A white man is accused of making racists comments to a North Carolina barber just before he shot and killed the man Tuesday in the parking lot of BJ’s Restaurant and Brewhouse.
Julius Sampson, a 32-year-old Black father of three, died in the incident Tuesday in Winston-Salem, which is about 30 miles west of Greensboro, N.C., authorities said.
Spectators have told reporters Sampson was defending a female bartender when he got into an argument with his alleged shooter Robert Granato, but police have not confirmed that report.
The Chronicle, Winston-Salem’s oldest community newspaper, reported that a 2014 photo from Granato’s Instagram account shows him standing with a man displaying what appears to be the OK hand signal associated with white supremacy.
Other social media posts show Granato holding guns and shooting them in videos, the newspaper reported.
Police have not confirmed that Granato is a white supremacist.
Winston-Salem Police Chief Catrina Thompson said during a press conference Wednesday that both the suspect and the victim used a racial epithet in the heat of the argument but “detectives have found no evidence to indicate that this crime was motivated by race.”
Thompson said, should that change, detectives would work with the district attorney’s office to determine whether hate crime charges would be pursued.
Sampson was shot not long before 4 p.m. in the restaurant’s parking lot at 192 Hanes Mall Circle, which is near the largest retail facility in the city, Thompson said during the press conference.
Officers found Sampson unresponsive on the scene, and although first responders attempted life-saving measures on the man, he did not survive.
“Detectives have no information or evidence to indicate that this incident was anything other than a random encounter that resulted in a verbal argument that escalated into a physical confrontation,” Thompson said.
Granato, who was arrested on the scene, was charged with murder and carrying a concealed handgun after consuming alcohol.
He is being held without bond in the Forsyth County Detention Center, Thompson said.
The press conference happened the same day nearly 150 people gathered for a candlelight vigil for the slain man in the restaurant parking lot.
Sampson’s nickname, “Juice” was spelled out on the pavement, and flowers and candles marked the sidewalk.
Winston-Salem City Council member Jeff MacIntosh read this statement from the city’s mayor, Allen Joines, who wasn’t able to attend the vigil:
“On behalf of our entire city, I offer sincere condolences to the family of Mr. Julius Randolph Sampson Jr. Please be assured that the city is fully investigating this terrible tragedy. While we are uncertain as to the totality of the crime, please be assured that we will investigate all aspects of the persons involved and take any and all appropriate action as a result of the investigation.”
Sampson’s wife, Keyia Sampson, told NBC affiliate WXII-TV Wednesday that when police called to tell her that her husband had been shot she was in such a state of shock she thought they had him mixed up with another person.
“I just needed more time,” Keyia Sampson said. “We needed more time.”
The widowed mother had just married Julius Sampson, a father of three, last year. She hasn’t told her 3-year-old yet about his death, WXII reported.
“It will be an adjustment and I don’t have the words to tell her at this point because as a mother, I don’t want to let her down,” Keyia said. “He loved his kids. His kids loved him.”
Keyia said she had just hugged her husband the morning of his death and he left their home in warm spirits.
“My right hand is gone. My lifeline is gone. Our children, their protector and provider — is gone,” she said.
Keyia Sampson called her husband a hero and described him to WXII as genuine, caring, respectful and loving.
“I promise, Julius. I promise. I love you and I will never let you down,” she said. “Your name will be remembered. The world will know Julius Sampson Jr. and the legacy he leaves behind. I won’t let you down.”
Keyia Sampson told WXII she doesn’t want to see Granato in court, but she hopes justice will be served.
“You took a hero away from us, and now we are out here to fend for ourselves,” the mother said.