The Stanly News and Press (Albemarle, NC)

March 28, 2014

Murder trial begins

Jury hears potential motive in slayings

By Ritchie Starnes, News Editor

Thursday, March 27, 2014 — On the opening day of the trial of a man accused of double homicide, jurors heard a possible motive and saw the weapon used.

Tuesday marked the start of the 5-year-old case against Gary W. Sells, 76, charged with the March 8, 2009 shooting deaths of Shirley Inez Rummage, 73, and her son, Ricky Dale Lowder, 48, at their 528 N. First St., Albemarle, residence.

An emotional Wanda Rummage choked back tears as she talked about her slain mother and uncle. During the questioning by Assistant District Attorney Marsha Goodenow, Rummage described a domestic powder keg that ended with the double slaying.

“She wanted him (Sells) out of her house,” Rummage said during her testimony.

Sells, a former boyfriend of Shirley Rummage, was still living in her house along with her son, Lowder, and grandson, Chris Smith.

Wanda Rummage testified that Sells despised Lowder and resented him living under the same roof.

“He was always making comments on my brother,” she said.

“He said ‘he wasn’t worth living’ and that ‘I (Sells) should kill him.’

“Gary had issues with Ricky eating there,” Rummage added.

“He didn’t want him at the table. He didn’t want my brother there.”

Sells’ opinion of Lowder concerned Shirley Rummage, her daughter testified.

“She was afraid he was going to kill him,” Rummage said.

She explained to the jury of seven women and five men, selected Monday, that she planned to move back home to help her mother financially, provided the others living there would have to move. Wanda Rummage planned to move in within two weeks of the killings.

“She never made it the two weeks,” Rummage said.

Jurors got a look at the .45-caliber handgun police say was used to kill the mother and son.

Neighbor and family acquaintance Thomas M. Shepard testified that he and his wife drove Shirley Rummage and Sells to a gun show in Charlotte where the defendant purchased the weapon.

Shepard told jurors Sells would sometimes pawn the gun to him in exchange for $100 whe he was short of cash. Sells would later retrieve the pistol with a payment of $125.

A since retired Albemarle police detective told jurors how he found the handgun shortly after the early morning slayings.

Detective Capt. Jeffrey Swink testified that he discovered the pistol beyond the crime scene tape on the opposite side of a fence in a neighbor’s yard. The weapon was laying in a position that indicated it had been dropped over the fence, he said.

Defense attorney Kirk Bowling used cross examination to suggest police botched the crime scene by failing to properly secure the area. He attempted to show the area where the handgun was found remained accessible to the public after police cordoned off the crime scene.

Bowling continued the same line of defense regarding the collection of evidence, further hinting that evidence protocol was not followed regarding the handgun.

Bowling also attempted to show that police failed to control foot traffic in and out of the crime scene, including paramedics that continued to enter the house after the victims were determined to be deceased.

Paramedics testified that it was obvious upon entry of the home that Lowder was dead as he laid in a pool of blood with a gunshot wound to the head.

They then focused on Shirley Rummage, only to find that she, too, was dead with a bullet wound to the chest.

Smith arrived at the residence shortly after the 2 a.m. crime to find that his uncle and grandmother were dead with Sells also at the home.

After former paramedic Lauren Lisenby testified that she was first to observe what appeared to be a bullet hole in a washing machine, Bowling used her find as an example that police were not doing their job at controlling the crime scene.

Lisenby, now a nurse at Novant Health Presbyterian Medical Center, recalled a hysterical Smith talking to Sells at the scene. She testified as to what she heard the defendant say to Smith.

“He said he was asleep and heard two shots and came out and saw two gentlemen running,” Lisenby said.

Smith died from a drug overdose a month later.

Last fall, a judge awarded Sells bond after Bowling argued that his failing health reduced his flight risk.

Sells appeared in court in a wheelchair.

Court resumes today.

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