After a thorough investigation by members of the Elizabethtown Police Department and the State Bureau of Investigation, and an intensive review of the evidence they collected, it had been determined that no charges will be filed against Caleb Stoker for the shooting death of Mr. Ricky Carroll on the night of October 29, 2009. We do not have sufficient evidence to prove that Stoker did not act in self-defense in what is locally referred to as the Tory Hole shooting.
Not all cases get the intense review given this matter prior to a charging decision. Sometimes the evidence is such that law enforcement officers are able to make arrests at an early stage. The fact that no arrest was made immediately is a clear indication that the case involved complicated issues and required close scrutiny and further investigation.
While many people mistakenly believe that a person claiming self-defense must ‘prove” they acted so, that is not the case. The burden is on the State to prove that a person did not act in self-defense. The evidence collected here leaves us unable to do that. It is the duty of every prosecutor to bring charges against a person only when there is sufficient admissible evidence to show that there is probable cause to believe they committed a crime. Since we are unable to refute self-defense adequately in this matter, we are not able to bring charges.
My heart goes out to the Carroll family. They have lost a loved one. It should be the commitment of the whole community to comfort and hold in prayer all those touched by the Tory Hole tragedy.
I want to thank Chief Bobby Kinlaw and his officers for their hard work, as well as our local SBI agents. They were dedicated to finding all the evidence they could.
We have discussed this decision with Mrs. Carroll and other members of the family.
I know that the issues of self-defense, defense of others, and defense of property are a mystery to many. I, and my staff, stand ready to discuss these topics with church, civic, or community groups that may want a presentation on the subjects. You can contact my office in Elizabethtown (872-7300) to arrange one.
On October 29, 2009, officers from the Elizabethtown Police Department and the SBI responded to an area in Elizabethtown known as the Tory Hole. The action of law enforcement was in response to a 911 call made by Caleb Stoker. Stoker had reported that he had just shot Ricky Carroll. When law enforcement and EMS personnel arrived, Mr. Stoker was still on the scene. Because of the extremely dark conditions, law enforcement used artificial lighting to process the scene and record observations. Law enforcement noted that Mr. Stoker was bleeding from a gash above his left eye and that he was emotionally upset. Mr. Stoker consented to a search of his truck. During the search, Mr. Stoker’s 9mm semi-automatic handgun was seized. A fired or spent 9mm shell casing was recovered from the driver’s side floor board. Mr. Stoker was transported to the Bladen County Hospital.
While at the scene, officers observed Ricky Carroll lying on his right side, facing the Cape Fear River. Mr. Carroll was dead from apparent gunshot wounds. On his notes, the SBI crime scene tech reported a silver pipe located approximately five (5) feet from Mr. Carroll’s body. The pipe was three feet nine inches long and had on it some visible blood and additional trace amounts from its mid section to its tip. The SBI laboratory, through DNA testing, determined that the blood on the pipe was Caleb Stoker’s. The SBI also determined that there were no identifiable fingerprints on the pipe. The SBI noted that the pipe was heavy. While searching Mr. Carroll’s truck, the SBI agent observed a similar pipe in the bed of Mr. Carroll’s truck. No blood or any other items of evidence were either noted or seized from Mr. Carroll’s truck.
In addition to the spent 9mm casing in Stoker’s truck, agents seized five (5) spent shell casings and Mr. Carroll’s cell phone from the area near both of the pick up trucks. Agents also noted blood drops on the ground leading from the area of the shell casings to Mr. Carroll’s body. Because of the rain, these blood samples could not be collected.
While the SBI was processing the scene of the shooting, investigators from the Elizabethtown Police Department and from the SBI met with Stoker at the hospital. Stoker was being treated for the gash above his left eye and also complained of being tender on the left side of his body. Mr. Stoker, after being advised of his Miranda rights, agreed to speak with the investigators. Stoker also agreed to being fingerprinted and to submitting DNA samples.
Several days later, Caleb Stoker again agreed to be interviewed by investigators. After being advised of his rights to have an attorney present and to remain silent, Stoker again answered questions about the events at Tory Hole. This interview resulted in a detailed statement of ten (10) type written pages.
Based on the evidence collected at the Tory Hole and the interviews given by Mr. Stoker, law enforcement, together with the District Attorney’s Office, decided to complete the investigation prior to making a charging decision. The key issue presented by Mr. Stoker’s voluntary statements and the evidence collected was whether or not Mr. Stoker was acting in self
defense at the time he shot and killed Ricky Carroll.
In North Carolina, a person can defend himself with deadly force when threatened with death or serious bodily injury. The person being threatened must not be an aggressor and must not use excessive force. The State of North Carolina, by and through the Office of the District Attorney, must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that a defendant did not act in self defense. This is an important distinction in that many people believe that a person charged with a crime must prove self defense. However, in every criminal case where self defense is an issue, the burden of proof is always on the Prosecution and never on the person charged.
In an effort to better understand what happened on the night of the shooting, investigators explored the long relationship between Mr. Carroll, his family, and Stoker. They also looked at the events immediately prior to, during, and after the shooting. In addition, items of evidence, including the pipe recovered at the scene, were sent to the SBI laboratory in Raleigh. After two requests from the District Attorney’s Office to expedite the testing process, the investigation was completed when the lab results from the SBI became available on February 22, 2010.
The thorough investigation revealed that Stoker had a prior dating relationship with Mr. Carroll’s daughter, this being well known in the community. This relationship had been ended by the daughter for a substantial period of time prior to the events of October 29 at the Tory Hole. The investigation showed that Stoker continued to pursue a relationship with the daughter and that this pursuit created friction between Stoker, Mr. Carroll, and other members of the family. Despite this friction, the investigation revealed that Stoker and Mr. Carroll continued to have a friendly relationship.
During the evening hours of October 29, the daughter got off work at a local restaurant. She walked from her place of employment to her car. Shortly after she arrived at her car, Stoker pulled in behind her in a manner that prevented the daughter from leaving. Stoker’s purpose, according to him and the daughter, was to give her a belated birthday gift.
Mr. Carroll’s daughter was not receptive to the gift and declined the present. The daughter, during her conversation with Stoker, sent several text messages to different friends and indicated that Stoker had her car blocked. As a result of these messages, two of her friends went to check on her. Stoker was still present when these friends arrived and was speaking to the daughter through the passenger side window of her vehicle. These friends asked the daughter if she was ok and she indicated that she was. The daughter did not request any further help and the friends left and did not seek any other outside intervention.
According to Stoker and the daughter, Stoker left in his truck approximately five (5) to seven (7) minutes later. He drove from the area of the courthouse to Tory Hole Park which is located on a boat landing on the Cape Fear River. It was already dark outside when he arrived at the Tory Hole. The investigation revealed that the daughter went home. Upon arriving at her home, the daughter learned that Mr. Carroll was out looking for Caleb Stoker. One of the daughter’s friends had heard Mr. Carroll on the phone and had heard him ask the question, “Where are you?” She heard Mr. Carroll tell the individual to stay where he was that he was on the way. The investigation, which included phone records, revealed that Mr. Carroll had placed this call to Stoker. Stoker told law enforcement that Mr. Carroll had called him and had asked him to remain at Tory Hole. Stoker, who continued his friendship with Mr. Carroll, stated that Mr. Carroll sounded normal. Stoker was not alarmed by the call or tone of Mr. Carroll.
Upon learning that Mr. Carroll was looking for Stoker, the daughter contacted Mr. Carroll via his cell phone. The investigation revealed that Mr. Carroll was then arriving at the Tory Hole. As she was speaking to Mr. Carroll on the phone, the daughter heard Mr. Carroll get out of his truck. She heard Mr. Carroll yelling and cursing at Stoker and telling him to get out of the truck. She heard Mr. Stoker say that he had “not done anything.” The daughter relates that she could hear Mr. Carroll either beating Mr. Stoker or Mr. Stoker’s truck. This conversation was on the daughter’s speaker phone and was also heard by two of the daughter’s friends.
The daughter and the friends relate that they then heard several gunshots. They stated that there were between two and four shots. The daughter was startled by the gunshots and dropped her cell phone and the connection was severed. Phone records indicate that her conversation with Mr. Carroll exceeded one and one half minutes. Mr. Carroll’s cell phone was recovered at the scene of the shooting.
Other than what was heard by the daughter and her friends, the only other account of what happened is that of Caleb Stoker. Stoker stated that earlier he had tried to give Mr. Carroll’s daughter a birthday gift. His account of this incident is corroborated by Mr. Carroll’s daughter, the daughter’s friends that came to her location, and by an off duty police officer who observed Stoker at the daughter’s passenger window.
Stoker indicated that he went to the Tory Hole to think. He related that Mr. Carroll called him and told him to stay there. Phone records corroborate Stoker’s statement and also show that Stoker never called Mr. Carroll that evening. Stoker states that he waited on Mr. Carroll at Mr. Carroll’s request. He states that his truck was not running and he had removed the keys from the ignition. He had no lights on.
Stoker stated that he realized something was wrong when Mr. Carroll entered the park at a high rate of speed. An off duty police officer observed Mr. Carroll traveling towards Tory Hole Park at a high rate of speed. Stoker described Mr. Carroll getting out of his truck and yelling something at him that Stoker could not understand. Mr. Carroll appeared to be angry. Stoker told Mr. Carroll that he had not done anything. This statement is consistent with the conversation overheard by Mr. Carroll’s daughter.
Stoker stated that Mr. Carroll walked over to Stoker, who was sitting in his truck, and began striking Stoker with his fists. At that time, Mr. Carroll had nothing in his hands. Stoker indicated that he was either pulled out or slid out of the truck as he was being struck by Mr. Carroll. Stoker indicates that he was on his knees with the right side of his face towards the vehicle and with the left side of his body exposed to Mr. Carroll. Later, when Mr. Stoker was at the hospital, he had an injury above his left eye and complained of tenderness to the left side of his body.
Stoker indicated that he was dazed and disoriented by the sudden attack. He states that Mr. Carroll stopped hitting him for a few seconds. Stoker said that he remembered hearing a clanking noise and thought that Mr. Carroll was getting a pipe from his tool box. Stoker said that when he looked up, he was hit in the head above the left eye. He did not indicate whether he was hit with the pipe, but did state that Mr. Carroll swung the pipe at his face. Stoker stated that he believed Mr. Carroll intended to do him major harm with the pipe. Stoker added that Mr. Carroll backed up with the pipe and began cursing at him as if enticing him to fight. Stoker stated that he was bleeding profusely from the gash above his eye and that he was dazed. He stated that Mr. Carroll had the pipe cocked in the air. The investigation revealed that Mr. Carroll was left handed.
Stoker stated that it was apparent to him that Mr. Carroll was not going to stop his attack with the pipe. Stoker said that he then reached into his truck and retrieved his 9mm pistol from the center console area. Stoker related that he pointed the gun at Mr. Carroll and told him to leave. Stoker said that it was very dark but that he could still see the pipe in Mr. Carroll’s hands. Stoker states that Carroll did not turn to leave, but began to walk quickly towards Stoker with the pipe still cocked in the air. Stoker states that he told Mr. Carroll to stop between two and five times. Stoker states that Mr. Carroll did not say anything as he approached with the pipe. Stoker remembered pointing the gun at Carroll but did not aim. He stated that he pointed the gun low.
Stoker states that he fired one shot at Mr. Carroll, but did not know if he hit him. He stated that the Mr. Carroll did not seem fazed after the first shot and that Carroll continued towards him with the pipe. At that point, Stoker indicated that he continued to fire at Mr. Carroll until Mr. Carroll changed directions. Stoker did not know how many times he fired.
After firing, Stoker indicated that he got into his truck and dialed 911. He stated that he started to leave because he wanted to get away from Mr. Carroll and did not know what Mr. Carroll was doing or where he was. As he pulled his truck forward and around, with the headlights on, Stoker saw Mr. Carroll on the ground. Carroll was not moving. Stoker communicated this to the 911 dispatcher. Stoker then complied with the instructions given by the dispatcher and waited at the scene until law enforcement and EMS personnel arrived.
In an effort to test the veracity of his statement, prosecutors have met on at least six occasions with the investigators in the case. Prosecutors have reviewed Stoker’s statements and evaluated it against the physical evidence recovered, the scene photographs, the autopsy report, Stoker’s medical records, the results of testing at the SBI laboratory, and the statements of everyone interviewed in connection with the case.
Because of the poor lighting and weather conditions at the scene, photographs of the scene were of a poor quality. In addition, the scene drawings were not to scale and therefore did not give an accurate picture of the scene. Consequently, prosecutors had the crime scene agents reconstruct the scene by placing markers in the locations where they were photographed and seized. Prosecutors and law enforcement reviewed the scene for several hours to see whether or not Stoker’s account was consistent with the physical evidence on the scene. Of course, Stoker’s vehicle had been moved prior to being photographed at the scene. After an extensive review of the scene, it was determined that Stoker’s statement could not be discounted by the physical evidence at the scene.
The autopsy report indicates that Mr. Carroll received either four or five gunshot wounds. The pathologist says that two of the five wounds were likely from the same bullet. The pathologist cannot determine in what order the wounds occurred.
There were six shell casings recovered at the scene of the shooting. Five were on the ground and one casing was recovered from Stoker’s truck. Two of the five wounds were to Mr. Carroll’s right arm and hand. It is the opinion of the pathologist that one of the wounds to the right arm entered Mr. Carroll’s chest. These wounds to Mr. Carroll’s right arm are consistent with Stoker’s description of the pipe being cocked by a person who is left handed.
The remaining two gunshot wounds were to the left side of Mr. Carroll’s neck and to Mr. Carroll’s back. Three of the four wounds are consistent with Mr. Carroll facing Mr. Stoker at the time of the shooting. The shot to the back is more problematic.
The question presented by the gunshot to the back was whether or not this shot was excessive force. The investigation reveals that visibility was extremely poor. Also, Stoker suffered a gash above his left eye that was bleeding profusely when officers arrived at the scene. Stoker also noted that his last shots were fired in rapid succession and that Mr. Carroll was moving when the shooting took place. Although the order of the shots cannot be known, it is reasonable that the impact of the bullets and the resulting trauma could have changed the position of Mr. Carroll’s movement. Because of these circumstances, the State cannot prove that the shot to Mr. Carroll’s back occurred at a time when Stoker knew that Mr. Carroll was retreating, if in fact he was.
Mr. Stoker’s weapon had 9 live rounds in the magazine at the time it was seized by law enforcement. Based on the number of bullets remaining in Stoker’s weapon, investigators have concluded that the total number of shots fired was six. The fact that Stoker had nine additional shots is consistent with his statement that he ceased firing when Mr. Carroll changed directions. In the final analysis, the only eye witness account of what happened at Tory Hole is that of Caleb Stoker. Stoker has always maintained that he fired in self defense after being assaulted by Mr. Carroll and threatened with the pipe that was recovered at the scene. A cursory examination of the pipe clearly indicates that the pipe could be used as a deadly or dangerous weapon. The physical evidence in the case does not contradict Stoker’s statement. In fact, it often corroborates his statement. Ultimately, the State would be unable to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Stoker did not act in self defense. During the course of the investigation, prosecutors considered numerous potential scenarios that relied primarily upon speculations. Ultimately, the prosecutorial decision was dictated by the known facts and evidence. The evidence is clear that Mr. Carroll called Caleb Stoker and sought out Stoker at Tory Hole. There is no factual dispute that Mr. Carroll got out of his truck. Mr. Carroll’s daughter stated that Mr. Carroll was beating either Stoker or his truck prior to any shots being fired. Mr. Carroll took the pipe to the scene; Stoker’s blood was found on the pipe. The evidence is clear that no shots were fired until after the beating had begun and that after the first shot, the remaining shots were in rapid succession. Stoker had a gash above his left eye following the struggle. Moreover, Stoker called 911 after firing and did not flee the scene when he saw Mr. Carroll was injured. Stoker consented to all searches of his truck and person and agreed to immediately speak to law enforcement, even after being advised of his rights not to speak and to have a lawyer present.
Based upon an extensive review of the totality of the circumstances and the evidence we have, the State at this time cannot prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Caleb Stoker was not acting in self defense. Consequently, the State will not be seeking any indictment against Stoker for the events of October 29, 2009.
INFORMATION FROM A NEWS RELEASE SENT TO THE WWAY NEWSCHANNEL 3 NEWSROOM FROM THE DISTRICT ATTORNEY'S OFFICE