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Boone woman pleads guilty in W.Va. to second-degree murder

BOONE — A 33-year-old Boone woman recently was sentenced to 40 years in prison after pleading guilty to second-degree murder.

The charge stemmed from a 2019 case in West Virginia in which Anna Marie Choudhary helped kill a man; the other two accomplices in the murder were her father and sister — who later married each other.

Choudhary’s March 31 sentencing hearing was the end to what McDowell County (W.Va.) Assistant Prosecuting Attorney Dennie Morgan called the “craziest” case his office had seen. Choudhary was living at 156 Ruthie’s Road, Apt. 1, in Boone, at the time of her arrest in October 2019 for the murder of 38-year-old John Thomas McGuire, of Minnesota.

Arrested in different locations were her father, Larry Paul McClure Sr., 55, of Pendleton, Ky., and sister Amanda Michelle Naylor McClure, 31, Chicago City, Minn. McGuire was Amanda McClure’s boyfriend at the time of his murder on Feb. 14, 2019. Morgan said McGuire’s family had reported him as a missing person, not knowing that he had met his demise in West Virginia.

To demonstrate how this situation came about, Morgan explained the family’s dynamic.

According to Morgan, Larry McClure had lost custody of his two daughters when they were children because of a convicted sex offense. The West Virginia State Police sex offender registry listed Larry Paul McClure as being convicted in July 1998 of first-degree sexual assault of a minor for which he served approximately 17 and a half years in a correctional facility.

Amanda McClure and Choudhary were adopted by another family. Roughly six months before the murder of McGuire, Larry McClure reconnected with his two daughters. Not long after, Amanda McClure and McGuire had planned a trip from Minnesota — where they were living — to Alabama to visit some of McGuire’s family. On the trip, the two ended up in McDowell County, W.Va., where Larry McClure was living at the time, according to Morgan.

When reunited, Larry McClure and Amanda McClure begin a romantic relationship, Morgan said. The two created a plan to kill McGuire.

On the evening of Valentine’s Day in 2019 — of which Choudhary, McGuire and Amanda McClure were in attendance — Larry McClure convinced the group to play a game. Morgan said the game involved tying each other up with rope to try to escape. The three relatives tie up McGuire so he can’t get the rope untied, and proceed to “torture” him, Morgan said.

Choudhary was instrumental in administering methamphetamine into McGuire and hitting him over the head with blunt objects, according to Morgan. Choudhary tried to use the defense that she was made to conduct these acts by her father and sister. Morgan said that in West Virginia, this type of duress can’t be used as a defense for murder.

Choudhary, Amanda McClure and Larry McClure later buried McGuire’s body. A few days after doing so, the trio exhumed the body, as they were convinced he was still alive, Morgan said. McGuire then had a stake driven through his body, was dismembered and then reburied.

Choudhary, Amanda McClure and Larry McClure then all left the area. Larry and Amanda McClure went to Virginia to get married. Morgan said Virginia granted the marriage license without the knowledge that Larry McClure was Amanda’s father, as Amanda was using her adopted last name. Soon after, Anna began residing in Boone; her sister and father moved to the Cincinnati area.

McGuire’s body was discovered on Sept. 24 in a grave at a Skygusty, W.Va., residence — located in McDowell County — after Larry McClure disclosed details of the crime to officials. He had been arrested by authorities in Kentucky related to a sex offender violation — unrelated to the murder. While in custody, he confessed to the murder of McGuire and divulged details of his daughters’ involvement.

Choudhary was arrested on Sept. 26 by the Watauga County Sheriff’s Office and charged with being a fugitive.

Larry McClure pleaded guilty to first-degree murder, and was sentenced to life without mercy on Aug. 13, 2020. Amanda McClure pleaded guilty to second-degree murder, and was sentenced to 40 years in prison on Oct. 1, 2020. Choudhary was given the same sentence as her sister at the March 31 sentence hearing. Morgan said McGuire’s mother spoke at all three sentencing hearings, whether in person or virtually due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Board of Ed meets with Valle Crucis architects, approves budget proposal

WATAUGA — Architects from Clark Nexsen and members of the Watauga County Board of Education participated in exercises at an April 12 meeting to assess what they wanted in the new Valle Crucis School.

Chad Roberson, the head of the Asheville architect firm, led Watauga County Schools Superintendent Scott Elliott and other board members in two exercises geared at creating goals for the new Valle Crucis School.

In the first exercise, board members and other central office staff in attendance put sticky notes on posters of ideas they wanted to either keep, toss or create in regards to the new design of the school.

Many expressed that they wanted to keep the community and environmental connections in the new school. As far as what they wanted to get rid of, members had quite a few items.

The biggest aspect people wanted to toss was the fact that the current Valle Crucis School floods. People also wanted to change the fact the traffic flow near the school can be congested, the school itself can feel like a maze and that the cafeteria is too small.

Finally, board members had many ideas for what they wanted to create in the new school. Members wanted to create environments in classrooms for students to go to for their mental health, the ability for the school to meet the design of future needs in education, a school that’s more sustainable and one that creates a renewed sense of community pride.

After their first exercise, board members and those in attendance picked up photos and explained what it made them feel in regards to the design of the new school. Many of the feelings were similar to what was put in the “create” section of the first exercise.

Bonnie Smith, principal of Valle Crucis, said she is elated to see the design process for the new school start to take shape.

“It’s just really neat for the community and for the students and staff because this is something they’ve waited a long time for,” Smith said. “The students deserve this and it’s going to be wonderful for the community as well. It’s not going to be too much longer until what we’ve been talking about becomes reality. It’s going to be an awesome place.”

The new school is expected to open in April or May 2024. The architects will come back to the board in the future with information they gathered at the April 12 meeting to make sure they have the all the right goals for the school that the board desires.

The board members also approved a budget proposal that will be submitted to the Watauga County Board of Commissioners. Once the county has the proposal, WCS and county staff will discuss it together.

The budget includes projects and costs that the school system wants to complete in 2021-22 that includes a retaining wall at Bethel ($50,000), a covered awning at Parkway ($20,000), a boiler system at Hardin Park ($10,000) and compact excavator maintenance, which would be used in tighter spaces and on sloped terrain unlike the current backhoe the school system currently has ($45,000).

“We have significant needs in our current expense budget,” Elliott said. “We’re not asking for significant increases, or elaborate or new programs. However, our capital needs are significant. We continue to take the best care of our facilities as we possibly can, but in order to update and upgrade our facilities and make sure that we have safe and healthy environments, it’s going to require a continued and significant investment from our county.”

The school board also discussed the first day back on a four day per week in-person learning schedule for middle and high school. Gary Childers, chair of the board, said members had received some comments from people saying they were concerned that some students in the high school were not adhering to the mask rules.

The two student representatives on the board, senior Haleigh Lawson and junior Isabella Sibaja, said they had not personally seen students without masks.

“If students come to school, the expectation is that they are wearing their masks all the time and wearing them correctly, except for the times that are allowed not to which is exerting physical activity and eating lunch,” Elliott said. “I will say, as I mentioned, our observation is that the vast majority of students are wearing their masks and we’re grateful for that.”

If a student continually violates the mask wearing rule, Elliott said it would be treated similarly to a dress code or tardy violation.

Elliott also announced that the high school would host a COVID-19 vaccine clinic for 16 and 17 year olds on April 21.

“I’m excited that our schools have been a center of taking care of our community, whether it’s providing food, or holding the very first vaccination clinic for our community,” Elliott said. ‘This is just one more way that our school school system is helping to meet a community-wide need. I’m thrilled that we’re able to provide vaccines for 16 and 17 year olds who haven’t already gotten it.”

The vaccine clinic will be in partnership with AppHealthCare and Boone Drugs and will offer the Pfizer vaccine which is the only vaccine approved for those 16 and 17 years old.

“I look forward to maybe in the summer or in the fall when there is approval for vaccines for younger students, that we’ll be able to facilitate clinics for them as well,” Elliott said.

Deep Gap man charged with exploiting a minor

BOONE — A man from Deep Gap was arrested by the Watauga County Sheriff’s Office on April 6 on two charges of crimes against children.

James Wood Elliott, 39, of 3070 Wildcat Road, was charged with having indecent liberties with a child and facilitating a minor’s prostitution.

According to the warrant for his arrest, Elliott is accused of taking “immoral, improper and indecent liberties” with a victim under the age of 16. Elliott also allegedly did “entice, force, encourage or otherwise facilitate a minor to participate in prostitution to wit: offering (the victim) $50 to perform (a) sex act.”

Elliott was issued a $150,000 secured bond and, as of presstime, is being held at the Watauga County Detention Center. Garland Baker was appointed to Elliott’s case, which has a court date set for May 13 following a first appearance in court on April 9.

New bill in N.C. legislature could allow further access to public records, more transparency

RALEIGH — A bill making its way through the N.C. legislature would allow more access to public records related to investigations and departures of government employees.

The Government Transparency Act of 2021, or Senate Bill 355, would allow access to employee records that show why someone was promoted, demoted, dismissed, transferred, suspended or any other change to a position classification. The records would be available for any state agency, local boards of education, board of trustees, and city and county employees.

The full title of the bill is “An Act to Strengthen Confidence in Government by Increasing Accessibility to Public Personnel Hiring, Firing and Performance Records.”

Director of NC Open Government Coalition Brooks Fuller said under current law the public can only get limited information from a public servant’s personnel file.

“In most cases, the public only learns the reasons for a personnel action when a public servant is terminated,” Fuller said. “This bill would make it so that the public gets more information about other personnel actions as well, such as promotions and suspensions. This could be incredibly important when the public wants to learn about a public servant’s disciplinary record but the public servant has never been terminated from a role.”

Senate Bill 355 would modify the current statute — NCGS 126-23 — which tells what employee records each department, agency, institution, commission and bureau of the state should keep.

Currently, under NCGS 160A-168, city employers aren’t required to disclose investigative reports or memoranda and other information concerning the investigation of possible criminal actions of an employee, until the investigation is completed and no criminal action is taken, or until the criminal action is concluded.

The bill is sponsored by Sen. Norman Sanderson (R–District 2), Sen. Bill Rabon (R–District 8) and Sen. Joyce Krawiec (R–District 31).

If the bill were to become law, it would become effective Dec. 1. Boone Police Chief Andy Le Beau said he does not provide a lot of commentary on political matters and that the department would comply with laws enacted by the state legislature.

“At the Boone Police Department we have demonstrated transparency over many years with our cooperation with citizens and with the media,” Le Beau said.

Specifically for the Government Transparency Act, Le Beau said legislators will have to weigh employee privacy rights and the need for public trust.

“If I had a concern over a piece of legislation, I may contact my representative just like any citizen, but again, I do not believe that it is my place to publicly delve into legislative matters,” Le Beau said. “I just want to run a great police department.”

Le Beau also mentioned a law related to police — Senate Bill 300 — that would create a database for law enforcement agencies to use to track disciplinary actions and decertification of law enforcement officers in the state.

“We believe in doing thorough background checks on each and every employee to make sure we are hiring people without ethical baggage,” Le Beau said.

In Florida, complaints filed against police or correctional officers are protected until the conclusion of the internal investigation or the investigation ceases without a finding of probable cause, according to the American bar Association.

There are no specific exemptions from disclosure for public employee personnel records in South Carolina, but most public bodies seek to assert an exemption under the “unreasonable invasion of personal privacy” framework, according to the ABA.

Boone Town Manager John Ward said he does not take personal positions on potential legislation. He did say the Boone town policy is to comply with all local, state and federal public record policies.

Sen. Deanna Ballard (R–Watauga) said in a statement that she thinks Senate Bill 355 is a good step forward in transparency for state government.

“This bill strikes the right balance between the public’s right to know, and the state employee’s right to privacy,” Ballard said. “I think this will be especially impactful for increasing confidence in our state’s teachers and law enforcement. We’ve heard about the ‘dance of the lemons,’ where bad teachers or officers get passed from job to job, with little to no information about their prior performance. Senate Bill 355 allows the public to see those records and hold officials accountable.”

Rep. Ray Pickett (R–Blowing Rock) said he has looked some at the bill, but because it could change a lot before it comes to the House of Representatives, he didn’t say if he supported it or opposed the bill. He did say he liked that it would make the government more transparent.

“It’s just more transparency, and you can’t have enough of that in government,” Pickett said.

Regarding potential issues, Fuller said there are no major issues aside from public and privacy considerations that various groups might raise.

“One thing that will be important if this bill passes is for public bodies to put a lot of effort into enhancing their record keeping and disclosure practices so the public can get this information quickly,” Fuller said.

Gene Fowler, publisher of Mountain Times Publications, said he supports the bill.

“If they are state employees, we need to be able to know about those things,” Fowler said. “It’s something that the North Carolina Press Association stands behind, and so do we.”

The North Carolina Association of Broadcasters and NCPA have also endorsed the bill and “its goal of increasing the citizenry’s access to information about the actions and performance of public employees whose salaries are paid with taxpayer dollars.”

“North Carolina’s public records laws have long trailed the vast majority of states when it comes to providing access to state and local government personnel hiring, firing and performance records, which are vital to the public’s right to know,” the two organizations said in a release. “Passage of Senate Bill 355 can only inspire public confidence in North Carolina’s government.”

The full bill — which was sent to the judiciary committee on March 31 — can be found at www.ncleg.gov/BillLookUp/2021/SB%20355.