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 b****es" 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 mention 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.

mhewlett@wsjournal.com

336-727-7326

@mhewlettWSJ

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