Knightdale police may file additional charges in death of Seanne Barnette

tmcdonald@newsobserver.comOctober 17, 2013 

— Police will meet with prosecutors at the Wake County District Attorney’s Office on Friday to determine whether additional charges should be filed in the death of a 55-year-old woman whose body was found in the bedroom of her apartment over the weekend.

It’s not clear whether they plan to charge Seanne Winters Barnette’s 70-year-old brother and roommate, John Wesley Winters Jr., with her death.

Winters has been charged with stealing his sister’s car. District Attorney Colon Willoughby said Thursday that Knightdale investigators and prosecutors will review the evidence and try to determine whether there’s enough evidence to support additional charges.

Police found Barnette’s body Saturday lying face-up in bed. Her body was covered with dried blood and draped with an American flag. Police have not disclosed how she died.

Barnette’s death is only the second homicide reported in Knightdale’s history.

Winters was found in Barnette’s Chrysler PT Cruiser parked along Interstate 95 in Virginia last Thursday and seemed disoriented when a state trooper arrived, Knightdale Police Chief Jason Godwin said. Winters was first taken to Northern Virginia Medical Center in Woodbridge, Va., Godwin said, then charged with the theft of his sister’s car and booked into the Prince William County Adult Detention Center.

Neighbors who live at the Alta Legacy Oaks apartment complex said Winters moved in with his sister about two months ago.

Tamara Gregory, executive director of the Shepherd’s Table, a soup kitchen in downtown Raleigh, said Winters had been a regular for the midday meals for about three years before he stopped coming about a month ago, save for sporadic visits.

“He hadn’t been here at all in the last couple of weeks,” Gregory said. “When I saw him, I told him I missed him. He told me, ‘Oh, I’m doing something different now.’ He seemed happy. He smiled.”

Gregory said she never saw Winters “display anything, not even remotely” that would make her believe that he was capable of murdering his younger sister.

“When I first saw him I thought, ‘What a cute little old man,’” she said. “He was very mild-mannered, well spoken and kept to himself. He always wore a cap with a tiny ponytail in the back, and he always had a newspaper.”

Gregory did not know Winters and his sister were the children of John Winters Sr., a real estate and insurance company owner who was the first African-American elected to the Raleigh City Council and was later elected to the state Senate. Gregory once overheard John Winters try to explain to someone at the Shepherd’s Table that he, too, once worked in real estate and ran for U.S. Congress in 1984, both true.

“They thought he was not all there,” she said.

Gregory did not know Winters was homeless until Thanksgiving of last year.

“He let it slip one day,” she said. “I asked him if he was going home for the holidays, and he said, ‘No, I’m already home. Right here at the kitchen.’”

Police no longer have around-the-clock surveillance of Barnette’s second-floor apartment in the 1025 block of Sappony Drive, but crime-scene tape is still affixed to the front door. The red tape reads, “Sealed for evidence. Do not tamper.”

One of Barnette’s neighbors, Janice Perdue, said Winters showed up at Barnette’s apartment in August. Another neighbor said Winters had lost contact with his family, who had not seen him for the past three years because he was living on the streets before Barnette took him in. County court records show that Winters was evicted from a Cary apartment in 2009.

“She was a very nice lady, with a good heart,” Perdue said. “You could tell that by just talking to her.”

Perdue and another neighbor who lives in an apartment next door to Barnette’s also described Winters as a nice man. Perdue said she and her neighbors are bewildered by even the possibility that Barnette was killed by her brother.

“Everybody’s a little stunned,” she said.

McDonald: 919-829-4533

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