N.C. men charged with city murder

Published 8:12 am Wednesday, May 20, 2009

FRANKLIN—Two men from North Carolina are facing first-degree murder and other charges in connection with a January shooting on South High Street.

Brad Harris, 27, was killed after a gunman fired a single shot into his bedroom from outside his home at 509 S. High St. on the morning of Jan. 23. He was shot in the torso and died at the scene.

The two men charged are Rockne Butler, a 39-year-old resident of Pantego, N.C., and Dennis Leon Blount, 29, from Washington, N.C.

According to Franklin police, Butler and Blount were direct indicted in the Harris slaying after the case was heard by a grand jury in Southampton County Circuit Court.

The men have been held at the Western Tidewater Regional Jail in Suffolk since their arrest on the afternoon of Jan. 23, after they led police on a high-speed chase through Franklin and ultimately crashed into a home on North High Street.

At the time of their arrest, police said the sport utility vehicle used by Butler and Blount in the high-speed chase was the same SUV seen by authorities earlier that day parked in front of Harris’ home. The Tidewater News also coincidentally photographed the SUV shortly after police arrived to investigate the Harris shooting.

Since their arrests, Butler and Blount have been charged with attempted capital murder of a law enforcement officer, use of a firearm in the commission of a felony, possession of a firearm by a violent convicted felon, felony eluding police and providing false identity to police.

They remain in jail without bond.

Harris, his girlfriend, and Harris’ 3-year-old daughter were all in the home at the time of the shooting, which police in January said occurred at 7:16 a.m.

“On the day of the murder, we got a frantic call about a possible burglary in progress,” Lt. Tim Whitt, spokesman for the Franklin police, said Tuesday.

Whitt also said Tuesday that Butler and Blount returned to the street in front of Harris’ home to retrieve their car on the afternoon of Jan. 23. Police said that at 2:30 p.m. on that day, they responded to a call from a citizen who observed two suspicious men getting into a vehicle at South and Hall streets.

The high-speed chase ensued, with the men firing a gun in the direction of the pursuing police cars. No one was injured by the shots fired or the high-speed chase.

According to Whitt, evidence collected from the scene of the Harris shooting was analyzed at a lab, “and as a result detectives could recommend charges.”