Investigation reveals Ahoskie man acted in self-defense during May 2021 deadly shooting

Published 9:08 am Thursday, June 9, 2022

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AHOSKIE – A local man will not face charges in the shooting death of an Ahoskie resident last year.

On the heels of an investigation conducted by the Ahoskie Police Department, assisted by the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation, it was determined that Anthony Bryan Sutton, Jr., 22 of Ahoskie, acted in self-defense when he shot and killed 20-year-old Joshua Lee Wolverton on May 16, 2021.

The announcement of the Ahoskie Police / SBI findings in this case was made yesterday (Wednesday) by Seth Edwards, who has served as the elected District Attorney for Beaufort, Hyde, Martin, Tyrrell and Washington counties since 2003. Edwards accepted the assignment of this case following allegations of a conflict of interest by the Wolverton family. Valerie Asbell, District Attorney for Bertie, Halifax, Hertford and Northampton counties, is married to Ahoskie Police Chief James Asbell. DA Asbell disputes the existence of any conflict, but in the interests of justice and transparency asked that another District Attorney handle the case. Asbell is in the final year of her current term and is not seeking re-election.

According to Edwards, the investigation revealed that on May 16, 2021, at approximately 4:04 pm, officers responded to 201 Pine Ridge Road in Ahoskie in response to a report of shots fired. When officers arrived, they observed Wolverton lying on the ground in the front yard near the driveway of 201 Pine Ridge Road. Wolverton was unresponsive and appeared to be deceased.

Officers observed a Winchester .22 caliber rifle laying across the right arm of Wolverton. A few feet away, officers also noticed three spent .357 shell casings from a firearm on the ground in the driveway.

In addition, officers observed a silver Hyundai Sonata passenger vehicle parked in front of the residence of 201 Pine Ridge Road with the engine running. Later, investigators determined this vehicle belonged to Joshua Wolverton, and that the rifle laying across his body was loaded with one round in the chamber and sixteen rounds in the magazine.

Officers initially canvassed the immediate and surrounding areas. No witnesses reportedly witnessed the shooting, but several heard multiple gunshots and then saw two black

males run towards a vehicle and leave the scene.

Investigators determined that Anthony Bryan Sutton, Sr, and his son, Anthony Bryan Sutton, Jr., resided at 201 Pine Ridge Road. Neither Sutton, Sr. or Jr. were present at the scene when officers arrived.

As part of the investigation, detectives with Ahoskie Police Department obtained text and Instagram messages between Wolverton and Sutton, Jr., as well as messages with friends of both. These messages contained threats, back and forth, between Wolverton and Sutton involving a young female with whom both had a past or present relationship. This female appeared to be pregnant with Wolverton’s child, but was currently involved with Sutton.

Also in those messages, Wolverton repeatedly asked Sutton to provide his address so they could fight. Both Sutton and Wolverton sent photos to one another of firearms they possessed.

During the exchange of messages, Sutton refused to provide his address to Wolverton.

The investigation showed that prior to the shooting, Wolverton posted a message on Instagram offering $100 to anyone who would provide Sutton’s address. Detectives interviewed numerous witnesses who corroborated the ongoing feud between Wolverton and Sutton.

On the day of the shooting, Wolverton learned of Sutton’s address. Following the shooting, an agent with the NC SBI located a handwritten note in Wolverton’s vehicle which contained the words, “201 Pine Ridge rd.”

Following the shooting, Sutton Sr. and Jr. fled the Ahoskie area. The next day, detectives spoke with Sutton, Sr., by telephone. Sutton, Sr. stated that when Wolverton pulled up and exited his vehicle, he tried to convince Wolverton not to raise the gun and get back into his vehicle. Sutton Sr. also stated that he told his son to get back inside the house, but that Jr. was not going to turn his back on a man with a gun.

Sutton Sr. indicated to detectives he would bring his son in for questioning once he obtained an attorney. For several months, detectives searched for both individuals without success.

In August of 2021, Sutton, Sr. was arrested on unrelated charges. In subsequent statements to law enforcement, Sutton, Sr., stated that on the day of the shooting, Wolverton drove by Sutton’s house in the silver Hyundai. After seeing the Suttons, Wolverton turned around and parked his vehicle in front of Sutton’s house. Sutton, Sr. stated that Wolverton exited his vehicle with a rifle, and he and Sutton, Jr. began to argue. Shortly thereafter, Wolverton jumped the small ditch near the road and quickly approached Sutton Jr. When Wolverton approached within a few feet, he raised the rifle and pointed it at Sutton Jr. At that time, Sutton Jr. shot Wolverton several times with a handgun.

Eventually, Sutton Jr. voluntarily gave a statement to Ahoskie Police detectives in the presence of attorney Jamal Summey. Sutton Jr. admitted to shooting Wolverton after Wolverton came onto his property and advanced towards him in a threatening manner with the rifle pointed at him. Detectives confirmed that Wolverton called Sutton Jr. 15 times in the hour or so leading up to the shooting. The only known eyewitnesses to the actual shooting are Anthony Sutton, Jr., and his father, Anthony Sutton, Sr.

The investigation showed that the Suttons’ version of events is supported by the location of Wolverton’s body and the spent shell casings from Sutton’s gun, as well as the string of electronic messages between Wolverton and Sutton, Jr.

“This is a tragic loss to the Wolverton family, and it’s unfortunate I am powerless to do anything about it,” said District Attorney Edwards. “However, the State has the burden of proving beyond a reasonable doubt that Anthony Sutton, Jr. did not act in self-defense, and that’s impossible. According to NC law, a person has no duty to retreat in a place where he has a lawful right to be, such as his own home. Sutton, Jr. was entitled to ‘stand his ground’ and repel force with force. The investigation revealed that Wolverton sought out Sutton, Jr., travelling to Sutton’s home where the deadly shooting occurred.”

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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