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Residents pay respects to Vivian Burke

City residents paid their respects to Vivian Burke on Friday, stopping by City Hall where the late city council member lay in state, her coffin flanked by an honor guard drawn from Winston-Salem fire and police officers and Forsyth County sheriff’s deputies.

Individually and in small groups, people made their way through the front doors of City Hall and paused at Burke’s coffin, which was surmounted by a spray of white flowers.

Mayor Allen Joines and members of the Winston-Salem City Council were among the first mourners to pay their respects.

Burke, who represented Northeast Ward on the city council, died Tuesday at Forsyth Medical Center of heart failure. She had served on the city council for almost 43 years, setting a record for years of service, but had decided not to run for re-election this year.

A police escort conveyed Burke’s hearse from Russell Funeral Home to City Hall Friday morning with the body lying in state from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. At the conclusion, Burke’s hearse was escorted back to the funeral home

“When she was in the grocery store, she would always speak to you,” said Paulette Leake, who recalled how Burke came to her church, St. Peter’s Church of God Apostolic (now St. Peter’s Church and World Outreach Center) when it opened on Highland Avenue.

Leake said she had already made her plans for the day when she saw in the newspaper that Burke’s body would be lying in state.

“I said I’ve got to bump my schedule and come down here,” Leake said. “She has done so much.”

Velvet Price told how Burke would visit her church, Christ Rescue Temple Apostolic Church on Dunleith Avenue.

“On community day she would come by and share meals with us,” she said. “She was a very nice lady. I did not know her personally, but she would make you feel when you talked with her that she knew you.”

William Peay, who wore a blue city T-shirt as he paid his respects, and said he worked for city recreation and parks.

“She was family,” he said. “Not blood related, but really close to my family. Working for the city, she has done a lot. ... If you needed something, you could get in touch with her and she would definitely get it done.”

Donna Robinson talked more about the beliefs that Burke brought to her job, as she stopped by to pay respects.

“She stood for justice,” she said. “She stood for what was right. She stood for love. She stood for helping the community, helping Winston-Salem as a whole.”

Robinson said Burke inspired others, too.

“She stood out like a mother to many that you would want to follow in her footsteps,” Robinson said.

James Davis had a close connection that brought him by on Friday:

“I did her yard work,” he said. “I just did it yesterday. I have been knowing her for years.”

And, he said, he was as surprised as many others were when Burke died. He remembered how nicely she treated him as he worked.

“She would come out and talk to us and give us sodas and chips,” he said.

Burke also visited his neighborhood and talked to the residents, Davis said.

“She will be missed,” he said.

Burke will be buried today in a private ceremony at New Evergreen Cemetery.

Former Forsyth commissioner Everette Witherspoon will be sentenced July 31 for federal tax fraud charges.

A former Forsyth County commissioner who was convicted of federal tax fraud will be sentenced at the end of July.

Everette Leon Witherspoon Jr. pleaded guilty in March to one count of filing a fraudulent tax return and one count of failure to file a tax return. A federal grand jury had initially indicted Witherspoon on three counts of filing a false tax return and one count of failing to file a tax return.

He was scheduled to be sentenced on May 26, but courts are largely closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. A sentencing hearing will now be held on July 31 at the federal courthouse in Winston-Salem.

Under federal sentencing guidelines, Witherspoon could face four years in prison, but under a plea agreement, prosecutors said they would recommended a shorter sentence. Judges don’t have to adhere to those sentencing recommendations. Witherspoon also will have to pay at least $207,060 — the amount of income taxes he failed to pay — to the federal government.

Witherspoon, who served two terms on the Forsyth County Board of Commissioners, was charged as part of a tax-fraud scheme that ensnared five other people, including a former president of the Winston-Salem NAACP.

Federal prosecutors allege that Witherspoon filed tax returns in 2012, 2013, 2014 and 2015. In each of those years, he didn’t report income he made as a commissioner and under-reported income he made through his mental-health company, which was called Chris’s Rehablative Services LLC. Witherspoon described the Greensboro-based company on his Facebook page as one of the largest providers of “Psycho Social Rehabilitation services in North Carolina.” The company has since dissolved.

Witherspoon co-owned two tax-preparation companies at the center of the tax-fraud scheme — Fast Tax of Winston-Salem and Quick Taxes LLC in Greensboro. The indictments didn’t accuse Witherspoon of filing false tax returns on behalf of anyone but himself.

But court documents did indicate that one of the other people convicted in the tax-fraud scheme prepared the tax returns for his company — Claudia Lynette Shivers. Shivers is serving nearly two years in prison after she was convicted of conspiring to defraud the United States by filing false tax returns.

Federal prosecutors alleged that Shivers conspired with three other people, who have all been convicted, to prepare 519 false tax returns that claimed $1.3 million in fraudulent tax refunds. Shivers co-owned both Fast Tax and Quick Taxes. The three other people convicted were S. Wayne Patterson, past president of the Winston-Salem NAACP and a former lawyer; Kristyn Dion Daney and Rakeem Lenell Scales.

Patterson also co-owned Quick Taxes.

Willie Lee Cole Jr., Witherspoon’s business partner in Chris’s Rehablative Services, also owned Quick Taxes. Cole was convicted in connection to the tax-fraud scheme and is currently serving six months in prison on a misdemeanor charge of failing to file tax returns.

4-year-old boy shot, in critical condition at Brenner Children’s Hospital

A 4-year-old boy is in critical condition at Brenner Children’s Hospital after being shot early Friday afternoon.

The boy was at his apartment where he lives, in the 200 block of Countryside Court, around 12:40 p.m. when he was shot, Winston-Salem police officer Lt. Gregory Dorn said.

The child suffered an apparent gunshot wound to his face, police said.

There were four or five people at the residence, including adults, at the time of the shooting, Dorn said.

Medical staff at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center performed emergency surgery, police said. The child is in critical but stable condition, Dorn said.

There is no one in custody and police aren’t looking for any suspects. The scene is confined to the inside of the apartment, Dorn said. Only one shot was fired.

The investigation is in the early stages and circumstances surrounding the incident are still developing, police said. No names have been released.

Investigators said they are speaking with cooperating witnesses.

Multiple neighbors who live in the same apartment building described hearing the shot and seeing first-responders taking the boy out of the apartment.

One 16-year-old said she often hears shooting at the apartment complex and at first didn’t think anything of it.

“They shoot out here every day,” the girl said. When she heard a woman screaming, she said she knew something was wrong.

Then she saw the boy.

“I just got shook when I saw the baby and he was shot in the neck,” she said.

Another resident, India Reynolds, said she was inside when the shot was fired, and also heard screaming.

Reynolds said guns are fired at the apartment complex, Countryside Villa Apartments, regularly.

Bond reduction denied for Winston-Salem man charged in fatal Hanes Mall shooting. Risk of COVID-19 cited as reason for he needed to be released

A Forsyth County judge denied Robert Anthony Granato’s request to have his bond reduced because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Granato, 23, is charged with first-degree murder, accused of fatally shooting Julius Randolph “Juice” Sampson in August 2019 outside BJ’s Restaurant and Brewhouse at Hanes Mall. The shooting sparked allegations that Granato, who is white, killed Sampson, a barber and a married father of three children, because Sampson was black.

Police Chief Catrina Thompson has said even though Granato used a racial epithet, there was no evidence that the shooting was racially motivated. She said both men used racial epithets, and Paul James, Granato’s attorney, has said in court that Sampson used the “N-word” first and that Granato hurled the word back.

Granato is at the Forsyth County Jail with bond set at $503,000. He had previously been held without bond, but Forsyth District Judge George Bedsworth set a bond after a January hearing.

On Thursday, Judge Laurie Hutchins of Forsyth District Court denied a request to reduce the bond any further.

James filed two bond motions — one in April and an amended one in May. The motions also provide new details that James said bolster his argument for self-defense. He filed a separate motion to dismiss the murder charge in which he argues that Granato had the right to use deadly force because he feared for his life and that he had no duty to retreat. The motion to dismiss is still pending.

In the motions, James argued that Granato is at greater risk of contracting COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, at the jail. The United States has more than a 1 million known cases of COVID-19, and more than 70,000 people have died.

“The county jail has never confronted a global health pandemic like this one,” James said in the April motion. “The facility is unequipped either to prevent transmission of COVID-19 among detainees and staff or to isolate and treat individuals who become infected. For the reasons set forth..., Robert Anthony Granato’s ongoing pretrial detention poses an imminent threat to Robert Anthony Granato’s life and to the health and safety of the community from a deadly infectious disease.”

James argued that Granato is especially susceptible to the infection because he “has also suffered serious injury in the detention center requiring significant medical intervention and surgery.” James didn’t provide details about the injury or how Granato got injured.

He also pointed out that outbreaks of the coronavirus have already happened at prisons throughout the country, including in North Carolina. Neuse Correctional Institution has had more than 450 positive cases. The prison holds 788 offenders.

No cases of COVID-19 have been reported at the Forsyth County Jail.

Chief Justice Cheri Beasley has curtailed court operations since March because of the COVID-19 outbreak, James said. The grand jury won’t meet until June 22, and jury trials might not resume until social-distancing requirements are lifted, he said. That might not happen until a vaccine is developed, approved and distributed, which is at least 12 to 18 months away, James said.

“For someone who is presumed innocent and who has taken every effort to have his charges resolved at the earliest opportunity it is unconscionable to require him to remain in custody when reasonable alternatives other than high money bail are (available) to assure the safety of the community and the defendant’s appearance for trial, whenever it is finally able to be called,” he said.

Forsyth County prosecutors opposed the motion to reduce bond. Sampson’s wife, Keyia Ingram Sampson, also opposed it.

Chief Assistant District Attorney Jennifer Martin said nothing has changed since Bedsworth set Granato’s bond after the January hearing. Martin said she plans to indict Granato for first-degree murder when regular court resumes and argued that Granato represents a danger to the community.

“Our sheriff, his staff and jail trustees (are) working diligently to keep (the) jail free of illness and they take precautions to protect defendants and employees from infection,” Martin said. “The defendant is at no greater risk than any other person in our community.”

James’ motions also provide new details in a major dispute between him and prosecutors — whether Granato shot Sampson in self-defense.

  • What’s already publicly known is that the shooting outside the restaurant followed an altercation between the two men that started inside. Granato had complained that there wasn’t enough alcohol in his drinks and called the female staffers “fat bes” and a sexist term referring to female genitalia, according to Martin. Sampson defended the women.

James said based on video surveillance, Granato and his friend, Landon Smith, walked out of the restaurant. Later, Sampson and his friend followed.

According to James, witnesses said Sampson told Granato that Granato had never met a ‘N-word’ like him. Granato then repeated the phrase, using the racial epithet. That made Sampson upset and Sampson rushed Granato, threw him to the ground and started beating him, James said in court papers.

James argues that Granato shot Sampson to protect himself.

“There is no reported witness statement indicating that Mr. Granato ever sought to have any sort of physical confrontation with either Mr. Sampson or Mr. James (Sampson’s friend),” James said.

James also asserts that there is no evidence that Granato was lying in wait by holding the pistol behind his back.

“Here Mr. Granato neither threatened, brandished or otherwise displayed the gun to Mr. Sampson,” James said. “Nor did he fire it until Mr. Sampson had him on the ground and was punching and choking him.”

In the motion to dismiss, James argued that Granato feared for his life and mentioned that Granato had a previous traumatic brain injury. Granato’s treating doctor told Granato that another blow to the head could be fatal, James said.

At a hearing in January, Martin argued that prosecutors had multiple theories for first-degree murder and that Granato was involved in two separate incidents in which he brandished a handgun. James said Granato was never criminally charged in those incidents.