Man guilty of murder

Published 8:41 am Friday, May 7, 2010

COURTLAND—It took a jury four hours Thursday to convict Rockne Butler of murdering a 26-year-old Franklin man and attempting to murder a police officer.

The jury recommended Butler, 40, of Pantego get life in prison for the January 2009 shooting death of Brad “Pug” Harris at his South High Street home.

During the four-day trial in Southampton County Circuit Court, one witness testified that the crime was a murder-for-hire. Co-defendant Dennis Leon Blount, 30, of Washington, N.C., testified that it was a planned robbery attempt.

Either way, Harris’ mother, Lavern Wade, said it’s been “really rough” since her son was killed.

“He didn’t deserve to get murdered,” Wade said, adding that her son was a good father, son and brother.

Southampton County Commonwealth’s Attorney Eric Cooke said Harris “was making some mistakes, but he will never be able to change his ways, or to do the right thing.”

Harris’ girlfriend and his then-3-year-old daughter were both home when he was killed.

“She still has a lot of flashbacks,” Wade said of her granddaughter, who will turn 5 next week. “She’ll always be traumatized.”

The jury returned guilty verdicts for first-degree murder, attempted capital murder, abduction, shooting into an occupied dwelling and other gun-related charges.

On the day of the murder, a Franklin police officer tried to pull the suspects’ vehicle over, but the two led police on a high-speed chase, and Butler fired shots at a pursuing officer.

Butler’s attorney, Randy Stowe, told jurors that his client “committed certain offenses,” but denied that Butler shot at the police during the chase.

Stowe called the conviction on the attempted capital murder charge “incomprehensible.”

Before the jury deliberated on a recommended sentence, Cooke asked jurors to recommend maximum sentences on all charges.

“The public message that needs to be sent for this type of crime is that it is not going to be tolerated,” he told jurors.

Wade and other family members attended the trial. She said hearing that Butler and Blount were seen eating at a local restaurant just after the shooting was very upsetting.

“How do you kill somebody and go sit down and eat?” she asked.

The Franklin Police Department and its detectives did “a really great job,” Wade said, adding that something needs to happen in society to stop violence.

“So many of our young people are getting killed,” she said. “Every day, another family has to go through what we’re going through.”

After the jury returned with its verdict, Harris’ twin sister, Brandy, said justice was served.

“I’m happy,” she said.

Butler is set to appear in court July 8 for his formal sentencing.

The court has not set a trial date for Blount.