State to seek death penalty in Mount Airy murder case

By Terri Flagg -


DOBSON — The state will seek the death penalty against Jordan Ross Lowdermilk, according to statements made in Surry County Superior Court on Tuesday.

Lowdermilk, 28, of Dobson, is accused of killing Claudia Smith, an 80-year-old Mount Airy woman.

He was charged with first-degree murder after Smith was found dead in her Franklin Street apartment in May.

The defendant was also charged in connection with other crimes that allegedly occurred the night of Smith’s death, which include multiple break-ins and stabbing an I-77 motorist.

On July 5, a grand jury indicted Lowdermilk with first-degree murder, attempted first-degree murder, two counts of first-degree burglary, felony larceny, assault with a deadly weapon with intent to kill or seriously injure, breaking or entering a motor vehicle and misdemeanor injury to personal property.

North Carolina rules give prosecutors the discretion to choose if first-degree murder cases will be tried capitally.

If they choose to do so, notice of their intent to pursue the death penalty must be provided to the defendant within 10 days of indictment.

The presiding Superior Court judge must also order the parties to appear within 45 days for a Rule 24 pretrial conference where the state may announce the existence of aggravating factors it believes present.

The district attorney’s office filed notice of its intent to seek the death penalty and request for Rule 24 hearing on July 11.

In Superior Court on Tuesday, Assistant District Attorney Tim Watson informed Senior Resident Superior Court Judge A. Moses Massey of the state’s intention to seek the death penalty against Lowdermilk.

Watson indicated that Lowdermilk’s attorney, J.D. Byers, had been served notice of the state’s intent, and had consented to a Rule 24 conference.

Massey noted for the record the state’s intent and ordered the conference scheduled for Aug. 30.

Death penalty

According to the N.C. Department of Public Safety website, there have been no executions in the state since 2006.

“There is still a de facto moratorium on executions,” UNC School of Government Professor Jeff Welty said Tuesday in an email.

Until 2015, North Carolina statute required a licensed physician be present at executions.

In 2007, the North Carolina Medical Board determined that doctors participating in lethal injections violate the code of ethics of their profession.

Following a N.C. Supreme Court ruling, in 2009 the board stopped taking disciplinary action against physicians for participating in an execution, according to the organization’s website.

The N.C. Governor signed the Restoring Proper Justice Act into law in August 2015, which authorizes “a medical professional other than a physician” to monitor a lethal injection at an execution.

One factor possibly contributing to a “de facto moratorium” on executions includes litigation about whether the lethal injection process violates the 8th Amendment prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment, Welty said.

“Continued uncertainty about the status of the Racial Justice Act and whether its repeal applies retroactively to inmates who filed claims under the Act when it still existed,” also may play a role.

“To be clear,” he said, “there’s nothing that prevents a jury from returning a death sentence – but right now, such sentences are not being carried out.”

Currently, there are 150 inmates on death row in North Carolina, according to N.C. DPS information.

As of January 1, 2016, North Carolina had the sixth-highest number of death row inmates among states that allow the death penalty, according to information available from the Death Penalty Information Center (DPIC).

North Carolina is tied with two other states as the fifth most exonerations at nine since 1973, according to DPIC.

One Surry County inmate, who was convicted on two counts of first-degree murder in 1995, is currently on death row, according to N.C. DPS information.

Three Surry County inmates were executed between 1984 and 2006, according to N.C. DPS.


By Terri Flagg

Reach Terri Flagg at 415-4734.

Reach Terri Flagg at 415-4734.

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