for shelters and playgrounds in that western part of the park. But most of the area in the forest management plan area is seen as remaining natural.

At Horizons, the forest- management plan covers about 92 acres on the north side of the park, behind the Horizons Residential Care site.

The parts of that site that are logged will be done in such a way that the logging trails can serve as future horse trails through areas replanted with the better-quality trees.

Bridle noted that one of C.G. Hill’s main attractions is the hollow tulip tree that is 500 years old and stands at the south end of the pond. Yet the original plan called for removing “overmature” hardwoods from other parts of the property, he said.

“There are other trees on that site with a history of hundreds of years that were marked with blue paint: (The plan) said we need to take them out, they might drop branches,” he said. “The forest does not really require any maintenance. Mother Nature does her pruning during storms. People are not going to be out in the woods during those times.”

One section of C.G. Hill Park is seen as becoming a “forest legacy area” that could be the scene of outdoor education, nature programs and walking paths with benches. That area lies to the immediate south of the upper walking trail at the park, and stretches south toward Bashavia Creek on the southern boundary of the park.

Walking in that general area, Bridle pointed out massive oaks and tulip trees that are hundreds of years old. He pointed out beech drops growing over the roots of beech trees. The site isn’t worry-free, since the ground is covered in many places with Japanese stiltgrass, an invasive species.

Changing the forest- management approach does come at a cost for the county, said Kirby Robinson, the county’s property manager, when he presented the ideas to county commissioners during briefing sessions. The county would make less money on logging than it would if the hardwood areas were thinned.

Still, Robinson said that the county stands to make $75,000 from the logging operations on three properties: Horizons and C.G. Hill parks, and an undeveloped site on Rolling Hill Drive that the county owns. The Rolling Hill site is being managed to maximize timber production.

Meanwhile, the Forsyth County Board of Commissioners votes today on paying Eastern Forestry Consultants LLC to manage the Horizons Park timber sales at a cost not to exceed $47,500. Since that work would be done under the new forest-management concept, county officials say it amounts to acceptance of the concept at C.G. Hill as well.

Scott Sexton: Burke Mill Road neighbors fighting Truliant development to the bitter end

Residents who live in neighborhoods lining Burke Mill Road knew they were holding a losing hand.

They had been fighting Truliant Federal Credit Union’s bid to expand on Hanes Mall Boulevard. Their main concern was its proposal to add an access road from Burke Mill and the additional traffic flooding already overburdened streets.

They’d organized, attended a series of neighborhood meetings and beseeched local elected officials. They met with higher ups at Truliant, and won a few concessions — noise buffers, a new turning land and a traffic signal — but still were feeling outgunned.

Neighbors were pitted against a hometown corporation, one with a sterling reputation, and standing before a jury of city officials with a well-deserved reputation for being favorable to business interests.

They knew that the Winston-Salem City Council would back Truliant. Their own councilman had told them so, and the credit union had already closed on additional property it needed even before the vote.

David was about to get stomped by Goliath. And yet a small group of neighbors loaded a slingshot anyhow.

“I still feel a responsibility to my neighborhood,” said Siobhan Murphy of British Woods. “I have to say something.”

Remember who’s asking

The agenda for Monday night’s regular meeting of the Winston-Salem City Council was packed with more than 45 items.

Two — the long-awaited and ultimately anticlimactic renaming of the former Dixie Classic Fair and the proposed sale of city land for the construction of a new Ashley Elementary School — attracted more than average interest.

But it was the two-part request by Truliant that filled the council chamber. The first three rows were mostly filled by suits prominently displaying Truliant name tags; the seats behind them populated by khakis, pantsuits and jeans from small neighborhoods along Burke Mill.

The public hearing — and vote — on the Truliant plan came in two parts. The first was seeking Council’s approval of the plan to add a three-story building and with it as many as 450 new jobs over time to the headquarters on Hanes Mall Road.

The second was a rezoning request for a sliver of land along Burke Mill that would allow the credit union to build that access road — essentially a back entrance for employees.

Truliant had won approval at other stops along the way and were so confident of winning approval by the full Council that it closed a deal for that land … in September.

Jeff Fansler, the deputy director of the city’s transportation department, told members of council that “traffic-calming measures” were already in the works, and that a $150,000 traffic study not scheduled to be finished until early next year would have “no red flags.”

“We don’t expect a negative impact” from this site, he said.

For good measure, Truliant officials reminded Council that the credit union was founded in Winston-Salem, handles $2.6 billion in assets and has 700 local employees. It’s a diverse company that supports more than 70 nonprofits. The planned expansion, they said, would add $40 million in tax value.

Valid points, but council members were already well aware of those facts.

“We’ve been a very strong corporate citizen. We’ve been a good, quiet neighbor,” said Todd Hall, Truliant’s president.

Long-standing problems

Architect Doug Stimmel followed up by noting that the credit union had agreed to help pay for a new traffic light, add landscape buffering above and beyond what’s required and to restrict the number of employees who are allowed to use the gated access road.

“We’re sympathetic to their needs, but Truliant didn’t cause their problems,” he said. “It’s been going on for 20 or 30 years.”

Councilman Dan Besse, who represents most of the neighborhoods, had told residents that he would back the request because of the new jobs, the conditions Truliant had agreed to and road improvements that he’d become convinced will help.

“We’re not talking about a good service for the city as a whole at the expense of neighbors,” he said.

The deck was stacked. Neighbors knew before they even took their seats that a request to at least wait until the traffic study was completed before a vote would be shot down.

And yet they took their three minutes to speak; Murphy wrote her thoughts down longhand while eating dinner.

“The access road won’t even be used by customers. It’s for employees,” she said. “I worked hard to buy my own house. All of us have.

“My home and neighborhood, just as all of yours should be, should be valued higher than a perk for employees.”

Another neighbor, David Irwin, used his time for a different sort of reminder about the city’s history with other financial institutions.

“Wachovia …. How’d that work out for us?” he said. “BB&T … How’d that work out for us? How’s it working out now?”

In the end, a parliamentary maneuver by Councilman John Larson, the only one to vote against the expansion plan, postponed the rezoning piece by a few weeks.

David is going to absorb his beating. It’s just going to take a while longer before it’s administered.

Four murder charges in shooting of Winston-Salem teenager

Winston-Salem police have now charged a total of four people in connection with the shooting death of 17-year-old Jumil Robertson.

Wednesday morning, police announced that officers had charged 20-year-old Kelly Roman-Marin, of the 200 block of Brannigan Village, with murder, discharging a firearm into an occupied dwelling and possession of stolen property. Another man, Francisco Javier Dominguez-Bautista, 18, had been arrested Tuesday on the same charges. Roman-Marin is also facing a charge of possession of stolen property. Police arrested Roman-Marin early Tuesday morning on the discharging firearm and possession of stolen property charges but didn’t charge him with murder until Wednesday.

Just after 8:30 p.m. Wednesday, Winston-Salem police sent out an updated news release announcing the arrests of two additional people in connection with Robertson’s death. Jose Noyola Toledo and Manuel Mejia Jimenez, both 17, have both been charged with murder. Toledo is also charged with discharging a firearm into an occupied dwelling. Jimenez has been charged with discharging a firearm from within an enclosure.

Police say one or more of the men shot into a home at 2200 S. Broad St. around 10 p.m. on Oct. 17, and, approximately 30 minutes later, shot Robertson on the 1700 block of Argonne Boulevard. Jimenez is specifically accused of discharging a weapon in connection with the shooting of Robertson. All of the other men who face discharging a firearm charges are accused of shooting into the house on South Broad Street, according to the news release.

Investigators said they used ballistic evidence to link the shooting on South Broad and Robertson’s killing, determining that both shootings involved the same firearm, Winston-Salem police officer Lt. Gregory Dorn said. Police have not determined any connection between Robertson and the people who live at the home on South Broad Street.

One other person, Alan Yair Benito-Oliva, 16, was charged with two counts of discharging a firearm into an occupied dwelling in connection with the South Broad Street shooting.

Roman-Marin and Dominguez-Bautista are being held without bond at the jail. Bond had yet to be determined for Toledo, Jimenez and Benito-Oliva.

Roman-Marin and Dominguez-Bautista are scheduled to appear in Forsyth District Court on Nov. 7.

Authorities ask anyone with information about Robertson’s death or the shooting on South Broad Street to contact the Winston-Salem Police Department at 336-773-7700, or Crime Stoppers at 336-727-2800. Crime Stoppers can also be reached on its Facebook page, “Crime Stoppers of Winston-Salem Forsyth County.”