How a man charged with murder was released on bond and shot two Robeson County deputies

By Rachel Baldauf

Robeson County sheriff’s deputy Jonathan Walters had an uneasy feeling as he and his partner set out to arrest a suspect who was out on bond and cut off his ankle monitor. 

“It was just pretty much like a sixth sense,” said Walters, who has worked for the sheriff’s office since 2020 but was marking his one-year anniversary on patrol that Nov. 7 morning. He prayed as he and his partner, deputy Kaelin Locklear, drove. 

“Lord, please be with us,” Walters recalled saying. “I don’t know what we’re about to go into right now, but I ask that you please put your hands on us, keep us safe and help us through it.” 

Danger awaited them outside a home in Maxton where the suspect, Shawn Tobin Locklear Jr., had been hiding. Investigators say Locklear Jr. ran into the woods with a gun and opened fire as the deputies chased him, shooting deputy Locklear in the torso and Walters in the leg. Locklear Jr. was also shot multiple times in the exchange of gunfire before he jumped into the deputies’ patrol car and sped off, running over Walters’ leg. (Deputy Locklear and Locklear Jr. are reportedly not related.)

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When other deputies arrived, one helped Walters into the back of a pickup truck and drove him to the hospital. He lost four liters of blood, had emergency surgery and was put on life support. Deputy Locklear also went to the hospital for treatment. Locklear Jr. was treated at a hospital for nearly two weeks before he was sent to Central Prison in Raleigh.

The shootings were tragic under any circumstances. But one detail brought an extra layer of anger for some Robeson County residents and the local sheriff: Locklear Jr. was out on bond after he was charged with first-degree murder less than a year before. They wondered why a man accused of killing someone would be allowed to remain in the community instead of being in jail while he awaited trial.

“I am as frustrated as I have ever been,” Robeson County Sheriff Burnis Wilkins said in a press release after the shootings. “For a murder suspect to be out roaming the streets of our county under the pretense of being on pre-trial release is a travesty.”

The practice of allowing murder suspects to post bail has been a source of debate across the country and in Robeson County, which has the highest violent crime rate in North Carolina

At least six of the roughly 66 people who were charged with first- or second-degree murder in 2023 in cases investigated by the Robeson County Sheriff’s Office were out on pre-trial release as of mid-January, an analysis by the Border Belt Independent shows.

At least six of the roughly 66 people who were charged with first- or second-degree murder in 2023 in cases investigated by the Robeson County Sheriff’s Office were out on pre-trial release as of mid-January, an analysis by the Border Belt Independent shows.

Locklear Jr., 20, was among at least three people in Robeson County who were charged with murder or attempted murder last year after being released on bond for previous murder or attempted murder charges. He was charged in late 2022 with the murder of a 28-year-old man in Maxton and was released on May 5 after posting a $250,000 bond.  

Most recently, Quinton Brayboy of Lumberton, who was charged with second-degree murder in March and posted a $100,000 bond the next day, was charged with first-degree murder in the shooting death of a man in Pembroke eight months later, on Dec. 15.  

At least two other people charged with murder and released on bond faced new charges other than murder in 2023. One was Walter W. Locklear, who was charged with killing two people, including a 9-year-old, in 2018. He was arrested in August on suspicion of felony drug offenses and was released again after posting bond. 

The suspects’ additional arrests highlight an ongoing debate about the use of bail in North Carolina and across the nation. 

Advocates of bail reform, including the American Civil Liberties Union, say cash bail unfairly penalizes poor people who can’t afford to pay for their release and are forced to sit in jail for days or weeks after being charged with low-level offenses like trespassing. About 630,000 people — most of them not convicted of a crime — were held in local jails across the United States on any given day in 2020, according to the ACLU

But some people say the argument is murkier for people charged with more-serious charges, including murder.

“People assume that cash as bond is a way to keep a community safe,” said Brandon Garrett, a criminal justice scholar and professor at Duke University School of Law. “But it’s actually a very unpredictable way of assuring either that people’s rights are protected or that public safety is protected.” 

“There’s many times I put myself back out there, and I’m like, ‘Oh my gosh,’ just imagining him running me over.” 

Jonathan Walters

Setting bond

When Walters was a kid in Robeson County, a teacher at school showed his class an episode of the TV show “COPS.” 

“I thought to myself, ‘Oh my gosh, that looks dangerous. I don’t want to do that,’” said Walters, 37. “But that changed.”

At the sheriff’s office, he takes pride in getting criminals off the streets of the community he calls home. “You don’t get a lot of thank yous, but just knowing that you’ve actually made an impact in someone’s life — that’s the most rewarding for me.” 

Jonathan and Jessica Walters on the back porch of their home in Fairmont. (Photo by Les High)

The job can be stressful, Walters said. Poverty, drugs and racism plague the county, which is one of the most diverse in North Carolina. Robeson is home to the Lumbee tribe, and Native Americans make up nearly 42% of the county’s population, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. About 30% of residents are white and 24% are Black. 

More than a quarter of the county’s nearly 117,000 residents live in poverty, compared to 13% statewide. In 2022, Robeson County had a rate of overdose deaths that was more than double the statewide rate, according to the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services.

“It’s not a bad county,” Walters said. “There’s a lot of good people in this county. But it’s got the few that cause havoc.”

Seventy people were charged with murder in Robeson County last year. Wake County, which has a population nearly 10 times the size of Robeson’s, reported 56 homicides. 

The number of people charged with crimes contributes to a slowdown in court proceedings. A total of 70 people were charged with murder in Robeson County last year by the sheriff’s office and local police departments, District Attorney Matt Scott said. Wake County, which has a population nearly 10 times the size of Robeson’s, reported 56 homicides last year

The system that dictates whether a suspect can be released on bond is complicated. 

When law enforcement officers across the state arrest a suspect, a magistrate typically sets the initial bond amount. District court judges often adjust the bond during a suspect’s first appearance in court. Though judges have discretion to set bond amounts in most cases, they tend to follow a set of guidelines known as a “bond schedule.” 

In Robeson County, Class B1 felonies like second-degree murder and rape have a suggested bond of $50,000 to $250,000. The bond schedule does not include a suggested amount for Class A felonies, including first-degree murder, giving judges leeway to decide how much a suspect would have to pay to be released. Bond is always denied when a person is charged with capital murder. 

District Court Judge Angelica McIntyre (Photo from UNC Pembroke)

Angelica McIntyre, chief district court judge for Robeson County who set Locklear Jr.’s bond at $250,000 for a charge of first-degree murder, said her family received death threats after the deputies were shot last fall. The situation was especially frightening, she said, because she has a five-year-old at home.

“One of the things with bonds that I don’t think folks understand is we have rules and guidelines of what we set bonds by,” McInytre said. “They’re not intended to be punitive or punishing. They’re intended to make sure the person appears in court.”

Across North Carolina, dozens of people who are charged with murder are out on bond. WRAL reported in early November that 17 of the 100 people charged with murder in Cumberland County were on pre-trial release.

Robeson County isn’t the only place where people charged with murder have been accused of new offenses while out on bond. In October, a man in High Point who had posted bail after allegedly shooting and killing a man at a Walmart store was charged with murder for the second time in a little over a year.

Garrett, the Duke law professor, said such circumstances are often the result of shortfalls within the cash bond system.

Judges often aren’t aware of how much someone charged with a crime can afford to pay to be released. And they set bond amounts on the assumption that bail bonds companies will charge defendants 10% of the full bond amount. But struggling bail bonds companies often lower their fees to 5% or even 1%, Garrett said, making release more financially accessible for people charged with violent crimes. 

New North Carolina law

Some North Carolina counties such as Mecklenburg and Durham have reformed their bond systems by using data-based risk assessments that help judges better determine the likelihood that a defendant will return to court or commit other crimes while out on bond. Judges aren’t required to follow the risk assessments, but Garrett said they are a helpful tool.

“They’re definitely more useful than just these bail schedules where there’s a cash bail amount set just based on the charge, and not based on someone’s history,” Garrett said

Many counties in North Carolina also have pretrial services programs that include in-depth interviews with defendants. Judges then receive a report on each defendant’s background that could help them determine an appropriate bond amount. 

Bail reform often focuses on eliminating or reducing cash bail for low-level offenses. In Texas’ Harris County, home to Houston, bail reform helped reduce the number of misdemeanor charges filed by nearly 21% from 2015 to 2021. A March 2023 report found that the number of people charged with misdemeanors who reoffended after a year decreased nearly 20% since reforms were put in place in 2019.

Tennessee lawmakers are considering a constitutional amendment that would allow judges to deny bail for defendants charged with some violent offenses. Currently, only those charged with first-degree murder are denied bail. 

Colorado took a different approach. The state Supreme Court ruled in June that every defendant — even those charged with the most serious offenses — can post bond. The ruling was met with pushback from some state lawmakers who said public safety could be at risk. 

In North Carolina, a new law took effect in October that prohibits magistrates from setting bonds for certain suspected violent offenders, including repeat offenders and people charged with first- or second-degree murder. In those cases, only a judge can determine bond. 

In North Carolina, magistrates are no longer allowed to set bonds for people charged with first- or second-degree murder.

McIntyre said many suspects can afford the bond set by magistrates because the amount is typically lower than what a judge would set. She hopes the new law will keep repeat offenders off the streets and give law enforcement more time to file “felony reports” before a suspect appears before a judge.

“This kind of places a secondary level of security,” McIntyre said. “It gives the DA and it gives the sheriff’s office time to present those factors on why this new charge should maybe be treated a little bit differently based on the facts and circumstances.”

Law enforcement officers must file a felony report that details every part of an investigation. The report includes a summary of the case written by an officer, as well as detailed information about the crime scene. It often includes statements from witnesses and suspects.

Until law enforcement files the report, the district attorney’s office can’t argue to a judge that a murder charge should be elevated to a capital offense that would make the defendant ineligible for bond. The case also can’t be moved to Superior Court without a felony report, McIntyre said.

A cross from the Billy Graham Library sits on the mantle in Jonathan Walters’ Fairmont home. (Photo by Les High)

Felony reports also contain information about a suspect’s background that can help judges determine whether a suspect might skip out on court or pose a safety risk if let out on bond.

“If there isn’t a report about what the basis for the arrest was, then how can there even be probable cause?” Garrett said. “Do you even have evidence to charge a person if you don’t have that?”

McIntyre and Scott said they often wait months for a felony report from the Robeson County Sheriff’s Office and other law enforcement agencies. A spokesman for the sheriff’s office declined to comment for this story and also declined to make Sheriff Wilkins available for an interview. 

“Quite frankly, we have cases where the report’s not in after a year, which means the person who’s been arrested is no quicker to going to trial than the day they were put in custody,” she said.

Lumberton defense attorney and former Robeson County District Attorney Johnson Britt said he’s currently representing a man who was indicted over a year ago. The felony report for that case was just filed this month.

Britt said that when he worked as an assistant district attorney in Robeson County in the early 1990s, felony reports had to be filed within five days of a suspect’s arrest. Before Britt became district attorney in 1995, his predecessor extended the deadline to 14 days. Britt then extended it to 30 days. 

“It didn’t get any better,” Britt said of the delays.

“You’re dealing with a system that, from my perspective, is understaffed at every level.”

Robeson County District Attorney Matt Scott

Scott and McIntyre said the delays are the result of an overwhelmed justice system.

“The reality is, we have wonderful officers. However, they are working as many murders comparatively as places like Mecklenburg and Wake County,” McIntyre said. “We have way less than half of the resources.”

Scott agreed. “You’re dealing with a system that, from my perspective, is understaffed at every level.” 

‘I put myself back there’

Walters’ wife, Jessica, works as a 911 dispatcher in Robeson County and could have been the one to get the call about her husband. But she didn’t go to work that day because she was recovering from dental work.

When she saw Facebook posts about a shooting involving two deputies, she tried to call her husband. He didn’t pick up.

“You know when you have a feeling about something?” she said. “Until it’s confirmed, I was just trying to think any other thing but that.”

Jonathan Walters points at his injured leg. (Photo by Les High)

She was standing at the front door of the couple’s Fairmont home when sheriff’s deputies rolled into the driveway. Her heart dropped.“I won’t forget it, that’s for sure,” she said.

For Jonathan Walters, the road to a full recovery will be long. In December, he had another surgery on his leg, and he recently started physical therapy. He uses a walker or wheelchair, and he suffers from severe nerve pain. He has emotional scars too. Sometimes he has nightmares.

“There’s many times I put myself back out there, and I’m like, ‘Oh my gosh,’ just imagining him running me over,” he said. 

Still, he stays positive. Since the shooting, Walters’ family has received support from around the world. They got handwritten cards and homemade blankets from strangers. Jonathan received two challenge coins collected by law enforcement officers. One was sent anonymously.

“I feel like that was God at work too,” he said. “It really brings everything into perspective.”

The family has also been supported close to home. Their pastor’s family and church friends came to the hospital right away after the shooting. 

Support from the law enforcement community has been overwhelming, Jessica Walters said. “To see how they have each other’s backs is really nice,” she said. “It’s kind of like a big family.”

Jonathan said he was frustrated with a court system that allows people already charged with violent crimes to be let out on bond.

“Everyone’s going to have to learn how to work together. Because if there’s no consistency and everyone working together, you’re going to keep on having these issues,” he said. “And it’s just not the judges. It’s just not the attorneys. I feel like improvement needs to be made across the board.”

Staff writer Kerria Weaver contributed to this report.

How we did the story

The Border Belt Independent‘s Rachel Baldauf and Kerria Weaver combed through every news release the Robeson County Sheriff’s Office published in 2023 to identify people who were charged with murder. Once they had a list of names, they looked up court records and called the Robeson County Detention Center to determine how many of those people were out on bond. The research took countless hours and required a lot spreadsheets and patience.