District Attorney Ernie Lee

District Attorney Ernie Lee This is the official page for the Office of the District Attorney, Ernie Lee, for the counties of Duplin, Jones, Onslow and Sampson.

He has served as the elected Chief Prosecutor for the State of N.C. District 5 since January 2011. The mission of the District Attorney's Office is to seek justice by ensuring that victim's rights and the public's safety are our number one priority through the fair, vigorous and efficient enforcement of the state's criminal laws. Our mission requires the highest degree of integrity and professiona

He has served as the elected Chief Prosecutor for the State of N.C. District 5 since January 2011. The mission of the District Attorney's Office is to seek justice by ensuring that victim's rights and the public's safety are our number one priority through the fair, vigorous and efficient enforcement of the state's criminal laws. Our mission requires the highest degree of integrity and professiona

Operating as usual

09/15/2021
Officer Involved Shooting

On September 13, 2021, I announced my findings in an officer involved shooting that occurred near Salemburg in Sampson County.

On July 4, 2021, Craig Locklear was fatally shot by a Sampson County deputy after a high speed chase involving the Cumberland County Sheriff's Office and deputies from the Sampson County Sheriff's Department.

The suspect fled on foot into a wooded area and, later that afternoon, a Sampson County deputy confronted the suspect during a traffic stop. Locklear was armed and raised his firearm toward the deputy. The deputy shot the suspect.

I found the shooting death, although tragic for the suspect's family, is justified. The deputy was exercising his right to self-defense.

Sheriff Jimmy Thornton

We remember the fallen, and the heroes, from that day.
09/10/2021

We remember the fallen, and the heroes, from that day.

District Attorney Ernie Lee, who is also a retired US Army Reserve Major, stopped by the Sheriff’s Office today as we were hanging a patriotic bow around our flag pole in remembrance of the twentieth anniversary of the September 11th attack. Tomorrow our flag will be at half-mast in honor of civilians, first responders and members of the US Armed Forces that lost their lives that dreadful day.

We would also like to thank those members of our Armed Forces that have sacrificed so much in the past 20 years in the War on Terror. To the survivors of the fallen, your loved one’s sacrifices shall not be forgotten. We pray that God continues to bless and protect you!

(A special thank you to The Atrium Florist and Gifts for donating the bow.)

I met with Police Chief Greg Warren and Sgt. Wendy Jones of the Newton Grove Police Department this afternoon. We met in...
09/03/2021

I met with Police Chief Greg Warren and Sgt. Wendy Jones of the Newton Grove Police Department this afternoon. We met in Newton Grove in northern Sampson County in a pending felony assault investigation. I accompanied Chief Warren and Sgt. Jones to the scene of the offense.

I appreciate Chief Warren and his department for their diligence in protecting the citizens of Newton Grove. ⚖️
Town of Newton Grove

I met with Police Chief Greg Warren and Sgt. Wendy Jones of the Newton Grove Police Department this afternoon. We met in Newton Grove in northern Sampson County in a pending felony assault investigation. I accompanied Chief Warren and Sgt. Jones to the scene of the offense.

I appreciate Chief Warren and his department for their diligence in protecting the citizens of Newton Grove. ⚖️
Town of Newton Grove

09/02/2021

District Attorney Ernie Lee has announced that charges involving cruelty to an animal at Animal House were dismissed today.

This decision was made after meeting with Onslow Animal Services, reviewing the video, and receiving the veterinarian necropsy report from Raleigh on September 1. The cause of death is considered to be chronic and significant inflammation of the heart with signs of heart failure.

District Attorney Ernie Lee released the following statement:

SEPTEMBER 2, 2021

Pursuant to my review of the Onslow County Animal Services investigation involving Cherry Derr, a dog groomer at Animal House in Jacksonville, North Carolina, I have determined that there is insufficient evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt the elements of animal cruelty as defined by North Carolina law. On August 17, 2021, the District Attorney’s Office was made aware of a video depicting Derr, a dog groomer, grooming Curry, a seven-year-old border collie mix, owned by Frank and Emilee Hanks. On this date, after review of the video, written reports, expert reports, and the applicable law, I have determined that the charge of felonious cruelty to animals is dismissed by the State this date.

The incident on the video occurred on August 13, 2021. The video shows several dogs and groomers in a large room. The video does not have sound. Curry was in the back left corner of the video, farthest away from the camera. Curry was standing on the grooming table and Derr was seen in the video grooming his legs and feet. Derr turned away from Curry on the table for a few moments and returned her attention to Curry and continued to groom him. Derr did not leave Curry unattended at any time in the video. As Derr continued to groom Curry, the video shows that Derr begins to move suddenly, and several other groomers run over to assist her. At least four employees were assisting Derr’s attempt to perform CPR and other lifesaving measures on Curry. The video shows that a towel or blanket was placed under Curry while an employee continued to perform CPR. Curry was then picked up by an employee and rushed to a nearby veterinarian who attempted life-saving measures. Curry was then pronounced deceased while at the veterinarian’s office.

I must determine whether the conduct of the groomer violates North Carolina General Statute 14-360 entitled “Cruelty to Animals.” After viewing the video several times, reviewing witness statements, reviewing the investigation conducted by Onslow County Animal Services, as well as reviewing the necropsy conducted by the North Carolina Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory, I have determined that the conduct depicted on the video, while disturbing since it depicts the death of the border collie, it does not meet the elements of North Carolina General Statute 14-360. The necropsy report is dated August 31, 2021 and was received by this Office on September 1, 2021.

North Carolina General Statute 14-360(b) makes it a Class H felony to “maliciously torture, mutilate, maim, cruelly beat, disfigure, poison, or kill, or cause or procure to be tortured, mutilated, maimed, cruelly beaten, disfigured, poisoned, or killed, any animal.” North Caroline General Statute 14-260(c) defines “maliciously” as “an act committed intentionally and with malice or bad motive.” The statute also defines “intentionally” as “an act committed knowingly and without justifiable excuse.” The words “torture,” “torment,” and “cruelly” as defined by statute and refer to “any act, omission, or neglect causing or permitting unjustifiable pain, suffering, or death.”

Onslow County Animal Services took out a charge of felony cruelty to animals on August 13, 2021 and Cherry Derr was arrested on the same day without incident. Derr received an unsecured bond by the Magistrate’s Office and was released. Animal Services officers did not speak to a member of the District Attorney’s Office prior to charging the case but did consult with a local veterinarian regarding Curry’s death. Reports of Animal Services, witness statements, photographs, and videos were provided to the District Attorney’s Office the week of August 20, 2021 at the request of District Attorney Ernie Lee and Assistant District Attorney Brittany Smiley. Assistant District Attorney Brittany Smiley spoke with an attorney representing Frank and Emilee Hanks on August 17, 2021 to discuss the charges and what information would be needed to go forward with the continued investigation. The assistant district attorney met with the charging Animal Services Officer on August 20, 2021 to review the documents in the custody of Animal Services and provided further instructions to Animal Services that it was imperative that the District Attorney’s Office be able to review the necropsy to determine the cause of death, whether any injuries were sustained, as well as any possible preexisting conditions. The necropsy was emailed to Animal Services from the Rollins Lab on August 31, 2021 at 7:16 p.m., and Animal Services emailed the District Attorney’s Office the necropsy results on September 1, 2021 at 10:51 a.m. District Attorney Ernie Lee as well as two assistant district attorneys met with Animal Services officials late in the afternoon of September 1, 2021 to discuss the necropsy results. The local veterinarian who treated Curry after his death was also consulted by Assistant District Attorney Brittany Smiley and provided the results of the necropsy.

The necropsy was performed by NC Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory System (NCVDLS) Rollins Lab in Raleigh, North Carolina. NCVDLS Rollins Lab was created by the North Carolina Department of Agriculture and is a part of the Veterinary Division. The necropsy was performed on August 16, 2021. Extensive testing was performed on Curry, the deceased dog, and the veterinarian who performed the necropsy diagnosed Curry with myocarditis, interstitial pneumonia, and encephalitis. The necropsy states that:

“The cause of death is considered to be the chronic and significant inflammation in the heart muscle with signs of heart failure in the lungs. Additionally, there is inflammation in the lungs and brain. This is most suggestive of an infectious disease, but a disease was not identified even with additional testing. This was an ongoing and underlying disease present when the dog was groomed. Stress may have exacerbated an already diseased heart but regardless, the myocarditis in this dog was going to be fatal. The lipoma was located outside the thoracic inlet and would not have contributed in any way.

There are no definitive lesions that confirm strangulation or hanging. A ligature mark is the most relevant lesion but it can be missing depending on the type of ligature used, the duration and characteristics of the animal’s fur and skin. In this dog, a ligature mark was not found. No bruising of the skin nor under the skin of the neck was found and there was no bruising of the trachea nor of the hyoid bones. There was no fracture of an of the laryngeal hyoid bone… A small focus of a skin abrasion was found where the hair had been shaved, which could be razor burn since there was no underlying bruising.”

The Rollins Lab veterinarian also noted in her report that “[s]trangulation cannot be confirmed. No changes were present to support that diagnosis. There are changes in the heart to suggest cardiac dysfunction.”

This office has taken this investigation seriously, as we do any crime, including those involving animal cruelty. As a prosecutor, I have an ethical duty not to proceed with prosecution when there is insufficient evidence to support the charges. Based upon the evidence before me, there is insufficient evidence beyond a reasonable doubt to convict Derr of the offense of cruelty to animals. The medical evidence shows that “there are changes in the heart to suggest cardiac dysfunction.” As a prosecutor, I have tried more than 230 jury trials including eight capital murder cases. I have successfully prosecuted animal cruelty cases in the district and superior courts that have involved “puppy mills,” dog fighting cases, and other acts of cruelty. Those cases are often very difficult to prove beyond a reasonable doubt, but the facts of those cases warranted prosecution. Two assistant district attorneys and I have reviewed the facts of this case, the video evidence, and the expert reports and have concluded that this office would not secure a conviction by proving beyond a reasonable doubt a violation of NCGS 14-360.

I appreciate the investigation of Onslow County Animal Services. Based upon the evidence presented to me pursuant to an investigation conducted by an animal cruelty investigator with the Onslow County Animal Services, review of the video, the expert statements from the veterinarian who performed the necropsy, and the applicable law in North Carolina, I have determined that there is insufficient evidence to warrant prosecution against Derr for cruelty to animals. Therefore, the charge of felonious cruelty to animals is dismissed this date.


Ernie Lee
District Attorney

It is my pleasure to announce that Onslow County Legal Assistant Sharon Mayhew has received her 20-year service award fo...
09/02/2021

It is my pleasure to announce that Onslow County Legal Assistant Sharon Mayhew has received her 20-year service award for dedication and service to the State of North Carolina.

Sharon has served as a legal assistant with the District Attorney’s Office in Onslow since July 2011, shortly after I was elected to serve as District Attorney.

Sharon has prior experience as a deputy clerk of court in Cumberland County, from 1998 to 2007, and as a legal assistant with Hoke County District Attorney Kristy Newton, from 2009 to 2011.

Sharon is assigned in Onslow to assisting victims in felony cases and has earned a reputation for hard work and dedication to helping victims. I appreciate her service to this office and the State of North Carolina. ⚖️

Sharon Norton Mayhew

It is my pleasure to announce that Onslow County Legal Assistant Sharon Mayhew has received her 20-year service award for dedication and service to the State of North Carolina.

Sharon has served as a legal assistant with the District Attorney’s Office in Onslow since July 2011, shortly after I was elected to serve as District Attorney.

Sharon has prior experience as a deputy clerk of court in Cumberland County, from 1998 to 2007, and as a legal assistant with Hoke County District Attorney Kristy Newton, from 2009 to 2011.

Sharon is assigned in Onslow to assisting victims in felony cases and has earned a reputation for hard work and dedication to helping victims. I appreciate her service to this office and the State of North Carolina. ⚖️

Sharon Norton Mayhew

District Attorney Ernie Lee participated in a joint press conference with Acting United States Attorney General Norman A...
08/31/2021

District Attorney Ernie Lee participated in a joint press conference with Acting United States Attorney General Norman Acker, III, Sampson County Sheriff Jimmy Thornton, and Agent in Charge Shawn Stallo of the Bureau of Alcohol, To***co, Fi****ms and Explosives (ATFE) on Monday at the Sampson County Sheriff’s Office.

The DA's Office and the Sampson County Sheriff’s Office coordinated with the US Attorney and federal law enforcement in the federal prosecution of five defendants involved in a two-day crime spree in Clinton and Sampson County in October 2019. Their crimes involved kidnapping, felony assault, fi****ms violations and other offenses.

Each defendant received substantial active sentences, including three who received in excess of 275 months in federal prison.

In addition, as a result of this investigation, one of the defendants has been charged with murder by the Sampson County Sheriff’s Office, and will be prosecuted by the District Attorney’s Office.

This investigation demonstrates that interagency cooperation results in successful prosecution of dangerous defendants. ⚖️

08/30/2021

Kidnapping, torture, shootings and drug dealing are all linked with the murder of Jimmy Graham, 61, law enforcement officials are saying, unfolding the case at a press conference Monday afternoon. In May, nearly a year and a half after Graham went missing from the Newton Grove area, investigators charged a suspect in his killing after confirming human remains discovered in the Newton Grove area were Graham. His family had filed a missing person’s report back in December 2019. See story later at Clintonnc.com and in upcoming editions of The Sampson Independent.

As school resumes, the Onslow County District Attorney’s Office said goodbye to our summer interns, all of whom have wor...
08/15/2021

As school resumes, the Onslow County District Attorney’s Office said goodbye to our summer interns, all of whom have worked hard and are now moving on with their studies.

These interns all had a great work ethic and were excited to experience working with cases that ranged from traffic court up to first degree murder.

Three of our interns –Trevor Amis, LaQuita “Q” Reinhardt and Alexis Backus – came to us from law school and college, and were assigned to assist District Attorney Ernie Lee and Chief Assistant District Attorney Michael Maultsby with preparing a non-capital first degree murder case in Onslow County.

Three interns -- Jasmine Weavers, Schuyler Adams and Jacob O’Quinn -- were assigned to traffic court, misdemeanor court and Superior Court and assisted in researching legal issues in felony cases and summarizing criminal files.

“Our interns have been excellent, have worked hard and have been a great assistance to us,” District Attorney Ernie Lee said. “It's been a great learning experience for them and I know that some, as a result of working in our office, have expressed an interest in being prosecutors one day. I wish them all the very best as they return to school or pursue their careers.”

We wish the very best to the following:

Trevor Amis graduated this summer from East Carolina University, where he majored in criminal justice. Trevor graduated from Northside High School and is interested in a career in law enforcement.

LaQuita “Q” Reinhardt is a second-year law student at the University of Mississippi and previously served four years in the United States Marine Corps.

Alexis Backus is a Senior at Appalachian State University, where she is majoring in sociology with a concentration in criminology. She graduated from Croatan High School.

Jasmine Weavers is a graduate of Coastal Carolina Community College where she received her associates degree in paralegal studies. She graduated from Northside High School.

Schuyler Adams is a junior at UNC-Chapel Hill, where she is majoring in political science. She is a graduate of Swansboro High School.

Jacob O’Quinn is a senior at Jacksonville Christian Academy and will be a 2022 graduate.

As school resumes, the Onslow County District Attorney’s Office said goodbye to our summer interns, all of whom have worked hard and are now moving on with their studies.

These interns all had a great work ethic and were excited to experience working with cases that ranged from traffic court up to first degree murder.

Three of our interns –Trevor Amis, LaQuita “Q” Reinhardt and Alexis Backus – came to us from law school and college, and were assigned to assist District Attorney Ernie Lee and Chief Assistant District Attorney Michael Maultsby with preparing a non-capital first degree murder case in Onslow County.

Three interns -- Jasmine Weavers, Schuyler Adams and Jacob O’Quinn -- were assigned to traffic court, misdemeanor court and Superior Court and assisted in researching legal issues in felony cases and summarizing criminal files.

“Our interns have been excellent, have worked hard and have been a great assistance to us,” District Attorney Ernie Lee said. “It's been a great learning experience for them and I know that some, as a result of working in our office, have expressed an interest in being prosecutors one day. I wish them all the very best as they return to school or pursue their careers.”

We wish the very best to the following:

Trevor Amis graduated this summer from East Carolina University, where he majored in criminal justice. Trevor graduated from Northside High School and is interested in a career in law enforcement.

LaQuita “Q” Reinhardt is a second-year law student at the University of Mississippi and previously served four years in the United States Marine Corps.

Alexis Backus is a Senior at Appalachian State University, where she is majoring in sociology with a concentration in criminology. She graduated from Croatan High School.

Jasmine Weavers is a graduate of Coastal Carolina Community College where she received her associates degree in paralegal studies. She graduated from Northside High School.

Schuyler Adams is a junior at UNC-Chapel Hill, where she is majoring in political science. She is a graduate of Swansboro High School.

Jacob O’Quinn is a senior at Jacksonville Christian Academy and will be a 2022 graduate.

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Fountaintown community center 2113 Fountaintown rd Republican meeting on Tuesday night, September 14 6:30-8:00pm Refreshments will be served . Half/half tickets available as well as a gun raffle. Special speaker on agenda Please come join us