Wolverton family reacts to self-defense ruling following deadly shooting

Published 3:41 pm Friday, June 24, 2022

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AHOSKIE – The family of the late Joshua Lee Wolverton is expressing dismay over the findings of a law enforcement probe that ruled Wolverton’s shooter acted in self-defense.

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 Wolverton, age 20, on May 16, 2021. The shooting occurred in the yard of an Ahoskie residence on Pine Ridge Road where Sutton resided with his father.

The decision not to bring charges against Sutton Jr. centered on statements made to law enforcement by Sutton Jr. and his father. The son admitted to shooting Wolverton after the latter came onto his property, armed with a .22 caliber rifle that was pointed at him.

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.

Detectives confirmed that Wolverton called Sutton Jr. 15 times in the hour or so leading up to the shooting and that the two young men had previously sent each other

threatening messages.

Wolverton’s family said they were aware of those messages, but stressed he went to the Sutton home to engage in a fist fight with Sutton Jr. As stated in the investigation, the two young men were romantically involved with the same girl.

“We have seen the messages between Josh and Anthony Jr. which show that Josh wanted to fight Anthony. Josh was into boxing and wanted to embarrass and scare Anthony by beating him in a fist fight,” stated Brett Benbow, speaking on behalf of the Wolverton family.

Benbow added that the family maintains, “Josh’s intention was not to attack him with a rifle. Josh was an experienced hunter and would have had no reason to approach within point blank range if he had intended to threaten Anthony Jr. with a long range rifle. If he had wanted to use a firearm, he had access to multiple handguns and larger caliber rifles, and was experienced enough not to bring a near useless small caliber squirrel rifle to an armed conflict.”

The family says that according to the police investigation, there were no identifiable fingerprints found on the rifle that was laying across Wolverton’s right arm at the scene.

“Why is that,” Benbow asked. “Josh was reportedly holding that weapon prior to being shot and killed. And just a few days prior to that, a family member had handled that same weapon to shoot squirrels in a field next to their home. Those fingerprints were also not identified on the weapon.”

The family also noted that Wolverton was found on his back, legs outstretched, his right arm at an odd angle with his hunting rifle laying across his outstretched arm in a very unnatural position. They wondered why that rifle wasn’t several feet away, especially considering the impact made on his body after being shot with a powerful handgun such as a .357.

Wolverton’s rifle was loaded, to include a bullet in the chamber, but not fired.

“Multiple members of the community can confirm that Josh was known to keep this rifle in his car for shooting small game on his father’s property,” Benbow stated. “He did not bring a gun to the Sutton’s house, it was simply in his car when he finally got the address and went to fight [Sutton Jr.].”

According to the autopsy, Wolverton was shot three times. Shell casings from a .357 handgun were found nearby.

One bullet struck Wolverton in his upper right back. The medical examiner noted that the shot was fired in a “downward” direction.

Another entered Wolverton’s body in his lower left back at an “upward” direction.

Wolverton was also struck by a bullet in the front side of his left arm.

“Josh is right-handed, so why, as the photos at the scene show, is his left arm bent [in a shooting position],” Benbow noted. “They [police] don’t have an explanation for that. They also couldn’t explain several contusions found on Josh’s body…those marks weren’t on him before that day. We believe he was kicked several times after he was shot and was laying on the ground.”

Benbow said the family is also puzzled why Sutton Jr. – accompanied by his father – fled Ahoskie immediately after the shooting.

“If it was a true self-defense situation, why would they have gone into hiding for over a month rather than call the police,” he noted.

The Wolverton family says the timeline of the shooting leads them to believe there were others who witnessed the deadly confrontation, but yet did not come forward to assist in the ensuing police investigation.

“Only minutes after the shooting there were Instagram posts about Josh being shot, and then moments later about him being dead,” Benbow said. “We found out about his death on social media before the police could contact the family. We went through the horror of seeing “R.I.P. Josh” messages popping up and hoping desperately that it was a sick joke.

“We don’t know what else can be done now that the police have given up, but no justice has been served here,” Benbow concluded.

















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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