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2 men cleared of Weldon murder charges: Dismissal form shows lack of evidence
  • Updated

Two Weldon men taken into custody involving a double murder that happened last year were released on lack of evidence.

On Wednesday, a dismissal form was filed from the District Attorneys Office signed by Assistant DA Keith Werner to dismiss the charges on 39-year-old Jason Keith Alston and 29-year-old Omar Daquan Ponton, who were taken into custody recently for the April 6 shooting in Weldon that left two dead and a third injured.

The dismissal form for Alston read there was insufficient evidence to warrant prosecution since after charges were filed, additional evidence showed the defendant was not in North Carolina at the time of the crime.

Ponton’s form read there was no evidence that existed to show the defendant committed the crime nor participated in it.

Alston’s sister, J’Mia Wade, said on Friday she knew her brother was in Ohio at working on a construction job at the time of the crime on the 400 block of Chestnut Street that claimed the life of two men. Wade said she was texting Alston when it happened and knew he was nowhere near the scene. She said Alston and Ponton are cousins and the two families are connected. Knowing that her brother was in Ohio, Wade said she and her side of the family presented the DA’s office phone records and a Super 8 hotel registration in Twinsburg, Ohio, showing Alston had checked in from April 5-8.

According to the dismissal form for Alston, there was another interview conducted for the victim who survived, which showed conflicting stories from the previous interview held with the individual. It continued and read that further investigation of the crime needed to be conducted by law enforcement.

Neither Werner nor Weldon Police Chief Christopher Davis could comment on the case as it is still an ongoing investigation.

When asked what specific evidence was there currently at the time that convinced law enforcement to charge Alston, Wade said law enforcement came with a warrant based on witness statements who were at the scene of the crime. She said when they entered the home, they searched for the weapon that was used in the crime. Wade said Alston’s girlfriend was the cousin of one of the individuals who was killed in the shooting and felt somebody was targeting their family, which prompted her to buy a 9-millimeter handgun on April 27.

“They found that, and they thought originally that was the weapon because a 9-millimeter gun was used,” she said. “And so, but then they found out that it was not the weapon that was used. So it was just based off of witness statements.”

When asked if her brother was alright in custody at Halifax County jail, Wade said he contracted COVID-19 from someone in the same cell.

“And so when he had caught COVID from a person that was put in the cell with him, in the end, he injured his hand while he was in there with the door slamming on his hand,” she said. “So, we were trying to really push, you know, to get him out of there knowing that he was innocent.”

Wade said Alston was happy when he was released and holding back tears.

Davis said in a statement to The Herald, “The Weldon Police Department wishes to extend its sincere apologies to Mr. Alston and Mr. Ponton and their families and that their arrests at the time were based on the best information that we had. We assure the families of the victims that we will continue to diligently investigate this case.”

Y'all, winter is coming: Area municipalities prepare for winter storm
  • Updated

Halifax County is bracing for a weekend winter storm expected to hit the area come Sunday with low temperatures and ice.

On Friday, the U.S. National Weather Service in Raleigh issued a winter storm watch from midnight on Saturday to midnight on Sunday, stretching across many counties in the state.

In a press release from the Office of Gov. Roy Cooper, the governor urged people in the state to prepare for the coming winter storm and signed a state of emergency on Thursday.

“This storm will bring significant impacts from snow, sleet and freezing rain in different parts of the state, with likely power outages and travel disruptions,” Cooper said in the press release. “North Carolinians should pay close attention to their local weather forecast over the next few days, and make sure they are personally prepared before Saturday afternoon.”

The press release further read the state of emergency activated state resources to respond to the incoming storm and allow for possible federal reimbursement if the event qualified. The resources are to be used to clear roads as quickly as possible, however, response times are expected to be slower than previous severe weather due to labor shortages across the state, the press release read.

The Department of Transportation officials advised the public to stay off the roads as travel conditions deteriorate.

According to information from N.C. Department of Public Safety Emergency Management, the winter storm watch has been expanded across the central and northwestern part of the state.

A report from Kevin Kalbaugh, meteorologist and manager of the Natural Hazards Branch, read the coastal plain of Eastern NC could see a brief period of snow and sleet Sunday morning before a period of freezing rain. Sunday morning could bring slick roads if there is snow and sleet, which is expected to be light east of Interstate 95. Eastern NC could experience heavy rain with threats of flash flooding Sunday afternoon and evening with a chance of rumbles of thunder but a minimal chance of severe storms near the coast.

The report also read that winds could gust to 40-50 mph.

Halifax County Emergency Manager Buddy Wrenn said freezing rain could cause power outages and dangerous roads Sunday heading into Monday morning if it is excessive. Wrenn said people should have what they need in their home before Sunday morning and plan on limiting travel, especially Sunday night and Monday morning.

“I would say if you are planning on heading out, especially west or north during a winter storm, to plan on hazardous road conditions,” he said. “Prepare your vehicle for the possibility of being stranded, so have an emergency kit in your vehicle and a charged cell phone. Make sure you communicate your travel with your friends and family.”

Wrenn said the county reached out to state and local partners to have plans in place for emergency response, but icy roads could delay response times.

“If the roads become icy, it may extend response times as the safety of first responders is imperative,” he said. “Limit your travel if possible.”

Listed are ways to prepare for the winter weather that are recommended by the NC Emergency Management officials:

• Always keep at least a three-day supply of nonperishable food and a supply of medication in your home.

• Keep cell phones and mobile devices charged in case of power outages.

• Keep fresh batteries on hand for weather radios and flashlights.

• Dress warmly. Wear multiple layers of thin clothing instead of a single layer of thick clothing.

• Properly vent kerosene heaters and ensure generators are operated outside and away from open windows or doors to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning. Never burn charcoal indoors or use a gas grill indoors.

• Use a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration weather radio or a weather alert app on your phone to receive emergency weather alerts.

• Store an emergency kit in your vehicle. Include scraper, jumper cables, tow chain, sand/salt, blankets, flashlight, first-aid kit and road map.

• Make an emergency supplies kit for your pet and include medical records, leash and feeding supplies, enough food for several days and pet travel carrier.

• Do not leave pets outside for long periods of time during freezing weather.

Grady Neal takes plea deal for child molestation

HALIFAX — After more than 10 years since his arrest, Grady Neal Jr. was sentenced to 13 to 16 months on Monday after agreeing to a plea deal on sexual charges of a minor.

On Thursday, Cynthia “Cyndi” King said that she was in the superior courtroom at the Halifax County Courthouse with her daughter, Alea King, and another victim to watch the long-awaited motion.

“I’m finally relieved,” Cynthia said, recalling how she felt at that moment. “I fought for 14 — 15 years for my child, and I never gave up.”

Neal was arrested on May 12, 2008, on nine counts of taking indecent liberties with a child, one count of first-degree attempted sex offense, two counts of first-degree sex offense and one count of first-degree rape. However, it is unclear as to why it took more than a decade for the case to gain any traction inside the Halifax County Courthouse, but court files read Neal’s defense had the case continued eight times and two times by the state.

The record appeared to show a lengthy list of attorneys coming in and out of Neal’s defense team until Sammy D. Webb of Webb, Webb & Summey P.A. was retained on Dec. 15, 2020.

Additionally, Press Secretary Nazeen Ahmed said the case was referred to the state Department of Justice Attorney General’s Office on Sept. 16, 2019.

According to court records, Special Prosecutor Benjamin Oren Zellinger (Boz) with the office was assigned to the case on Jan. 10.

When asked why Neal went for a plea deal, Webb said he was unable to give the reason, but said he would be registered as a sex offender. However, when asked if the registry was temporary, he said there will be a hearing to determine how long Neal will remain on the sex offender registry.

That hearing will take place on Feb. 14, according to court documents.

Cynthia said the incident occurred in 2007 when Alea was 11 years old. Cynthia said she was married to Neal at the time and the incident went on for six months. At the time, she said she was going through back pain and needed back surgery, but moved into in the room with her daughter where there were two twin beds. Cynthia said Neal would act differently, and she would catch him watching pornography at times.

She described an instance where Neal would be sitting in a chair and have her daughter sit on his belly. Cynthia said he would cover himself with a blanket and watch television.

“I always had something grabbed at me when I walk by doors, either in his room or in the living room — he would jerk when I would come by,” she said. “But that happened for a while for that six months.”

Cynthia described other situations, but it was not until her back surgery that her daughter told her about what has been happening.

“My daughter looked at me and said, ‘Mom, what would happen to us if Grady wasn’t in the picture?’ ” she said. “I told her I’ll take care of you like I did before. And she turned white and that’s when she told me Grady’s been touching her.”

When asked what her daughter’s reaction was to Neal’s sentencing, Cynthia said she shook the whole time.

“She just wanted to let go because every time we would have to meet up with the district attorneys or anything, she would have to bring it back up and relive it,” she said. “And after all these years, a victim does not want to reach out, especially one that was a child grew up through all this. And she’s in her early 20s, and now it’s a long time that she’s had to relive. They should be sued. The system should be sued because they let her down at the beginning on up to now. It’s not fair.”

Neal is currently locked up in the Halifax County jail.