Pritchard to be paroled

Published 3:39 am Saturday, May 26, 2007

By Staff
By MIKE VOSS, Contributing Editor
Christopher Wayne Pritchard, a Washington man serving a life sentence for aiding and abetting in the 1988 murder of Lieth Von Stein of Washington, his stepfather, is scheduled to be paroled June 2.
The parole has been approved by the N.C. Post-Release Supervision and Parole Commission.
Pritchard, now 38, pleaded guilty to aiding and abetting in second-degree murder. He also received a 20-year sentence for aiding and abetting the assault on his mother, Bonnie Von Stein. He first became eligible for parole on Dec. 23, 2001. He is imprisoned at the Davidson Correctional Center near Lexington.
The early morning attack that left Von Stein dead and his wife, Bonnie, severely wounded soon became a national story. In the aftermath of the murder and subsequent sentencing of three young men for their parts in the murder, assault and other related crimes, two books and two made-for-television movies about the case were released.
They told the story of a young man plotting to kill his family so he could inherit an estate valued at nearly $2 million.
Pritchard’s parole will be administered through the Mutual Agreement Parole Program, a scholastic and vocational program that functions through a three-way agreement among the commission, the Division of Prisons and the offender. Inmates must meet specific criteria before being considered for the program. They are required to adhere to case-specific stipulations during the program in order to ultimately be considered for parole.
The state’s current sentencing law eliminates parole for crimes committed on or after Oct. 1, 1994. However, the commission has the responsibility of paroling offenders who were sentenced under previous sentencing guidelines.
In 2004, the commission investigated Pritchard’s case. According to commission guidelines, information gathered during the commission’s investigation from persons for or against parole of the offender, as well as the facts of the case, are considered by the commission in reaching its decision.
The conditions of Pritchard’s parole require him to submit to warrantless searches, participate in any mandated counseling programs or substance abuse programs, not have contact with co-defendants in the Von Stein case and avoid illegal drugs and places that sell and/or serve alcoholic beverages.
The murder and assault which led to Pritchard’s imprisonment were committed in the predawn hours of July 25, 1988, in the Smallwood subdivision in Washington.
It was almost a year before arrests were made. The first came on June 15, 1989, when James Bartlett Upchurch III was arrested. Upchurch had attended North Carolina State University with Pritchard. Upchurch was taken into custody in Raleigh.
Pritchard was arrested June 16, 1989, at his mother’s home in the Winston-Salem area.
The final suspect, Gerald Neal Henderson, was arrested June 20, 1989, in Raleigh. He also attended N.C. State University.
Charges of first-degree burglary, conspiracy to commit murder, larceny and possession of stolen goods against Pritchard were dismissed in exchange for his testimony against Upchurch.
Henderson was paroled Dec. 11, 2000. He committed no infractions while in prison, state records show.
At his original trial, a jury sentenced Upchurch to death for murdering Von Stein.
Flaws in the instructions to the jury during the trial’s penalty phase resulted in another sentencing hearing in 1993, when Upchurch was sentenced to life in prison for first-degree murder.
Upchurch also received a life sentence on a first-degree burglary conviction. He was given a 20-year sentence for assault with a deadly weapon with intent to kill and inflicting serious injury. He received a six-year sentence on consolidated convictions of larceny and conspiracy to commit murder.
Upchurch remains in prison at the Hyde Correctional Center. His next custody review date is June 1.
Henderson, who is out of prison on parole, received a 40-year sentence for aiding and abetting first-degree murder. Also, he served a six-year sentence for aiding and abetting assault with a deadly weapon with intent to kill and inflicting serious injury. The two sentences ran concurrently.
Charges of first-degree burglary, conspiracy to commit murder and possession of stolen goods were dismissed in exchange for his guilty pleas. Henderson was the main prosecution witness against Upchurch.
In 1998, during an interview for a Daily News article about the 10th anniversary of the crimes, John Taylor, one of the Washington Police Department investigators assigned to the case, said, “I think there are more people who knew about it before and after it happened.”
Taylor, who is no longer with the department, believes Pritchard, Upchurch and Henderson received appropriate prison sentences.