Gag order

Published 10:56 am Monday, July 17, 2017

JACKSON – Chief District Six Court Judge Brenda Branch has issued a gag order as an investigation continues in the murder of a Woodland man last week.

Branch, who presides over Judicial District Six, made the gag order effective on July 11, the same day a 15-year-old suspect in the case made his initial appearance in a Northampton County courtroom. That juvenile has been detained in the wake of the murder of 75-year-old Joseph Stephen Odom who was found shot to death on July 6 inside his home, located at 1483 NC 35 South, Woodland.

“This is an extremely sensitive case as it involves a juvenile as a murder suspect,” Judge Branch told the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald on Thursday. “In such cases we need to protect the integrity of the case as well as protecting a juvenile suspect as much as we can until all the evidence and the facts surrounding such a case are gathered.”

Judge Branch added that during the juvenile’s first court appearance on Tuesday, the presiding Judge there (the Honorable W. Turner Stephenson III) was made aware of certain aspects of the case that led him to contact his superior (Branch).

“Judge Stephenson suggested the gag order in an effort to help preserve the integrity of this case,” Branch said.

That order reads (in part)…..“The Court finding that the details of the above-captioned investigation (the investigation of the murder of Joseph Odom) are, at this time, of such a sensitive nature that there should be no public discussion of any detail of said investigation until such time as conditions surrounding the investigation change. Public discussion includes any comment made in a public forum or arena, any conversation or comment by an investigator or person working with investigators, whether in an official or voluntary capacity, to a person not also involved in the investigation, and any comment made to any media outlet.”

The next judicial action on this case is a probable cause hearing, currently scheduled for July 18 in Jackson.

As published prior to the gag order, the murder investigation began after Northampton deputies responded to Odom’s residence at around 6:45 p.m. on July 6. Shortly thereafter, Northampton County Sheriff Jack Smith summoned the assistance of the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigations.

Smith and his team of investigators along with the SBI remained at the crime scene late into the night. The Woodland Police Department was also at the scene.

At that time, Smith said a 15-year-old had been detained in Odom’s death and faced a charge of first degree murder.

There was no other information shared at that time, to include how this suspect was identified as the alleged shooter; what type of weapon was used; if the suspect and the victim were related; or a motive for the murder.

Funeral services for Odom are scheduled for 3 p.m. on Sunday in the Rich Square Chapel of Wilder’s Funeral Home. Burial will follow in the Aulander Cemetery.

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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