RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — A Ku Klux Klan leader from North Carolina has been convicted on weapons and explosive charges related to a plot to blow up his county sheriff.
A jury convicted Charles Robert Barefoot Jr. of Benson on all six felony counts Tuesday. He faces a maximum sentence of up to 51 years in prison on charges that include conspiracy, possession of stolen guns, solicitation to commit a crime of violence and receipt of explosives with intent to kill.
According to evidence presented at a two-day trial in U.S. District Court, Barefoot, 49, was the leader of the North Carolina chapter of the National Knights of the Ku Klux Klan.
Prosecutors said Barefoot wanted to assassinate Johnston County Sheriff Steve Bizzell, whom he blamed for the failure of the Enchanted Barn, a nightclub the Klansman owned. Barefoot also blamed Bizzell for the Klan not being permitted to march in Benson’s annual Mule Days parade.
Barefoot will remain in custody pending his sentencing, which is scheduled for December. His lawyer, Joe Zeszotarski of Raleigh, did not respond to a message seeking comment.
According to trial testimony, Barefoot experimented with pipe bombs and acquired a stash of powerful, commercial-grade explosives in 2001 that he stored in a freezer at his home.
Barefoot then asked a fellow Klansman, Marvin Glen Gautier, to help him in a plan to float down the Neuse River in a small boat at night to plant a bomb at the sheriff’s office in Smithfield, which is located about a block from the riverbank. By approaching from the water, rather than using roads, Barefoot hoped to approach and escape without being seen.
Barefoot asked Gautier to help put in the boat upriver and then pick him up at a bridge downriver after the bomb was delivered. Gautier declined to participate and there was no evidence that the plot was ever attempted, prosecutors said.
Barefoot also faced charges related to the theft of more than 30 firearms from an out-building at a Benson home. According to testimony, the burglary was carried out by Barefoot’s then 17-year-old son, who delivered the weapons to the father’s home.
The elder Barefoot then proceed to distribute the weapons, including 10 firearms he gave to a fellow Klan leader in Lumberton. The other Klansman, identified as Michael Brewer, then sold the stolen guns and split the money with Barefoot.
Barefoot, his son, his wife and three others were arrested in 2006 following a joint investigation by the FBI, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives, and the sheriff’s offices in Johnston and Sampson counties.
Bizzell, the lawman Barefoot targeted, was not immediately available for comment on Friday.
Follow AP writer Michael Biesecker at twitter.com/mbieseck