Mountain justice? NC dad accused of avenging son

AP News
Posted: Apr 12, 2011 5:44 PM
Mountain justice? NC dad accused of avenging son

Three months after Charles O'Shields' son was killed in an argument over a woman, the grieving father found the man charged with his death at a Dollar General store in the North Carolina mountains. Authorities say O'Shields gunned Toby Mathis down among the aisles of cheap merchandise last week and then fled in a getaway car driven by his sister.

O'Shields turned himself in Tuesday to face first-degree murder charge after six days on the run. The local sheriff hopes the surrender ends a feud that has created a body count equal to what the sparsely populated county considers a violent year.

"I'd like to think that everybody involved is at a place where they can take the high ground on this," said Transylvania County Sheriff David Mahoney. "It's another tragic ending to what ultimately wound up being about 45 seconds of bad decision-making in December."

But to some of O'Shields' friends, it was a case of mountain justice _ a man getting his revenge after deciding he had enough sneering about his son's death.

"What would you do if you came face to face with your son's killer? I know he had enough," said 18-year-old Stephany Travis, a friend of the family.

The acrimony first turned deadly on a twisty mountain road in December when 20-year-old Joey O'Shields went to confront his ex-girlfriend's new boyfriend. Mathis had been sending him nasty text messages and taunting him in places where he would hang out, said Kim Lambrecht, the younger O'Shields' mother.

O'Shields challenged Mathis to fight like a man, Lambrecht said, but instead, Mathis got inside the truck with the ex-girlfriend. O'Shields jumped in the back and Mathis sped off.

With the truck going about 35 mph through the curves, O'Shields tumbled out and suffered injuries that sent him to a hospital where he died three hours later. Mathis was charged with involuntary manslaughter.

Tension between the two families grew during the winter. They would often run into each other in the county seat of Brevard, and Lambrecht said Mathis and his friends would mockingly say they were sorry that her son was dead.

"They killed my baby and laughed about it," Lambrecht said. "They thought it was funny that I lost my son."

Several members of Mathis' family did not return phone calls from The Associated Press and were not home Tuesday when a reporter visited. A woman at the house where the girlfriend lives declined to talk to a reporter.

Both sides reported problems and harassment to the sheriff's office. Mahoney and a detective on the case won't give many specifics, but said things never escalated enough for deputies to get involved until Charles O'Shields shot Mathis on April 6.

Evidence leaves no doubt the killing was revenge for the death of O'Shields' son, said Mahoney. He won't say if the two exchanged words that night or if O'Shields threatened Mathis before the shooting.

Deputies have also arrested Charles O'Shields' sister, Dorothy Banks, and charged her with accessory after the fact in connection with a homicide. Investigators said she waited on her brother in an SUV as he went into the store.

Banks' attorney said she was glad her brother was safe, but that it wasn't proper to talk about the case at this time. O'Shields has yet to be assigned a lawyer.

O'Shields, who went by his middle name Richard, took his oldest son's death hard. Health problems that started a few days after the funeral kept him from working. His anger kept building until an encounter with Mathis and his girlfriend at a restaurant a few days before the shooting, Travis said.

"She came over to Richard and said: `I'm sorry Joey's dead.' She said it with a smirk. And she kept saying it over and over: `Joey's dead. You know we didn't want it to happen. But Joey's dead,'" Travis said. "Why couldn't they just leave him alone?"

O'Shields said nothing to them in the restaurant. But the day before the encounter at the Dollar General, Travis said he told her he was "going to do something for Joey" because things had "gotten out of hand." Both Lambrecht and Travis said trash and used fireworks were found on Joey O'Shields grave.

"He was angry. And it didn't help when Toby and (the girlfriend) would show up and taunt him," said Lambrecht, who's divorced from the older O'Shields. "He took it all in. He told me he would get Toby to stop. He would take care of it. I just knew this was going to happen. You could see it happening. There's just so much you can take before you explode."

The sheriff said the mountain county of 33,000 usually doesn't have more than 2 homicides a year. The area about 120 miles west of Charlotte touts itself as the "Land of Waterfalls," and much of its land is in the Pisgah National Forest. It's a mostly hardscrabble place, in contrast to the enclaves of million dollar homes in neighboring Cashiers or Highlands.

"To have those lives ended so quickly over something as petty as a girl, you know, I think all those components go to make it a huge tragedy," Mahoney said. "It saddens my heart to see both of those families turned upside down, two young men whose lives are lost and all for just a very short period of time when cooler heads did not prevail."


Collins reported from Columbia, S.C.