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County to keep paying sheriff indicted in murder plot

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OXFORD — Granville County Sheriff Brindell Wilkins will continue to earn his $109,000 annual salary after temporarily stepping down as sheriff while criminal charges against him play out in court. 

The Granville County Board of Commissioners voted Monday night to continue to pay Wilkins his salary and benefits. The commissioners may decide later to withhold Wilkins' pay if new charges or allegations arise. 

The vote came after Wilkins asked the county to maintain his salary while he is suspended from office. The commissioners discussed the issue in a closed session before the public, unanimous vote. 

"Depriving an elected official of his or her pay based on charges which have not been adjudicated and to which the elected official has not had an opportunity to respond is not a decision to be taken lightly," County Attorney Jim Wrenn said in a statement. 

Wilkins was indicted by a grand jury last month on two counts of felony obstruction of justice following a 10-month investigation by the State Bureau of Investigation.

According to the indictments, investigators reviewed a tape of a 2014 phone conversation Wilkins had with another person he knows. During the call, Wilkins is said to have urged the other person to kill former deputy Joshua Freeman.

The sheriff believed Freeman possessed and planned to release recordings of Wilkins "using racially offensive language," the indictments claim. The sheriff had fired Freeman 10 days earlier.

"The only way you gonna stop him is kill him," Wilkins was allegedly recorded as saying in the conversation with the would-be killer, who has not been named by authorities.

Documents show that Wilkins, 59, is accused of providing tips to the person on how to execute the killing and to do so "in a manner as to avoid identification." According to documents, Wilkins is quoted as saying "you ain't got the weapon, you ain't got nothing to go on" and "the only way we find out these murder things is people talk. You can't tell nobody nothin.'"

The sheriff also discussed a specific time and location in Granville County to carry out the killing, the indictments allege.

Prosecutors have said there is an ongoing second investigation into the sheriff's office accounting practices and drug interdiction efforts. Details of that case have not been released and it's not clear if it involves Sheriff Wilkins or other county employees directly.

Wrenn filed a petition in Granville County Superior Court to suspend Wilkins from office while the charges are prosecuted. Wilkins agreed to step aside during the investigation.

Chief Deputy Sherwood Boyd will serve in the role of sheriff until the Granville County Board of Commissioners appoints a replacement to fill the temporary vacancy.

Wilkins, a Democrat in office since 2009, was served his indictment Sept. 16 by SBI and FBI agents. He appeared before a magistrate and was released on a $20,000 unsecured bond. Wilkins will make his first appearance in Granville County court Wednesday.