The Stanly News and Press (Albemarle, NC)


March 31, 2014

DA shows suspect’s version of events differs from evidence

Defense argues probe missed opportunities

Sunday, March 30, 2014 — Prosecutors continue to show jurors evidence they contend proves Gary W. Sells shot and killed a mother and son in a home they shared.

Friday’s proceedings ended early with State Bureau of Investigation agent Christy Hearne on the stand testifying about interviews with Sells after the March 8, 2009 slayings.

Sells is on trial for the double murder of Shirley Inez Rummage, 73, and Ricky Dale Lowder, 48, at their 528 N. First St., Albemarle, residence. Sells was the former boyfriend of Rummage and still lived at her house.

Rummage was fatally shot in the chest. Lowder was shot twice, once in the head and in the chest.

Hearne testified that much of Sells’ account of what happened during the early morning of the slayings was not logical or consistent with the state’s evidence.

She said Sells commented that he didn’t understand why his life was spared when a gunman killed Rummage and Lowder but not him.

“I told him that’s the $1 million question,” Hearne said.

She said Sells explained that he froze at the sound of gunshots.

“He (Sells) said he didn’t fight back because he didn’t have a gun,” Hearne said.

Hearne said she told Sells that she had a problem with his version that someone was able to come inside the house and find the .45 caliber handgun used in the shootings, commit the crime and then hide the gun behind the house before leaving at a normal rate of speed.

Hearne testified that Sells claims that on the night of the slayings he let a white male inside the house who asked to see Lowder sometime after midnight. She said Sells claims he returned to his bed to watch TV after the subject entered the house. He reported that he later heard the male say something to the effect “you said that before.” Soon thereafter, he heard “two to three real fast shots.”

Hearne testified that Sells looked through the blinds of his bedroom window and watched the male and two other subjects outside leave in a dark-colored SUV.

Sells’ statements conflict with the interview of Chris Smith, who arrived at the residence after the slayings, Hearne said. She testified that Smith said when he arrived Sells was outside by Rummage’s car with the keys and his prescription medications in his hands.

When Smith attempted to enter the house, the door was locked and he had to retrieve the keys from Sells, Hearne said.

Smith, Rummage’s grandson, found the bodies and called 911.

Sells told police he had not touched the handgun used in the murders in over a month, adding that he had given it to Rummage to keep, Hearne said.

Hearne said Sells admitted to police that he did not like Lowder.

“He said he didn’t like Ricky for what he was and didn’t know anybody else who did,” Hearne said.

Sells added, however, that he would not kill Lowder, Hearne testified.

Witnesses testified Tuesday that Sells hated Lowder and that Rummage feared Sells was dangerous. Rummage reportedly wanted Sells to move out of her home.

Defense attorney Kirk Bowling has yet to cross examine Hearne, which could come as early as Monday when she retakes the stand.

Bowling spent several hours chipping away at the prosecution’s case. He attempted to show that police blundered with its collection of evidence and rushed to judgment to suspect Sells while ignoring his account of the events, even though the original affidavit for the search warrant showed otherwise.

He grilled Albemarle Police Capt. K.A. Williams about how investigators seemingly ignored potential evidence that could have exonerated Sells.

Bowling questioned Williams why so many pieces of evidence at the crime scene were not fingerprinted, or what he called “missed opportunities.”

In addition to doorknobs, a glass door and kitchen counters near where the slayings occurred, police failed to fingerprint a fruit bowl that contained a spent bullet casing from the murder weapon.

“It wasn’t going to prove anything,” Williams said.

Her response prompted Bowling to throw his hands up in apparent agitation.

“How can you say that?” he said.

Bowling also tried to show that many of the crime scene photos taken by police do not accurately illustrate how the contents were found at the scene.

He also questioned Williams about a dummy police used to create the shooting of Rummage, or an apparent attempt to show how a bullet pierced her body and entered the washing machine.

Hearne testified that she retrieved the spent shell casing from the washer.

Bowling argued that the scene had been manipulated and that the body could not have been found lying where it was in relation to the simulation.

He also got Williams to admit that a fiber found with the weapon was never analyzed by the SBI despite a request by police. Bowling also showed that the evidence log from the case appears incomplete.

Hearne also testified that when police posed the question to Sells about whether he believed people should take responsibilities for their actions, she said the defendant said, “It depends on what it is.”

She added that Sells further commented about the crime.

“He said he would be an idiot to tell police he did this,” later clarifying since he did not commit the crime.

Sells admitted to police that he had been drinking whiskey the day of the murders, consuming more than a pint.

Virginia Carol Biles, a friend of the victims, testified Wednesday that Smith abused drugs and was sometimes observed “acting crazy.”

When Bowling asked her to elaborate, the judge disallowed further clarification.

Smith died as a result of an overdose a month after the crimes.

Biles also testified that she sometimes gave Lowder money because she “felt sorry for him.”

Lowder called Biles before his death, leaving a late night message while she was sleeping, she testified. Biles said she did not know the reason, since she didn’t return the call.

The judge allowed the defense to remove swastikas from two pieces of evidence, so as not to prejudice the jury.

The Superior Court trial resumes at 9:30 a.m. Monday  in courtroom 402.

To submit story ideas, contact Ritchie Starnes at (704) 982-2121 ext. 28 or email


Thursday’s story about the trial of Gary W. Sells incorrectly identified Chris Smith.


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