Four years ago, Winston-Salem police and Forsyth County sheriff’s deputies searched the property of Jason Michael Mitchell and found human remains that have never been publicly identified.
Four years later, his case has not gone to trial and it’s not clear when it will.
Because of that, Mitchell’s attorney, John Bryson, is asking a Forsyth County judge to dismiss the pending criminal charge against Mitchell — one count of felonious destruction of a human body or remains to conceal a death. Bryson said Mitchell’s constitutional right to a speedy trial is being violated.
Mitchell’s wife, Mary Utleye Mitchell, 52, is facing the same charge. A trial date for her case also has not been set. They have not been charged with murder. Mary Mitchell’s attorney, Michael Grace, has not filed a similar motion asking that her criminal charge be dismissed
Winston-Salem police seized nearly 250 items from the property the Mitchells shared at 3555 Brookbank Drive in Pfafftown in June 2015, including two motor vehicles. Police found 10 machetes, guns, ammunition, knives, swords, computers and other items, according to an inventory list of the search warrant attached to Bryson’s motion to dismiss, which was filed on June 18 in Forsyth Superior Court.
None of those items have been returned to Jason Mitchell, Bryson said.
“No attempt has been made to return any of these items even though it is obvious that most, if not all of these items, have little or no evidentiary value to the case,” Bryson wrote.
Forsyth County Chief Assistant District Attorney Jennifer Martin said Thursday that she could not comment on a pending legal matter. The Forsyth County District Attorney’s Office initially been assigned Brian Taylor to prosecute the case, but he left the district attorney’s office in July 2017. The case was then assigned to Derek Gray, but he too left, in August 2018. Both Taylor and Gray now work as criminal-defense attorneys.
Martin said the case has not yet been assigned to another prosecutor and a trial date has not been set.
Jason and Mary Mitchell were indicted in March 2017, which moved their cases to Forsyth Superior Court, where prosecutors could start turning over evidence to defense attorneys, set a trial date or negotiate a plea deal.
Typically, it takes months or even years to resolve a felony case, depending on the seriousness of the charge. First-degree murder cases in which prosecutors are requesting the death penalty can take the longest to resolve and are often the most expensive criminal cases.
But Bryson said in his motion that the charge Jason Mitchell is facing is a lower-level felony and even after four years, there is no trial date.
“The length of delay here is presumptively prejudicial and the State does not appear to have justification for such an excessive delay on such a low level felony,” he said in court papers.
Bryson filed a motion for a speedy trial in Jason Mitchell’s case in August 2018. Forsyth County prosecutors never filed a written response to that motion, Bryson said.
Mitchell is free on a $75,000 bond that he posted in 2015. But Bryson argues that Mitchell has suffered “severe prejudice” because of the trial delay.
“First, it should be noted that his passport has been kept from him for four years thus preventing him from international travel during this time,” Bryson said. “More importantly though, is the amount and value of the property seized from him four years ago that has been kept from him despite his repeated attempts to reclaim at least some of those items.”
Mitchell is particularly concerned, Bryson said, about the two vehicles, which likely have been stored outside, destroying any value they may have had.
Mitchell estimates the value of items seized to be more $100,000, according to Bryson.
Officials with the Forsyth County Sheriff’s Office, which was also involved in the investigation of the human remains, have been tight-lipped on details. They and Forsyth County prosecutors have refused to say if the body has been identified.
The case has been linked to Gordon Reid, a 61-year-old man who was reported missing on Feb. 4, 2015. Reid’s name appears on a court order sealing a search warrant for the Mitchells’ house. But attorneys for the Mitchells said in motions last year that prosecutors had not turned over any evidence of Reid being dead or of the remains having been identified as his.
The only possible connection known publicly is that Reid was last seen at 158 Motor Road, next door to a house owned by the Mitchells. The search warrant in the case is still sealed.
The sheriff’s office sent the remains to the N.C. Office of the Chief Medical Examiner’ in Raleigh and then to the FBI’s lab in Quantico, Va.
When those agencies couldn’t identify the body, the sheriff’s office used Bode Cellmark Forensics Inc. in Lorton, Va., a private lab that says on its website can provide forensic-genealogy services to law-enforcement officials for violent crimes against individuals, such as homicide, or for identifying human remains.
No date to hear Bryson’s motion has been set.