The 22-year-old man charged with fatally shooting a Winston-Salem man outside a restaurant at Hanes Mall made his first appearance in court Thursday.

Robert Anthony Granato, of the 100 block of Cloverhurst Court, faces a charge of felony murder in the death of Julius Randolph Sampson, 32, who worked as a barber at Supreme Legacy Barbershop in Hanes Mall. Winston-Salem police say Sampson and Granato got into an argument inside BJ's Restaurant and Brewhouse at Hanes Mall. The two men continued to fight outside the restaurant. At some point, Granato shot Sampson to death, police have said. 

Winston-Salem Police Chief Catrina Thompson said Wednesday that investigators have not uncovered any evidence that the fatal shooting was racially motivated, but she did say both men used racial epithets during the altercation. She did not say what those racial epithets were.

People have told the Winston-Salem Journal and have said on social media platforms that Granato made racist comments to Sampson and that the run-in between two men began after Sampson defended a female bartender at the restaurant.

Granato's Instagram account shows pictures of him holding guns and videos of him shooting them. One picture from 2014 shows Granato standing with another young man, wearing shirts saying "Murica" and him displaying what appears to be the OK hand signal that some people associate with support for white supremacy.

The Winston-Salem Journal has not heard from any witnesses, including employees at BJ's Restaurant, who saw the fight and the shooting.

In Forsyth District Court on Thursday, Judge Carrie Vickery told Granato that he was charged with murder and could face the death penalty if convicted. If convicted of first-degree murder, Granato faces either life in prison without the possibility of parole or the death penalty. It will be up to Forsyth County prosecutors whether they will pursue the death penalty.

Granato is also charged with misdemeanor carrying a concealed weapon after or while consuming alcohol. Vickery said, if convicted of that charge, Granato could face a maximum of 20 days in jail. 

Vickery appointed the Capital Defender's Office to assign an attorney to his case. His next court date is Aug. 22. He remains jailed without bond.

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mhewlett@wsjournal.com

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@mhewlettWSJ

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