Crimes of the Cape Fear: College student murdered for $10 and a ham sandwich

Crimes of the Cape Fear: College student murdered for $10 and a ham sandwich
Published: Apr. 21, 2022 at 12:07 PM EDT
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WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) - It was a devastating week for anyone who believed in the sanctity of life. Shortly before midnight on December 13, 2012, 19-year-old Joshua Proutey was shot at point-blank range while leaving his job in downtown Wilmington. His killers were looking to make a quick buck, robbing him of the only things of value he had with him at the time: his phone, $10 and a sandwich. After shooting him in the head, they left Prouty to die in a parking lot alone in a pool of his own blood.

Less than 12 hours later, 20-year-old Adam Lanza would gun down 26 people in Newtown, Connecticut, most of them 6 and 7-year-olds attending Sandy Hook Elementary School. The news of these back-to-back senseless deaths, both locally and nationally, left many in the Cape Fear region wondering how people could care so little about others that they could kill someone who had done absolutely nothing to provoke them.

A Robbery

Proutey was a Cape Fear Community College student, hoping to someday become an officer in the Marine Corps. On December 13, he was working at the Hannah Block Community Arts Center and had just had a Jimmy John’s sandwich delivered to him as he left his shift to go home. That’s when three young men approached him in the parking lot demanding cash.

In the days after the murder, one of the suspects started talking about the crime. Someone from the community texted an anonymous tip to Wilmington police, giving authorities the information they’d overheard, which in turn gave police the lead they needed to make some arrests. Daniel Henry was one of the suspects. He spoke to WECT from jail of his tremendous remorse over what had happened.

“My intention was not for nobody to lose their life. It really was not my intention. Every second that dude’s face is in my head... If I could rewind back I would listen to my conscience,” Henry said through tears. “I’m not a cold-blooded killer.”

Henry and fellow suspect Christopher Cromartie would later tell police they needed gas money, and had been out with Quintel Grady looking for someone to rob. Henry’s girlfriend, Jasmine Dottin, drove the getaway car, parking near Orange and Second Streets as the three young men she was with walked through downtown trying to find their mark. They’d attempted to rob two other people before coming across Proutey leaving work.

“[Grady] put the gun to his head and said, ‘This is a robbery. Give me what you got,’” Henry recalled of the tragic moments before Proutey’s murder. “And dude Josh was like, ‘Man I don’t have anything. Y’all robbing the wrong one.’”

After giving them the only money he had — two five-dollar bills — Proutey tried to get out of his car. Grady told him to get back in the car and then shot him in the head. Medical examiners would later testify that the gun was 4-5 inches away from Proutey’s face when it was fired. His sandwich fell to the ground, and Henry picked it up.

“We were just trying to find out how to make a quick buck, you know?... I sat there for a minute. I was stunned, like, ‘[you] shot him?’ I just sat there for a good minute before I ran,” Henry recalled. The group drove to a gas station on Market Street right after the shooting, and used the $10 they stole from Proutey to buy gas. They threw his sandwich out the window, and they smashed the cell phone they’d taken from him so he couldn’t call for help.

Grady never confessed to anything, but turned himself in at the Wilmington Police Department after learning there was an outstanding warrant for his arrest. He had purchased the .357 revolver he used to shoot Proutey just hours before the crime.

A Senseless Crime

“We all are guided by the notion that life is precious. And to these defendants, life was worth $10 and a ham sandwich.... That’s what they were able to steal...,” District Attorney Ben David recalled of the nonsensical motive behind Proutey’s murder.

Joshua Proutey’s mother, Patty, remembers police coming to her office the day after he was killed to inform her of her son’s death.

“There’s nothing that anyone can tell me from this day forward ‘til the day I die that’s going to make sense,” Patty Proutey said trying to understand why anyone would have killed Joshua. “I just need to know why. He was just a very loving, kind, gentle soul who I don’t know that ever had an enemy.”

Ms. Proutey then traveled to Wilmington to see the parking lot where her son had been shot.

“I remember collapsing on the ground and just weeping, and weeping and weeping,” Proutey said. “I keep waiting to feel better, but I don’t think I’m ever going to feel better.”

In the nearly ten years that have passed since Proutey’s death, DA Ben David has used this case as a teaching opportunity when talking to young people and their parents.

“In this case, we had one bullet, but we had four defendants charged with first-degree murder. And if you look at what they ultimately got convicted of, they all went off to prison. The triggerman for, truly, life without parole, and he was a young man, too. And the other three for a combined [prison sentence of] almost 100 years. And what it points up is that you’re only as good as the company you keep,” David advised.

“So this [David Henry], who ended up giving [WECT a jailhouse interview] was like, ‘Yeah, I was there. Yeah, we were there to do an armed robbery, but I wasn’t the triggerman.’ So he figured that he wouldn’t be in as much trouble. He’s in prison for over 35 years. And see, I think that’s what we have to remind people about the dangers of, for instance, joining a gang or of hanging out with the wrong crowd, because when you set the wheels in motion, and other people start driving that car you have to hold on for all foreseeable consequences. And that’s exactly what happened here.”

Grady ultimately pled guilty to first-degree murder in exchange for prosecutors not pursuing the death penalty. His three co-defendants pled guilty to second-degree murder.

“Every now and then you see something that is just absolutely inexplicable, where life seemingly has no value. And in those moments, you have to make sure that the punishment fits the crime because that means anyone can be the next target,” David explained of the sentences, which some people in the community viewed as harsh. “I mean, truly, you search for motive in these cases... And what I’ve said before about motive is sometimes we’re chasing a ghost, there is no why. Murder, by its very definition, is aberrant behavior. There’s no good reason for why people kill. And particularly in this case, you can’t say there’s any reason because it was $10 and a ham sandwich.”

A decade later, Patty Proutey says she still wakes up every day, and forgets for a split second that her son is dead before reality hits and the pain comes back.

“Joshua’s birthday was last week, he would be 29 years old, not 19 anymore,” Patty told WECT. “I can’t fathom what 29 looks like, I can’t see him. I can’t touch him. I can’t hear him. It’s so weird. But I did spend his birthday on the beach, which is where he loved. And it was really a nice reflective time. And that’s all I have. You know, I can dwell on the past, but I prefer to just live on the memories.”

Josh’s father, Don, says time dulls the pain, but it’s always there. Josh’s friends are now having children of their own, and it hurts Don to know Josh will never have that chance. He says it gives him comfort to remember all that was good about his son.

Journey for Josh

Patty Proutey sued the city after her son’s death, arguing that the poor lighting in the downtown Wilmington parking lot was a contributing factor in his murder. The city added more lighting and settled with Ms. Proutey out of court. She used proceeds from the settlement to establish Journey for Josh, a non-profit foundation that’s helped dozens of at-risk children by funding access to positive activities. She has worked with these children for years, and is prepared to pay for college for some of them who have done especially well in her program. She hopes that by lifting them up, it will keep them from committing the kind of senseless crime that cost her son his life.

“My children had everything compared to them. They had parents who love them, they had a stable home, they had meals, they had education, they had activities outside of school. These kids had nothing, zero, none of that. So when you’re born into that, if someone doesn’t grab a hold of you at a really young age, what are your chances?” Proutey said of the plight of some young people.

While the Prouteys’ lives will never be the same following Joshua’s death, neither will the lives of the young people who made the fateful choice to take his life. Their families have also had to learn how to live without them now that they are spending decades behind bars.

“I just want to tell Josh’s parents, I’m sorry, Ms. Proutey, I did not know. You have all the reason to despise and hate me,” Henry said to a WECT news crew following his arrest. He said he regretted meeting up with his “so-called friends” that night in 2012. Friends who are now his fellow cellmates.

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