One dead, one injured in courtroom shooting

Published 12:00 am Thursday, July 13, 2006

JACKSON – A courtroom disruption turned deadly here Wednesday morning.

Willie Forrest, 37, who was serving a sentence of more than 56 years for a number of 2003 convictions in Wake County, was shot and killed in the Northampton County Courthouse.

According to Sheriff Wardie Vincent, Forrest was in Northampton County on a motion to have his lawyer dismissed and another appointed in a case where Forrest stands charged with the 2002 murder of a Garysburg businessman.

Superior Court Judge Alma Hinton denied the motion at which point, Forrest became &uot;abusive and agitated,&uot; according to the sheriff.

Deputies from Northampton County and officials with the North Carolina Department of Corrections, who had brought Forrest to the courtroom from Central Prison in Raleigh, attempted to remove the defendant from the courtroom.

&uot;He struggled with the officers and was able to retrieve a weapon from one of the DOC officers,&uot; Vincent said.

The sheriff said Forrest began discharging rounds at the same time as he was taking the weapon, but Deputy Corey Jackson and others grabbed Forrest and pushed him against the courtroom wall.

&uot;Deputy Jackson did a super job,&uot; Vincent said. &uot;He followed protocol and maintained contact with the inmate and the weapon.&uot;

One of the shots struck one of the Department of Corrections officers in the left shoulder, according the sheriff.

A court bailiff, whose name is being withheld until the State Bureau of Investigation finishes its interview, drew his weapon and fired rounds, striking Forrest.

&uot;At that point, the inmate fell to the floor and officers were able to retrieve the weapon and subdue him,&uot; Vincent said.

Both the officer and the inmate were transported to Halifax Regional Medical Center, but Forrest died en route to the hospital.

Vincent estimated 20 people were in the courtroom when the incident took place. He said most were court personnel and others who were waiting for a later case.

The State Bureau of Investigation has been called in to investigate the incident and have taken charge of the scene.

Vincent said the entire courthouse square had been closed and remained under lock down as of 3 p.m. Wednesday afternoon.

The sheriff indicated there were no other victims of the shooting. However, one courthouse personnel member was injured when she heard shots and left the courtroom.

&uot;We heard all the commotion down here on the first floor and then heard shots fired,&uot; said Linda Martin who works for the Northampton Clerk of Court office. &uot;It was all pretty scary down here; I can’t imagine how frightening it was up in the courtroom.&uot;

The sheriff said he was pleased with the way his officers handled the incident.

&uot;The officers did an outstanding job,&uot; Vincent indicated. &uot;They are to be commended for the job they did.

&uot;The officers followed protocol which, first and foremost, was to protect the lives of the people in that courtroom,&uot; he added. &uot;They didn’t have time to think; they had to react.

&uot;They did so instinctively and took charge of the situation,&uot; he closed. &uot;I’m glad they were able to handle the situation with no one else getting hurt.&uot;

Northampton County Manager Wayne Jenkins was also pleased with the work of the Northampton County Sheriff’s Office.

&uot;I’m very sorry to hear of the death of the inmate,&uot; Jenkins said. &uot;The loss of life is always sad, but I’d like to commend the Northampton County Sheriff’s Office and the all of the officers who serve this county.

&uot;They are to be commended for risking their lives daily for the protection of our citizens,&uot; he added. &uot;The way this incident was handled was a direct reflection of the fine leadership Sheriff Wardie Vincent provides to this county.&uot;

The incident wasn’t the first case of courthouse violence for Forrest.

According to, Forrest assaulted attorney George Hughes in a Wake County courtroom in January of 2003 just after a jury found him guilty of kidnapping and assault.

Hughes suffered a skull fracture, a broken right cheekbone and bruises around his left eye.

Forrest was convicted of first-degree kidnapping, assault on an officer, attempted first-degree murder and habitual assault.

He had previously served a time for felony assault, common law robbery and possession with intent to sell a schedule II controlled substance.

Forrest was charged in Northampton County for a murder that took place September 24, 2002.

John Hicks was murdered on that date when two men forced their way into his home, shooting him four times in an attempt to get him to tell them the whereabouts of money he had in the home.

According to Garysburg Police Chief Raymond Vaughan, Hicks refused to tell the two thieves where his money was hidden, so one of them apparently tortured Hicks by shooting him in the leg and hip in an attempt to get to the cash.

Before Hicks told them where the money was, however, he was murdered. Mrs. Hicks told the murderers where the money was hidden and the two assailants took it and fled to a waiting car.

A third man driving a gray Cutlass Sierra waited outside the home and while the robbery and murder were taking place.

Forrest was arrested for the crime on October 9, 2002 in Raleigh. The suspect held a knife to the throat of his aunt, but was captured by the Selective Enforcement Unit of the Raleigh Police Department.

A second suspect, Christopher Todd Clanton, 26, of Weldon was captured early October 16, 2002 by the Wilmington Police Department.

The final suspect in the murder of John Hicks was captured October 21, 2002 in Halifax County.

Aaron Orlando Forrest, 28, of Raleigh was staying with an acquaintance near Littleton.

Officers with the Garysburg Police Department and Northampton deputies joined forces with the Halifax County Sheriff’s Office to surround the home of Calvin Watson, who was wanted for not paying child support.

Aaron Forrest attempted to escape, Vincent said, but officers had the house surrounded and quickly handcuffed him and took him into custody.

(Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald Editor Cal Bryant contributed to this story.)