Deputies in Lincoln County are continuing to seek leads in two murders that have remained unsolved in the last four years as well as other homicides from 2010.
The Lincoln County Sheriffâ€™s Office Major Crimes Unit is collaborating with the State Bureau of Investigation to piece together details from the 2010 murder of Charles Daniel Mullinax and the 2007 homicide of Clinton Dewayne Trent.
In both instances, authorities found the bodies of the Lincoln County residents on their property.
Mullinax, 67, of the 2000 block of West Highway 150 in Crouse, was found shot to death inside his living room. In addition, the home was burned in order to conceal the homicide authorities said.
In addition, the residence had been burning at least 45 minutes to an hour before a witness saw the smoke and contacted local fire crews, authorities said.
While a suspect has yet to be arrested in the Mullinax murder, several individuals have been interviewed in recent weeks according to Lt. Tim Johnson of the Lincoln County Sheriffâ€™s Office Major Crimes Unit.
Although Mullinaxâ€™s home doubled as a used goods business and made him no stranger to the law, law enforcement officials do not believe his two arrests had anything to do with his death.
Mullinax was arrested on two separate occasions between 2009 and 2010 for not having proper legal documents to operate the business and for violating junk, scrap and salvage laws.
He also pled guilty at one point to violating a county ordinance according to archived news reports from the Lincoln Times-News.
Authorities believe the incident that led to his death likely stemmed from a robbery.
However, a billboard seeking leads in Mullinaxâ€™s death was erected a couple months ago on the north side of N.C. 150, just yards from where his remains were found.
Although at first authorities received little to no calls and leads in connection with the billboard, calls have increased in the last five days, Johnson said.
Soon after the incident, authorities scrambled to search for a murder weapon after a man tipped off deputies that he saw a person throw some type of object out his car window in the direction of the Cherryville Country Club. However, the search turned up empty.
Authorities also remain puzzled in Trentâ€™s murder case and consider his slaying to be unique in a number of ways. Trent, 51, was reportedly the third person in Lincoln County to be shot to death in 2007.
His body was discovered in the backyard of his residence on Primm Road in Denver in early November of that year. He appeared to have died from injuries sustained to the head. In addition, his wrists were bound with rope authorities said.
Johnson suspects the murder weapon was a hammer after one was found at the scene. However, that detail has yet to be confirmed.
Trent was reportedly an animal breeder and took care of almost two dozen chickens, birds and dogs at his home. In addition, he was raising the small-sized dogs for sale, Johnson said.
The lieutenant also revealed interesting new details on Trentâ€™s life.
A music leader at a Gaston County church, Trent also led a homosexual lifestyle and liked to dress in drag as well as attend various so-called â€œbeauty contests.â€
â€œHe had a dark side,â€ Johnson said. â€œEverybody has a dark side; itâ€™s just some are darker than others.â€
However, authorities remain unclear as to where these contests were held and if other local people were involved.
Johnson recently traveled to Virginia to interview a close acquaintance of Trentâ€™s. However, the victimâ€™s closest acquaintance, his sister-in-law, passed away following Trentâ€™s murder. Authorities believe she could have possibly provided much more insight into the victimâ€™s life.
The Major Crimes Unit is currently scanning over Trentâ€™s phone records from the 24 hours leading up to his death.
A suspect has yet to be arrested in the case, but authorities said they do have a person of interest in mind who failed a polygraph test and believe Trentâ€™s death, like that of Mullinax, may have stemmed from a robbery.
However, because previous sheriffâ€™s administration and staff failed to complete much work on the case following Trentâ€™s death, current sheriffâ€™s officials are just now starting to dive into the evidence.
Suspects in the three other murder cases that occurred last year in Lincoln County continue to remain behind bars including four alone in connection with the slaying of 24-year-old Zachary David Young of Maiden in April 2010.
Alamar Edwards, 18, of Maiden; Tyrone Brice, 24; and Byron Bost, Jr., both of Hickory, along with Andree Nixon, 25, are all allegedly connected to Youngâ€™s death after his body was found in a field near Maiden at the intersection of Summerrow Road and Null Road.
Gunshots were heard in the area the previous night, and area residents also saw a suspicious vehicle parked near the murder scene.
Although murder charges were dropped against Nixon after evidence showed that he was not aware that a murder would take place, he was served a true bill of indictment in January and also faces robbery charges along with Brice.
Among the four suspects, there are also assault and drug charges.
While Bost is being held without bond, and Brice is under a secured bond of more than $1 million, Edwards and Nixon are being held under much lower bonds of $75,000 and $12,000.
Johnson believes three of the suspects will probably enter a guilty plea after evidence returns from the state crime lab. In addition, authorities say they have incriminating evidence against the fourth suspect who is refusing to say much at this point.
â€œWe have good evidence against him,â€ Johnson said.
He also revealed that Young knew the suspects, and that evidence in the case suggests that the murder was probably the result of a robbery or a drug-deal â€œgone badâ€ rather than some sort of â€œgang-slaying.â€
Evidence is still being processed in both the murder of 49-year-old Denver resident Jimmy William Cole, who was found beaten with a crowbar inside his burning home in June 2010 and the shooting death of 21-year-old Richard Miles in August 2010.
John Paul Gaddy, 24, has been charged with Coleâ€™s murder along with assault with a deadly weapon inflicting serious injury and failure to appear. He is currently being held in the Harven A. Crouse Detention Center without bond.
Authorities said Gaddy lived in the same Denver neighborhood as Cole and knew the victim.
As far as a motive for the murder, Johnson noted there may not have been one and considered Gaddy just â€œa messed up guy.â€
â€œYou donâ€™t have to have a motive,â€ he said. â€œYou could just be stupid. Alcohol and pills may not make you remember what you did.â€
According to Assistant District Attorney Mike Miller, a trial date has yet to be determined in the murders of both Young and Cole as evidence continues to be examined.
â€œNew discoveries this year were turned over to their respective attorneys,â€ Miller said.
In addition, a trial date for Jason Lee Eastridge, 24, of Iron Station, has also not been set. Eastridge is charged in the death of Richard Miles after he allegedly shot the victim at Midtown Sundries in Denver.
The two had supposedly been engaged in some sort of sports debate at the time of the incident.
Johnson is confident that Eastridge will plea guilty in the case. However, the state has since made the decision to not seek the death penalty for Eastridge after Assistant District Attorney Micah Sanderson reviewed the case and was unable to find any of the 11 â€œaggravating factorsâ€ that must exist in order for a case to qualify for the death penalty.
â€œBy statute, there are certain factors that have to be present,â€ he said.
An aggravating factor includes any type of serious crime or felony committed in conjunction with a murder such as rape, burglary or robbery, among others. Factors may also include crimes committed in order to prevent escape from custody or during a period of incarceration.
Until forensic scientists with SBI finish examining all evidence, authorities are unable to proceed with the case.
â€œItâ€™s not that theyâ€™re moving slow,â€ Sanderson said. â€œBut thereâ€™s a lot of it (evidence).â€
Eastridge has also been charged with assault with a deadly weapon or assault inflicting serious injury and is under a $265,000 secured bond.
Johnson verified that he and other authorities are doing their best to investigate all the countyâ€™s current murder cases.
â€œAll evidence on all murders have been sent to the lab,â€ he said.
He also asked that anyone with information related to the unsolved murders of Mullinax and Trent contact him at 704-736-8909.
In addition, a $1,000 reward is being offered for any tips leading to an arrest. Tips can remain anonymous.
by Jenna-Ley Harrison