Stroupe II Sentenced To Life In Prison
Last updated 9/1/2021 at 6:30pm
A four-year saga came to an end in Henderson County Superior Court on Tuesday, as Phillip Michael Stroupe II was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole after pleading guilty to the kidnapping and murder of Thomas Andrew Bryson in July 2017.
Bryson’s murder was the result of a tragic series of events that began with Stroupe eluding law enforcement and forcing a days-long manhunt after fleeing into the Pisgah National Forest and ended with his capture in McDowell County six days later.
Since his capture, Stroupe’s journey through the judicial system has been equally wrought with twists and turns, but Tuesday’s decision from Judge Joseph Crosswhite brings a conclusion, and, hopefully, some resolution to all parties involved.
“The defendant robbed our community of a salt of the earth, Godly man, who was cherished by his family, friends and neighbors,” said District Attorney R. Andrew Murray. “We agree with the family that this sentence, which ensures the defendant will never walk our streets again, hopefully brings some closure not only to the family but the entire community grieving the loss of Tommy Bryson.”
Officially, Stroupe pleaded guilty to first-degree murder, two counts of robbery with a dangerous weapon and first-degree kidnapping.
He also received additional consecutive sentences totaling between 25-33 years in prison.
Prosecutors alleged that, on Wednesday, July 26, 2017, Stroupe kidnapped Bryson near Mills River and stole his pickup truck as he checked his mailbox at the end of his driveway.
After kidnapping Bryson, prosecutors alleged that Stroupe drove to a cornfield in Buncombe County, shot him, and left him for dead.
Stroupe was arrested the following day in McDowell County, but Bryson’s body wasn’t found until late on Sunday, July 30, 2017. Stroupe never conveyed any information to law enforcement regarding Bryson’s death, but forensic analysis traced a gun found in the field where Stroupe fled before being arrested to the bullet that killed Bryson.
While prosecutors initially sought the death penalty, after further consulting with Bryson’s family, they decided that a plea deal was the best way to ensure Stroupe would never leave prison while avoiding a lengthy trial with the possibility of delays in the court system and relieving the Bryson family of having to recount their tragedy in court.
Although none of Stroupe’s major crimes were locally based, Transylvania County served as the backdrop for a bizarre manhunt that drew dozens of law enforcement officers from the local, state and federal level, attracted coverage from multiple media outlets and forced the evacuation of hundreds of people from the Pisgah National Forest.
Stroupe’s spree began on Saturday, July 22, 2017, when a Transylvania County sheriff’s deputy spotted a vehicle in the Pisgah National Forest matching the description for a BOLO (be on the lookout for) alert out of Henderson County in connection with a possible breaking and entering.
The deputy attempted to stop the vehicle, but the driver fled on Avery Creek Road, at one point passing a mountain biker, who the driver accosted, taking his bike at gunpoint before fleeing again after using the vehicle to block the road.
At the time, Stroupe had outstanding warrants in Buncombe County for kidnapping and was facing pending charges in Yancey County.
Multiple law enforcement agencies descended on the scene, focusing mainly on the Yellow Gap Road area, setting up a perimeter and hoping to apprehend the suspect. Authorities evacuated hundreds of people out of the Pisgah National Forest along the U.S. 276 corridor and the forest remained closed for three days.
During his attempt to elude law enforcement, Stroupe had two encounters with people in the forest.
One was with a woman who spotted Stroupe jumping out of the woods on Yellow Gap Road.
The other was with a fisherman who spoke to Stroupe, who displayed a gun in his waistband, for roughly 30 minutes.
Stroupe never pointed the gun at the fisherman and eventually let the man go after he said he would make a phone call on Stroupe’s behalf.
That phone call was made to law enforcement.
As hours turned into days, Stroupe continued to hide out in the forest but new leads and information led authorities to believe he had escaped and made his way to the Mills River area. The only sighting of Stroupe in Mills River came from a witness that claimed to see him leaving a campground around 8 p.m. on Monday, July 24, 2017.
Law enforcement shifted their search efforts, but it wasn’t until the wee hours of the morning on Thursday, July 27, 2017, that the McDowell County Sheriff’s Department got a tip from Yancey County about a silver pickup truck that matched the description – and was later found to be – Bryson’s missing vehicle.
Deputies deployed spike strips on N.C. 80. Stroupe ran over the strips, flattening his tires, but drove another mile before ditching the truck and running into a field.
When authorities finally tracked him down, Stroupe was found in possession of methamphetamine and was connected to the gun later confiscated from the scene.
Stroupe has remained in custody since his arrest in McDowell County.