Sheriff Said He Will Continue To Talk About Bryant Case
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Transylvania County Sheriff David Mahoney said he plans to continue to answer questions from the community about the Bryant murder investigation despite U.S. Attorney Gretchen Shappert's orders last week directing local law enforcement not to speak to the media.
Shappert said she, nor local authorities, would "entertain further media inquires, make any independent public reports, or make themselves available to the media in any way."
Mahoney said he had an obligation to the citizens of Transylvania County, who he referred to as "his boss," to address concerns about the murders of Irene and John Bryant.
"I'm accountable to every single resident of this county and I won't forget that," Mahoney said.
"What that means is, if a citizen has a question, and I can answer it, I will."
Shappert's orders, which were not in the form of an official "gag order," came one day after Mahoney said he was ready for the U.S Attorney's Office to move forward and "make a commitment" in the case against primary suspect, 61-year-old Gary Hilton.
Shappert was asked to provide more information regarding her authority to silence other law agencies.
Suellen Pierce, public information officer with the U.S. Attorney's Office, responded in an e-mail, saying Shappert had "final authority over matters and cases being handled by her office."
Sara Beale, a Duke University law professor, an expert in the federal government's role in the criminal justice system, said she knew of nothing that would give Shappert the authority to silence other agencies.
"The short answer is that I don't know of any such law," Beale said.
Pierce said Shappert's decision was based on U.S. Attorney's Office guidelines, which she said were available through the Department of Justice website.
She said dealings with the media are based on balanced interests: the right of the public to know, an individual's right to a fair trial and the government's ability to enforce justice.
Beale said that typically where a joint effort, such as a task force handling a particular case exists, someone is put in charge.
"That would often be a federal official if more than one state is involved, especially when the crime will ultimately be prosecuted federally," said Beale.
Last month, the U.S. Attorney's Office, at around the same time Mahoney officially named Hilton the primary suspect in the Bryant's deaths, announced its desire to take the lead role in the prosecution of the case.
Mahoney recently said he agrees with that decision because of the multiple jurisdictions involved and the connection to federal land.
But Mahoney also said he felt a responsibility to continue speaking to the concerns of the community in regard to the Bryant case.
"I am the one, who when I go out into public, is asked, ‘Do we have the right man, and how do I get a permit to carry a gun in the forest,'" said Mahoney.
"My responsibility is with the people of this community," he said.
Mahoney said a solid case has already been prepared against Hilton, who he said he was confident had murdered the Bryants.