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Double murder suspect enters guilty plea

WINTON – Life without parole – times two.

William Curtis Futrell, 36, of Franklin, Va. plead guilty to two counts of first degree murder here Thursday morning during scheduled proceedings at Hertford County Superior Court.

Futrell stood accused of murdering Dorothy Hobbs, 74, and her 71-year-old sister Nellie Bradley, both of Emporia, Va., on Aug. 4, 2006. Their lifeless bodies were discovered at 7:38 p.m. on that day by an unidentified Murfreesboro resident in a wooded area along a farm path less than one mile north of town off Vaughan’s Creek Road.

An autopsy later revealed the two sisters died as the result of stab wounds and, in Hobbs’ case, blunt force trauma.

Futrell, arrested in November of 2008 in Franklin following an exhaustive investigation led by the Hertford County Sheriff’s Office, faced the death penalty in the murders. In entering the guilty plea, his life was spared, but he will spend the rest of his natural life behind bars.

Prior to Superior Court Judge Alma Hinton officially sentencing Futrell to two consecutive life terms, both without the possibility of parole, local District 6B Attorney Valerie Asbell read a statement from the family, 19 of which attended Thursday morning’s 45-minute proceeding.

“Do we feel that the plea reached is a just and fair punishment,” the statement read. “No punishment would be sufficient for the actions taken against our family members. So, we make ourselves satisfied that justice has been served; that he (Futrell) is off the streets and no innocent person will again suffer at his hands.

“We have been assured that Mr. Futrell will never leave prison alive,” the family’s statement continued. “This is how it should be. We hope that a life in prison will give Mr. Futrell time to regret what he has done, not only to our loved ones, but to his own family who are surely suffering.”

Asbell said the decision to allow Futrell to plead guilty and forego a trial was reached after lengthy discussions with the family members as well as the law enforcement investigators in the case.

“This was a difficult decision that was made out of deference to the wishes and desires of the family members of Dorothy Hobbs and Nellie Bradley,” Asbell said. “In making this decision we took into account the certainty and finality of the guilty pleas as opposed to the uncertainty of a guilty verdict based on evidence in the case.”

Asbell also touched on how this case gives the family of the victims a chance to finally have some closure.

“The lengthy time period between the offense and the arrest of Mr. Futrell only prolonged the anxiety and agony felt by the family members in this case,” Asbell noted. “I agree with the family members that a certain outcome outweighed the mental anguish of an extended jury trial. May God continue to bless these families and give them strength in the upcoming months and years to learn how to live with these senseless and horrible acts of violence.”

“We know that nothing done here today can end our suffering or correct this heinous crime,” the family’s statement read. “We have accepted that and hope to move on.”

The family was also relieved that the case did not go to trial, saving them from having to hear the gruesome details of the deaths of their loved ones.

“We are thankful that this can be resolved in one day rather than drag our family and this community through a long and drawn out trial. That would be a terrible strain on everyone,” the family said.

After Thursday’s proceedings were finished, Linda Tuck, the sister of the victims, spoke briefly to the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald.

“We don’t know why this man chose to take the lives of my sisters,” Tuck said. “They were such loving and caring individuals, willing to reach out and help anyone at any time. Perhaps that was what put them in harm’s way. Because of their caring attitudes and because they were so trustworthy of others, perhaps they picked up Mr. Futrell that day because they thought he was in need of help.”

Tuck added that she and other family members learned a lesson from the murders.

“We’ve learned not to trust strangers…that may be a sad thing to say, but unfortunately it’s the way life is today,” she said.

The only person to take the stand in Thursday’s court proceedings was Hertford County Sheriff’s Investigator Will Liverman. As the lead criminal investigator in the case, Asbell solicited his sworn testimony.

Under questioning by Asbell, Liverman went over the details of his investigation, including the DNA evidence and latent prints collected in the case from the victims’ vehicle. The DNA evidence – cross matched against  “general population samples” of Caucasian, Hispanic, Lumbee Indian and African American – showed that Futrell was “297 thousand trillion times more likely to be the suspect in this case.” The latent prints (palm prints) lifted from the vehicle matched Futrell. A towel located in the back seat of the vehicle was found to contain DNA of Futrell and the two victims.

Asbell entered the evidence collected by Liverman as part of Thursday’s proceedings.

“Do you plead guilty,” Judge Hinton asked Futrell, standing in the courtroom in an orange prison jumpsuit and his legs shackled.

“Yes,” he answered.

“Are you guilty,” Judge Hinton inquired, to which Futrell answered in the affirmative.

Earlier in the proceedings, Judge Hinton asked Futrell if he understood the plea arrangement that he had signed and if he understood that he could plea not guilty and ask for a trial by jury. Futrell said he aware of both.

Futrell was represented by two attorneys – Terry Alford of Spring Hope and Ernest “Buddy” Conner of Greenville.

Other than his one-word answers to the judge, Futrell never offered any explanation of his involvement in this crime, including a motive.

The two sisters were last seen alive in Boykins, Va. at approximately 4:15 p.m. on Friday, Aug. 4, 2006. There, they were seen dropping off a donation for Relay for Life at Boykins Baptist Church.

The vehicle in which the two were traveling – a 1996 Ford, black in color – was found at approximately 11:30 p.m. that same day behind an abandoned residence near Boykins.

The FBI, SBI, Northampton County Sheriff’s Office, Southampton County (Va.) Sheriff’s Office and the Murfreesboro Police Department joined the Hertford County’s Sheriff Office in investigating this crime. The victims’ family expressed their appreciation for the law enforcement’s efforts, especially that of the Hertford County Sheriff’s Office, to find the person responsible for murdering their loved ones.

“(Hertford County) Sheriff (Juan) Vaughan is my hero,” Tuck said. “I don’t know what we would have done without him. He was so compassionate, calling us each and every week to provide updates on the case. We put our faith and trust in him and his capable staff and they didn’t let us down.”

“I’m just happy for the family that this part is over,” Sheriff Vaughan said. “They will never have complete closure because of the horrific manner in which their loved ones were killed, but at least this one particular chapter is finished and behind them. They will not have to worry about this man hurting anyone, outside of prison.

“This was such a sad case,” Vaughan added. “These women could have been anyone’s mothers, grandmothers, aunts, sisters. From listening to the family speak of them, you could feel the love they all had for each other. We can’t bring these two women back, but we can punish the person responsible for their deaths.”

Even though he was living in Franklin at the time of his arrest, Futrell does have a Roanoke-Chowan area connection as he once resided in the Lewiston area of Bertie County and attended Bertie High School.

He is also no stranger to local law enforcement.

On January 11, 2008, Futrell was taken into custody after stealing a Northampton County Public Works truck in Jackson and driving it to Rich Square, where he was arrested for vehicle theft.

According to online records provided by the North Carolina Department of Corrections, Futrell was convicted and given a suspended sentence on May 5, 2000 for speeding and driving while license revoked in Hertford County. A little over one year later (7-30-01), he was given a suspended sentence following a conviction of writing a worthless check in Martin County. All of those crimes are misdemeanors.

Futrell also has a criminal history across the state line. According to Southampton County, Va. court records, Futrell was arrested on Sept. 12, 2007 and charged with misdemeanor assault after an incident in Franklin on Aug. 27. He entered a not guilty plea, was tried and found not guilty on Nov. 30.

Futrell was also arrested on June 14, 2006 and charged with felony grand larceny. The charge stems from a June 9 incident in Franklin. Futrell pleaded no contest at his Oct. 16 hearing and received a 90-day suspended sentence.

The murders took place 51 days after Futrell’s arrest for the grand larceny charge.

About Cal Bryant

Cal Bryant, a 40-year veteran of the newspaper industry, serves as the Editor at Roanoke-Chowan Publications, publishers of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald, Gates County Index, and Front Porch Living magazine.

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