The Vance County district attorney has requested assistance from state and federal investigators to determine whether the shooting of a Henderson man with a “Trump” campaign sign in his yard last month was a hate crime, though the county sheriff says there’s no evidence yet to indicate that it was.
Raymond Harrell, 69, died Nov. 15 from a small-caliber bullet wound he received Oct. 22, said Sheriff Peter White. Harrell was standing in his doorway at 1320 Hight St. when the shots were fired at the home, according to a sheriff’s report.
White said no arrests have yet been made and that it is not clear whether the Trump sign had anything to do with the shooting. The initial investigation report does not mention a Trump sign.
“We are not in position to say it was a hate crime at this point,” White said.
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The fatal shot came from the driver’s side of a white car, passing through a side window of the house and the open front door before striking him in the left side near his rib cage, White said.
In a letter sent to White on Thursday, Ninth District Attorney Michael Waters said that sheriff’s office investigators “suspect” that Harrell, a Vietnam veteran, was targeted because he displayed a “Trump” sign in his front yard.
“The FBI needs to review this case for possible classification and Federal investigation as a ‘hate crime’ predicated on silencing Mr. Harrell’s constitutional right to express his political views,” Waters wrote to White.
White said that his office’s investigation has not yet determined whether the Trump sign was a factor in the shooting. He also said that he doesn’t know why Waters was told that sheriff’s investigators think Harrell was targeted for having the sign.
“We don’t have anything to indicate that the Trump sign was the reason that the shots were fired,” White said.
Waters oversees the Ninth Prosecutorial District that includes Granville, Vance, Warren and Franklin counties. He sent copies of the letter to Mike Denning of the State Bureau of Investigation and Mike Brown of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
The FBI would only get involved if it determines a hate crime has been committed, Waters said Friday when reached by phone. He said SBI assistance in the investigation of homicides and serious crimes is important, because the agency has capabilities that small counties typically do not.
“It’s appropriate to have a conversation on whether the resources of the SBI should be involved in a homicide investigation,” Waters said.
Harrell was alert after the shooting and spoke with sheriff’s deputies while sitting on his couch, holding pressure on his abdomen, a sheriff’s office report said. He spoke with deputies again three days later, White said.
White said that Harrell was standing in the doorway because he was expecting a visitor and went to the front when he heard the car. Both Harrell’s wife and two young children were in the home at the time.
After the shooting, Harrell was taken by ambulance to Duke University Medical Center in Durham, where he remained until he died more than three weeks later, White said.
Harrell was on life support when he died, according to Waters’ letter.
Waters also mentioned in the letter that the shooting was not reported to his office until 25 days after the incident, and said it was imperative to get the attorney’s office involved early during investigations of homicides and other serious crimes.
“Decisions that you and your investigators make directly affect our ability to successfully prosecute these types of cases,” Waters wrote.
White said it’s not unusual to have gunshots fired in that neighborhood, and said his office had been conducting the investigation as it usually does. His office didn’t initially report the shooting to Waters’ office because it didn’t appear that it would become a homicide.
Chris Cioffi: 919-829-4802, @ReporterCioffi