DA: Pursuing death penalty against Stroupe 'appropriate on many levels'

Phillip Stroupe II during a July 28 court appearance in McDowell County, N.C. Stroupe is being charged with first-degree murder, and Henderson County District Attorney Greg Newman said he intends to seek the death penalty after the discovery of Tommy Bryson's body on Sunday night. (Photo credit: WLOS staff)

A manhunt that lasted days became a capital murder case Monday.

District Attorney Greg Newman said he will seek the death penalty against Phillip Stroupe II after authorities charged him with murdering Thomas Bryson.

The body of Bryson, who was reported missing Wednesday morning, was discovered in Arden on Sunday night by a relative of Bryson's who works at Skyland Fire and Rescue.

Investigators said Bryson was found 20 minutes away from where he was abducted, and the person responsible is Stroupe. There's been no word yet on how Bryson died.

"(Bryson’s) wife and him were very well-known in the community, have deep roots in this community, well-regarded,” Newman said. “And so this has really troubled the people here. So I believe to pursue the death penalty in this particular case is appropriate on many levels."

William Raines was the last person to get the death penalty in Henderson County in 2005 after killing an Etowah couple.

Nobody has been put to death in North Carolina since 2006.

"It's not an easy thing,” Newman said. "There are a lot of legal obstructions to the actual carrying out of the death penalty, and so that has become more pronounced over the years [and] that's why it's sought more seldom."

But, Newman said, his office is prepared to pursue the case against Stroupe.

"The law requires certain facts to be in existence before you can even consider pursuing this,” Newman said. “I believe that we have those."

Newman said his office was focused on the case ahead.

"Our first obligation here is to get him found guilty, and so I don't want to get ahead of ourselves here, that's really going to be our focus, is making sure we have the evidence to present in the proper way to have him found guilty, and we'll move on from there."

Stroupe had been the focus of a manhunt that began July 22, 2017, and ended early Thursday, July 27, when he was arrested in McDowell County.

The list of charges for Phillip Michael Stroupe II is as follows:

  • First-degree murder: Henderson County
  • First-degree kidnapping: Henderson County
  • Felony larceny of a motor vehicle: Henderson County
  • Felony carrying concealed: Transylvania County
  • Possession of a firearm by a felon: Transylvania County
  • Drive on closed/unopened highway: Transylvania County
  • Reckless driving to endanger: Transylvania County
  • Robbery with a dangerous weapon: Transylvania County
  • Felony flee to elude arrest with a motor vehicle: Transylvania County
  • Possession of methamphetamine: McDowell County
  • Fleeing to elude arrest: McDowell County
  • Failure to stop for a steady red light: McDowell County
  • Reckless driving to endanger: McDowell County
  • Resisting a public officer: McDowell County
  • Possession of a firearm by a felon: McDowell County

Stroupe was at the Henderson County jail, as of Monday evening, and was expected to be arraigned about 9 a.m. Tuesday.

Buncombe County Sheriff Van Duncan said the three people who were arrested Saturday and charged with harboring Stroupe are back in jail Monday on upgraded charges of felony accessory after the fact of murder.

Frederick Badgero Jr., Jennifer Hawkins and Larry Hawkins III made first court appearances Monday on the original charge of felony harboring an escapee.

The three maintain their innocence, saying they feared for their lives when Stroupe showed up at Jennifer Hawkins' home. They are accused of helping Stroupe avoid arrest during the manhunt.

They are jailed on $200,000 secured bond each.

Also on Monday, Phillip Stroupe Sr., 65, the father of Phillip Michael Stroupe II, was arrested and charged with accessory after the fact of first-degree kidnapping. He had his first court appearance on the charge Monday morning in Henderson County. He's being held in the Henderson County Jail on a $250,000 secured bond.

"We do believe he provided substantial assistance to his son and would continue to do so now if able," Henderson County Sheriff Charles McDonald said Monday.

On Monday, Phillip Stroupe Sr. said his son was not a bad person, but that he was "just made bad."

Authorities said the younger Stroupe was driving Bryson's truck at the time of his arrest on July 27.

"We do know that efforts were made to most likely disguise the vehicle, but I'm not going to go into detail at this point," McDonald said.

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