Cherokee County Courthouse in Murphy, N.C. Frank Taylor / Carolina Public Press
Cherokee County courthouse in Murphy. Frank Taylor / Carolina Public Press

A former Western North Carolina jail guard indicted by a grand jury following a scrap with a federal inmate last year now faces a single felony assault charge rather than a pair of misdemeanor counts.

The two misdemeanor charges were dropped after a grand jury approved the felony indictment, District Attorney Ashley Welch told Carolina Public Press last week. 

The charge against former guard Wesley Killian stems from a May 2018 scrap at the Cherokee County Detention Center involving federal inmate George Victor Stokes and guards Joshua Gunter and Killian. 

According to a county incident report and a CPP interview with Gunter, he responded to aggressive actions and threats from Stokes by firing a stun gun, the prong from which struck Stokes in the lip. Gunter said Stokes acted aggressively again after being handcuffed and was knocked down. The report says and Gunter confirmed that Killian kicked Stokes in the face while he was lying handcuffed on the ground. 

Stokes was taken to Murphy Medical Center, where he received several stitches for a busted and bloody lip. 

Killian was suspended after the incident. Nine days after the assault, Gunter was also suspended. The sheriff then fired both guards.

The State Bureau of Investigation reviewed the video evidence and reported its findings to Welch’s office. In December, the grand jury indicted Killian with two misdemeanor counts of assault with a deadly weapon. The indictment for the first count said Killian had kicked Stokes in the face with a shoed foot, a deadly weapon. The second count said Killian assaulted Stokes by kicking him in the face, inflicting serious injury.

Killian’s attorney, Zeyland McKinney, said Welch pursued the felony charge because Killian “refused to enter a plea in the case.”

McKinney disputed the assault with a deadly weapon charge because Killian was wearing a rubber-soled shoe. 

Welch said no new evidence has been presented to her office. Earlier this month, a grand jury reviewed the evidence again, and it indicted Killian with felony assault with a deadly weapon. 

When asked whether she sought a felony charge because Killian would not plead guilty to the two earlier misdemeanor charges, Welch said, “A case is never closed until we have tried it and it’s disposed of,” Welch said. “Just because we charge someone doesn’t mean the investigation’s over or there’s finality to it.” 

After the assault, Stokes settled with Cherokee County for $800. County commissioners approved the settlement. 

Stokes had been serving time for assault with a deadly weapon with intent to kill, possession of a firearm by a felon and for being a habitual felon, state records say. 

In 2016, Stokes mailed a letter to a federal judge and threatened to blow the judge’s head off, and threatened the lives of two members of the U.S. Attorney’s Office staff, according to the Charlotte Observer. It’s not the first time Stokes has threatened members of the court, the Observer wrote. A 2014 indictment detailed his mailed threats to a federal courthouse in New York City to kill “all the white judges in this court.” 

Welch admits Stokes is not the most sympathetic of victims. He is a federal inmate who was temporarily housed at the Cherokee County Jail when he was allegedly assaulted. 

“We have to take our victims as we get them, and everybody needs to be treated the same,” Welch said. “You can’t allow misconduct on behalf of someone just because of the fact that they are in jail or they are serving a prison sentence for something very violent,” Welch said.

You can strengthen independent, in-depth and investigative news for all of North Carolina

Carolina Public Press is transforming from a regionally focused nonprofit news organization to the go-to independent, in-depth and investigative news arm for North Carolina. You are critical to this transformation — and the future of investigative and public interest reporting for all North Carolinians.

Unlike many others, we aren’t owned by umbrella organizations or corporations. And we haven’t put up a paywall — we believe that fact-based, context-rich watchdog journalism is a vital public service. But we need your help. Carolina Public Press’ in-depth, investigative and public interest journalism takes a lot of money, persistence and hard work to produce. We are here because we believe in and are dedicated to the future of North Carolina.

So, if you value independent, in-depth and investigative reporting in the public interest for North Carolina, please take a moment to make a tax-deductible contribution. It only takes a minute and makes a huge difference. Thank you!

Creative Commons License

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License. You may republish our stories for free, online or in print. Simply copy and paste the article contents from the box below. Note, some images and interactive features may not be included here.

Kate Martin is lead investigative reporter for Carolina Public Press. Email her at

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *