Town reeling from murder

Published 11:43 pm Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Staff Writer

BATH — The news that two people had been arrested on charges of murder following the death of a local man was greeted with relief and sadness last Friday.
For some residents, the shock of the murder still hadn’t settled in this week.
On Friday, the Beaufort County Sheriff’s Office announced that Arturo Lopez-Perez, 16, and Martel Deval Weston, 22, both of Belhaven, had been charged with the murder of Leonard Alfred Willson III, 53, of Main Street, Bath.
A source, cited in documents accompanying a search warrant issued as part of the murder investigation, told an investigator Willson was Lopez-Perez’s “mentor” and had helped the accused with school work while encouraging him to remain in school.
The source also told the investigator that Lopez-Perez had done “odd jobs such as yard work and landscaping” for Willson, and that Willson recently stopped mentoring Lopez-Perez after the two had a “falling out,” according to the documents.
The sheriff’s office’s search of Willson’s home showed a laptop computer and “a large cinema display monitor” were missing from the residence, the documents read.
Lopez-Perez was interviewed on Oct. 15 at the sheriff’s office, another search-warrant document reads. Lopez-Perez “advised he broke into Willson’s house” and began beating Willson while Weston “entered the home and removed a laptop and a large flat screen,” according to the papers.
After this, Weston and Lopez-Perez left the home with these items, the warrant-attached papers read.
Preliminary autopsy results showed Willson died from blunt-force trauma to the head, the sheriff’s office reported.
Willson was discovered by a neighbor, who called law-enforcement officials, the papers state.
Weston was on probation for driving with a revoked license, public records show.
Weston and Lopez-Perez had engaged defense attorneys, according to the Beaufort County clerk of court’s office.
The arrests of Weston and Lopez-Perez followed an outpouring of emotion for Willson, a physically disabled man well known for his kindness to people in this tightly knit community.
“It’s just so horrible,” said Star Credle, a local Realtor whose office is across the street from Willson’s home.
“You just don’t even want to think that somebody can do that,” Credle said. “Yet, it was right there, and we had to face it and talk about it.”
Credle considered Willson a friend, and the two often discussed their mutual passion — gardening.
“We were both flower people,” she said. “He’d be out wanting to know about plants I’d put out.”
Now, Credle wonders what will happen to all of the plants that had been set out in Willson’s yard.
The murder was especially hard to take in this town of less than 300, where some people still leave their doors unlocked, and murders are horrors confined to major metropolitan areas.
“After they caught the suspects, it was just a relief,” Credle said.
On Oct. 10, just days after Willson was found dead in his home, around 300 people attended a local memorial service in his honor, said several people who attended the service.
Josie Hookway was among the attendees.
“I think people were shocked and really saddened at a really pleasant young man dying that way,” Hookway remarked.
Presiding over the service were three ministers, including Father Eric Zubler of St. Thomas Episcopal Church, which is situated on Craven Street, not far from Willson’s residence.
“We have certainly been praying for the Willson family, and I think we also need to be praying for the Westons and the Lopez-Perez families as well,” Zubler said.
Zubler didn’t know Willson, but said he had worshiped regularly at the church and often used a wheelchair ramp to access the sanctuary for private prayer.
Zubler summed up his initial reaction to Willson’s death with one word: “disbelief.”
“It’s pretty much shock that such a thing could happen in a small town like this,” he added. “I feel like the town has really pulled together around it and done all that they can do.”
It’s too soon to say what effect the murder will have on Bath, Zubler related.
“I think people are going to be a little more conscious about their surroundings,” he said. “Other than that, I think we know it’s a pretty isolated incident.”
Credle agreed, and she has no plans to change her behavior because of the murder.
“I have never wanted to live life having to look over my shoulder,” she said.