MORGANTON, NC (WBTV) - North Carolina prosecutors said Monday they would seek the death penalty against a Morganton teen and self-proclaimed Islamic convert who was indicted in the death of one of his neighbors.
Justin Sullivan, 19, was given a true bill of indictment in February in the death of 74-year-old John Bailey Clark. Clark's body was found buried in his yard on Rose Carswell Road in December 2014 after police went to perform a welfare check at his home.
At Clark's home, officers found the door unlocked and what they said appeared to be a blood trail and drag marks going outside. Clark was in a shallow grave with multiple gunshot wounds to the head from a small-caliber firearm.
Search warrants detailed several items that were seized from inside the house including a shell casing, a .22 caliber rifle, some clothes and swabs of blood.
Sullivan, who lived just three houses down from Clark, was arrested in June 2015 and charged with attempting to provide material support to a designated foreign terrorist organization, receipt of a silencer with intent to commit a felony, and possession of an unregistered silencer.
The teen, who officials said was planning to kill "1,000 Americans" at a club or concert, was turned in to authorities by his father.
According to a federal complaint, he was charged after having several conversations with an undercover FBI employee about planning the attacks. Federal indictments released Monday also state that Sullivan offered to pay the undercover agent to kill his parents when they became suspicious of his activities.
In December 2015, authorities told WBTV that a suspect was in custody in connection to Clark's death, but would not confirm if that suspect was in fact Sullivan.
Family members said Clark lived alone and kept to himself, except for family. He rarely answered the door - which has everyone wondering how an attacker could get inside - unless Clark knew the person.
One thing that the family said they didn't understand, was a box of rocks that was placed outside the screen door to keep it shut. The box was there the night Clark's body was found, leading most to believe it was moved there by the killer.
Clark's sister-in-law said she wondered for months if the teenager who lived just a few doors down the street from the homicide scene was involved. Now that an indictment has come down, Glenda Clark told WBTV she's now relieved.
"I'm relieved," Glenda Clark said. "And now maybe we can get justice for Johnny."
Glenda said before the killing, she had seen Sullivan walking a dog up the street in front of the John Clark's home every day. She said she suspects the two may have crossed paths and possibly knew each other.
"Johnny loved animals and he took walks on the street too," she said.
Glenda said she was grateful that law enforcement kept investigating and never gave up.
"I'm real happy," she said.
District Attorney David Learner said the indictment was the result of many months of work and cooperation between local law enforcement and federal authorities. He said no decision has been made whether the death penalty would be sought.
As to whether the death of John Clark was part of Sullivan's alleged terrorist plans, he would not say.
"I cannot comment on that aspect of this case," Learner said.
"He knows he messed up," said Justin's father, Rich Sullivan. Rich said he turned his son in to save lives but that the murder charge was a surprise. It was tough to see him in court face a judge on that, he said. "We see a son and think about what was and what could have been."
In court Monday, Sullivan told the judge he understood the charges and because the state announced it would see the death penalty, the judge said two attorneys would be appointed to represent him. No date was set for the next hearing on the state charges. Sullivan is slated to go to trial on the federal charges in Asheville in October.
Sullivan is being housed at the Buncombe County Detention Center in Asheville on the federal charges without bond.