Exclusive: Shakeup in Bladen Co. impacts murder trial - WECT TV6-WECT.com:News, weather & sports Wilmington, NC

Exclusive: Shakeup in Bladen Co. impacts murder trial

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By Jon Evans - bio | email

ELIZABETHTOWN, NC (WECT) - Changes made by newly appointed Sheriff Earl Storms have had an effect on a murder trial in Bladen County.

When Storms took the oath of office Tuesday, he refused to hire back four members of the department. A fifth retired. The chief investigator in the case against Hernan Cruz, Detective Steve Lesane, is one of the four not re-hired.

Prosecutors say Lesane's departure was a big factor in the decision to dismiss the charges against Cruz on Wednesday. Cruz was charged with killing Nash Wilkins back in 2008.

[Click here to read the Dismissal Notice of Reinstatement]

Bladen County Commission Chairman Billy Ray Pait has been talking to people all day. Many are angry at the recent changes Storms has made in the sheriff's office.

"We were hoping and we were assured that when we appointed him that everything was going to be smoothed out," Paid said Wednesday. "But it's not happened, and it has just been like a bomb going off."

Commissioners appointed Storms to take over following the retirement of Steve Bunn. Even before he took the oath of office, Pait says Storms decided not to rehire five employees, including former Sheriff's candidate Eric Bryan.

"It was political," Paid said. "My personal opinion, everyone that's been let go was people that supported Eric."

Storms would not go on camera, but said those employees failed to reapply for their jobs, and that's why he did not hire them. Pait says that's not true.

"But no one applied," Pait told us. "There was no application filled out at all.  They did it today."

In fact, WECT noticed what looked like the entire sheriff's department staff headed into a meeting at the county courthouse Wednesday evening. A source told WECT Storms called that meeting to get his employees to fill out job applications. Applications he claims workers filled out before they were sworn in on Tuesday. 

Some county commissioners are already calling for Storms to give up his new position. Chairman Pait says the more he learns, the more he wants Storms to resign.

"That's what I want him to do," Pait added. "Go back to being retired."

Pait thinks that move would help the entire county move forward.

Commissioners have called a special meeting for Friday, July 9 at 5:30 p.m. It will be held in the commissioners' board room and the public is invited to attend and comment.


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