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Stroupe to represent himself in Bryson murder trial

Phillip Michael Stroupe II, who is charged with murder in the July 2017 death of Thomas A. "Tommy" Bryson, plans to represent himself at his trial this summer, District Attorney Greg Newman announced.


In a brief hearing yesterday in Henderson County Superior Court, the defendant advised the court that he wanted to fire his two lawyers and represent himself. Superior Court Judge W. Robert Bell of Mecklenburg County ruled that he can, introducing another twist in an almost four-year long saga of the highly anticipated murder trial. In addition to murder, Stroupe, a convicted felon, is also charged with kidnapping and robbery in connection with the abduction and murder of Bryson.

Judge Bell asked Stroupe several questions related to his request and determined that the defendant is competent to make this decision, Newman said. The judge also found that the defendant understands the nature and potential consequences of the criminal charges he is facing. The defense attorneys, though relieved of their duties of representation, will remain available to the defendant throughout the trial to assist him with any questions he may have.

The defendant represented to the court that he will be ready to proceed to trial in July. Barring further delays due to the current COVID pandemic, Newman intends to call the case for trial on July 12.

The trial has been postponed twice already, once when Stroupe's defense team changed and a year ago, when the Covid-19 shut down most trials. A May 2019 trial date blew up when Superior Court Judge W. Robert Bell removed then-Public Defender Paul Welch from the case, for reasons that have never been made public. Stroupe’s new attorney, Mark Melrose of Waynesville, was assisted by co-counsel Sarah Ziomek of Forest City, a carryover from Stroupe’s original defense team.

"All Stroupe said was that he and his lawyers just don't see eye-to-eye about how to proceed with this case and he said for that reason any further discussions with them he feels just wouldn't be productive," Newman said in an interview. "He just had a very different opinion about how to proceed and he was just adamant that he didn't want them representing him anymore."

"He didn't want new lawyers. He just wants to represent himself," he said. "As long as a court finds that person competent to make that decision they do have a right to do that. Judge Bell engaged him in conversation. You have to understand what you're charged with ... the consequences and that sort of thing, and the judge seemed convinced that he was competent to make that decision, so he granted his request."

As standby counsel, under Judge Bell's ruling, the defense attorneys will be seated behind Stroupe, not at the defense table. Asked whether Judge Bell might insist that the backup attorneys help out the capital murder defendant, Newman said, "The judge has that discretion to that but when you undertake your representation in this way — and the judge did make this clear to him — the judge will not be giving him legal advice. He's going to be responsible for following the same rules as all of us about procedure and the law and that sort of thing."

Newman said his office is ready for a July 12 opening day and that, barring some new public health setback, that date looked realistic.

"The defendant did say on the record that he is prepared to move forward on the 12th" of July, he said.