Sandhills_Sentinel August 23, 2019

ASHEVILLE, N.C. (AP) — A homeless man who was set on fire over the weekend has died from his injuries, and the man accused of the attack is now charged with murder.

Asheville Police said Thursday that 66-year-old Robert Charles Austin of Asheville is now facing first-degree murder charges after his arrest Wednesday.

Police were called to Tunnel Road before 2 a.m. Sunday and found 58-year-old Larry Alston suffering from severe burns.

The initial investigation shows someone poured accelerant on Alston and set him on fire. He died at the hospital early Thursday morning.

Police are looking for potential witnesses to the crime.

 

GREENVILLE, N.C. (AP) — A North Carolina man who spent 24 years in prison has been freed because prosecutors say they won’t pursue a new trial against him.

News outlets report a judge ordered a new trial Thursday for 44-year-old Dontae Sharpe, who was serving a murder sentence for a 1994 shooting death in Greenville. Prosecutors then said that they wouldn’t pursue a retrial.

The judge’s decision came after an evidentiary hearing in Pitt County court for Sharpe, who was convicted of killing 33-year-old George Radcliffe during a drug buy.

At Thursday’s hearing, a key witness testified that she lied at Sharpe’s trial in saying she saw Sharpe kill Radcliffe. She later recanted.

The NAACP has advocated for Sharpe throughout. Supporters say he refused an earlier plea deal, insisting on his innocence.

 

DURHAM, N.C. (AP) — Police have arrested a 14-year-old and 15-year-old who led them on a highway chase in North Carolina with speeds exceeding 100 mph (160 km/h).

The Durham Sheriff’s Office says the teens were spotted by a deputy late Wednesday night traveling 20 mph above the speed limit.

When the deputy tried to pull the car over, it sped off through a red light onto northbound I-70. Police say the driver later made his way onto I-85 and then exited onto side roads where he lost control and crashed.

Police say three people fled from the car, and the two teens were taken into custody. The third person remained at large Thursday.

Charges include fleeing arrest, driving without a license, possessing a stolen vehicle and possession of a handgun by a minor.

 

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — Legislation to allow billboard companies to relocate their signs more easily when the land upon which they stand is condemned for a highway project has been vetoed by North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper.

The measure got final legislative approval earlier this month, representing give-and-take by the billboard industry, North Carolina League of Municipalities and others.

But Cooper said Thursday the measure fails to give communities authority to control tree-cutting and other clearing related to these relocations. He says local governments should have more say in billboard matters.

The bill passed the House by a narrow margin, meaning collecting votes for an override may be difficult.

This is Cooper’s sixth veto this year. Republicans in charge of the legislature haven’t overridden his previous five.

 

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — A three-judge panel has ruled a mentally ill man convicted of killing a North Carolina college student 40 years ago is innocent.

Ruling as part of North Carolina’s innocence process, the judges agreed Thursday that 66-year-old James Blackmon didn’t fatally stab Helena Payton in 1979 at what’s now St. Augustine’s University in Raleigh.

Blackmon was sentenced in 1988, about nine years after the slaying. The case had gone cold until 1983.

Lawyers agreed Blackmon is mentally ill with a low IQ. In police interviews, he wore a Superman-like cape and compared himself to Dracula.

His case came before the judges through the work of the North Carolina Innocence Commission, which ruled in November there was enough evidence of Blackmon’s innocence to warrant a judicial review. The judges’ decision is final.

 

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — An amusement park located in both North and South Carolina has closed its newest roller coaster after someone suffered a thumb injury.

Carowinds said the rider was hurt Sunday on the Copperhead Strike coaster. The ride opened earlier this year at the amusement park, which is located south of Charlotte, North Carolina. The coaster is located entirely in South Carolina.

The park issued a statement Wednesday saying the ride would be closed pending a safety assessment. It didn’t give details on the extent of the thumb injury.

The South Carolina Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation told news outlets Wednesday that it is also investigating the injury.

The Copperhead Strike is the first double launch coaster in the Carolinas. The ride flips passengers five times.

 

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — A Republican proposal to give millions of North Carolina taxpayers refunds from a larger-than-anticipated revenue surplus is advancing in the state Senate.

The Senate Finance Committee voted on Thursday for the measure to send $663 million through checks of up to $125 or $250. Amounts would depend on the taxpayer’s filing status and what they owed during 2018.

Senate leader Phil Berger told committee members returning money to taxpayers is one good option when more money than necessary is collected for state government. Democratic Sen. Floyd McKissick of Durham said legislators should look instead at using the excess on important needs like school construction. But Berger says the Republican budget vetoed by Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper contains such funds.

The refund measure is expected on the Senate floor next week.

Copyright 2019, The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

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