Murder charge dropped

Published 3:00 pm Saturday, September 12, 2009

AHOSKIE – Horace Leon Sessoms is a free man.

On Wednesday, 6B District Attorney Valerie Asbell dismissed the charge of first degree murder lodged against the Colerain man, arrested Aug. 24 in the death of Willie Mason Bell of Merry Hill.

Asbell said she dismissed the charge after reviewing the investigator’s report from the Bertie County Sheriff’s Office and speaking to the pathologist, Dr. M.F. Gilliland from the North Carolina Medical Examiner’s Office and the Brody School of Medicine in Greenville.

“The State cannot prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant, Horace Sessoms’ actions were the proximate cause of the victim, Mr. Willie Bell’s, death,” Asbell stated in a press release sent Friday to the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald. “In order to constitute any form of homicide, the State has to prove that the defendant’s act must be the ‘proximate cause’ of the victim’s death.”

In this case, the witnesses’ statements, as provided by the Bertie County Sheriff’s Office, were not consistent with the pathologist’s finding as to the cause of death. The witness’ statement taken by the Bertie County Sheriff’s Office was that the defendant (Sessoms) kicked the victim (Bell) in the head.

Bell’s lifeless body was found lying on Farless Road in the Perrytown community by Bertie County Sheriff’s deputies at approximately 4 a.m. on Aug. 24. At that time, witnesses alleged there was a fight between Sessoms and Bell. However, what caused Bell to die was not immediately clear.

In an Aug. 25 story in this newspaper, Bertie Sheriff Greg Atkins stated, “From looking at the body, there were no obvious external injuries; we are unsure as of this time as to the cause of death.”

Bell’s body was taken to Greenville for an autopsy. There, the preliminary report, released Aug. 26, failed to determine the cause of death and additional testing was deemed necessary.

Meanwhile, the Bertie Sheriff’s Office had arrested Sessoms on the charge of first degree murder.

After completing the autopsy, Dr. Gilliland stated that there were no significant external injuries and no internal injuries were identified. Dr. Gilliland further stated there were no anatomic findings to support the witness’ statement of stomping the victim’s head.

Although the full written autopsy report has not been completed, Dr. Gilliland told Asbell, “The continued investigation has not shown any significant physical connection between the scuffle and the defendant’s death.”

After discussing the evidentiary issues with Sheriff Atkins, Bell’s family members and Dr. Gilliland, Asbell dismissed the charges against Sessoms.

Regarding the dismissal, Asbell stated she has an ethical and legal duty as the District Attorney not to proceed on charges that are not warranted by sufficient evidence of each and every element of a crime.

“It is my duty as a prosecutor to bring justice to those who are guilty and it is equally my duty to protect the innocent and to refrain from prosecuting those against whom no sufficient evidence can be found,” she said.

“My deepest condolences have been expressed to the family members of Mr. Bell and I hope that they continue to heal through this tragedy with God’s help,” Asbell concluded.