It took a Yancey County Jury just two hours yesterday afternoon to find John Pritchard guilty of second degree murder. A jury returned a guilty verdict, for second-degree murder on John Hurbert Pritchard, 62, of Burnsville. He had been charged in the March 6, 2011 death of Jonathan Russell Whitson Jr., 29, who was found deceased in a home located off English Branch Road in the Jacks Creek Community.
Pritchard, a former substance abuse counselor, could serve up to 20 years in jail. He was also found guilty of intentionally and unlawfully distributing morphine, a Schedule II Controlled Substance, and maintaining a vehicle to distribute drugs.
Toxicology reports determined that Whitson's death was caused by morphine toxicity. The investigation was led by the Yancey County Sheriff's Office with assistance from the N.C. State Bureau of Investigation.
Pritchard had previously been charged in 2010 by Burnsville Police Dept. for a similar incident of sale and delivery of a controlled substance and was on probation for that charge at the time of his arrest in 2011. His probation was revoked on Thursday and he was ordered to serve that time in addition to the current charges.
Pritchard was also ordered to pay restitution for funeral expenses and other costs, as well as court costs. He was remanded to the custody of the NC Dept. of Corrections.
Pritchard had entered a plea of not guilty to the charges and during the course of the trial was offered a plea deal that would have resulted in little or no jail time but refused the offer.
He had remained in the Yancey County Jail under a $150,000 bond for the past 868 days since his arrest on Dec. 1, 2011. Those days in custody will be deducted from his sentence.
Sheriff Gary Banks said that a recent NC law allows second-degree murder charges to be filed if an individual illegally supplies drugs that cause a death. He said this sends a message that if you distribute drugs and someone dies, you will be prosecuted and convicted for second-degree murder.