Two men shot outside the Nash County Courthouse were reported to be in critical condition Wednesday as authorities posted a reward for information in the case.
Ontarious Montre Lewis, 23, of Rocky Mount, who had been taken into custody hours after the Tuesday morning attack, was freed Wednesday after questioning, Nashville Police Chief Thomas Bashmore said.
Town and county authorities also offered a $3,000 reward for information that leads to one or more arrests and convictions in the case, Bashmore said.
The men who were shot, Donte’a Evans, 34, and Lamar Ricks, 31, were in critical condition at Vidant Medical Center in Greenville, where they were airlifted Tuesday after emergency treatment at Nash General Hospital.
Authorities were still looking for Demond Levar Morris, 36, to question him, Bashore said.
Lewis, a statement from Bashore said, “was picked up for questioning on 28 October 2014. The Nash County Sheriff’s office released [him] after interviewing him late Tuesday evening. Investigators are currently working on several leads into the shooting....”
“We heard gunshots, like: Pow! Pow! Pow! Pow!” Judy Winstead, who works at a real estate office across from the courthouse, told The Associated Press. “It was very loud, and when we came out we even smelled gunpowder.”
Nash County Sheriff Richard Jenkins did not provide a motive for the shooting, but he said Tuesday that the two victims were targeted.
“Any shooting is senseless,” Jenkins said. “This is even more senseless because it happened in front of a courthouse.”
State corrections records show that Morris was in and out of prison between 1997 and 2007 for felony drug-related convictions.
Authorities did not say what led them to Lewis.
State records show that Lewis has a criminal record littered with prior convictions for common law robbery, assault and battery, breaking and entering, attempted breaking and entering, multiple counts of assault on a female and drug violations.
Most of the cases at the courthouse Tuesday were traffic-related, and by late morning many of them had been handled. A small crowd had gathered in front of the building on West Washington Street in downtown Nashville, about 46 miles east of Raleigh.
Witnesses said the gunman appeared to be waiting for the victims to come out of the courthouse. A woman said the man turned to her and said “Hello,” before turning away and firing a handgun at the men who had just stepped out of the courthouse.
The people who witnessed the shooting all declined to give their names for fear of retribution.
Jenkins said one of the victims was shot in the hand and leg and ran back inside the courthouse. The other victim was hit in the back as he ran around the east side of the building, Jenkins said.
Jenkins said that the shooter appeared to know who he was trying to hit.
The Nash County 911 Center was alerted about the shootings at 11:09 a.m. by a sheriff’s deputy who was working at the courthouse, said Bryant Fisher, director of the county 911 center.
Within minutes, police, sheriff’s deputies and State Highway Patrol troopers swarmed around the courthouse, blocking roads in and out of the town’s business district. The search for the suspects appeared to focus on a wooded area northwest of the courthouse, where a Highway Patrol helicopter hovered overhead for hours.
The doors to the Nash County administration buildings, one block east of the courthouse, were locked, with no one allowed to enter or leave, and three schools in town, Nashville Elementary, Nash Central Middle and the W.L. Green Alternative School, were also put on lock-down as a precaution.
Long criminal records
Both of the shooting victims have long criminal histories.
Evans was scheduled to appear in court Monday on charges of carrying a concealed weapon and possession of a firearm by a felon. It’s unclear whether the case was continued, requiring him to return Tuesday.
Evans has violence-related convictions dating to 1997, when he was charged with possession of a firearm by a minor. He was sentenced to nearly four years in prison in 2001 when he was convicted of assault with a deadly weapon inflicting serious injury. Evans had been charged with attempted murder but agreed to plead guilty to the lesser charge, court records show.
A charge of assault with a deadly weapon with intent to kill inflicting serious injury was filed in 2005 against Evans in Edgecombe County. The charges were dropped after “seven key witnesses for the state” could not be found, state records show.
A similar assault charge filed against Evans was also dropped in Edgecombe County last year after the victim became uncooperative with police and claimed he did not know who shot him. A witness to the incident who identified Evans as the shooter recanted his statement, state records show.
Evans also has convictions for assault with a deadly weapon, discharging a firearm inside city limits and assault on a female, state records show.
Ricks has prior convictions for assault on a female, resisting arrest, possession of a firearm by a felon, assault with a deadly weapon, common law robbery, felony possession of cocaine, assault with a deadly weapon inflicting serious injury, driving while impaired and conspiracy to commit robbery, state records show.
News researchers David Raynor and Teresa Leonard contributed to this report.