Frye Heading to Prison Following Plea
BY JOHN CHAPPELL — Staff Writer
A Carthage man who pleaded guilty to his wife’s slaying did not succeed in convincing the court he should get a mitigated sentence. In a sentencing hearing Thursday afternoon Gale Lynn Frye was sentenced to 125 months minimum, 159 maximum. With credit for time served, he will spend at least the next seven and a half years behind bars.
Frye originally had been set to stand trial for the slaying of 76-year-old Bertha Frye on Feb. 12, 2010. However, at an earlier competency hearing Judge Joseph E. Turner found Frye unable to assist in his defense, so he was taken to a state mental hospital.
Experts later declared that Frye had improved to the point where he could enter a plea in his case. On Tuesday, he took a plea deal before Senior Resident Superior Court Judge James M. Webb. Judgment was entered, but sentencing set to follow Thursday afternoon’s hearing.
According to Carthage police, Frye called 911 and asked EMS to come and "resuscitate" his wife. When paramedics reached the Frye residence at 396 Simpson Road in Carthage, they found Bertha Frye already dead from a single gunshot wound to the head.
After questioning him for several hours, officers arrested Frye and charged him with murder.
Frye, 69, pleaded guilty to second-degree murder. Under his plea deal, the state reduced the charge from first-degree murder and left the sentence to the court, depending on whether mitigating evidence would be offered and accepted.
His attorney, Robert Trenkle, was given time to gather evidence in mitigation to present to Webb at the sentencing hearing. Thursday afternoon, Bertha Frye’s family and friends gathered on one side of the court room as Gayle Frye’s gathered on the other. Webb estimated there to be over 200 people in the courtroom.
District Attorney Maureen Krueger appeared for the state, and conferred briefly with a Carthage police officer, Lt. Robbie Mabe, who testified for the prosecution.
Mabe took the stand a little after 2 p.m. Krueger asked him to describe what he did and saw at the Frye home.
What Police Found at the Scene
“It was close to 3 o’clock in the afternoon,” Mabe said, adding other officers told him they had a fatality on the premises. “I made my way back to the back bedroom. I saw a female laying on the floor with blood coming from the left side. I could tell that blood on the floor had been attempted to be cleaned up. There were swirl marks.”
Mabe used crime scene photos – holding them up so Webb could see them – as he described what he saw that day.
“I saw a rifle laying on the footstool or ottoman to the right of the victim,” he said. “This is a picture of Bertha laying on the floor. You could tell from her clothing which was in disarray that she had been moved. You could see where the blood had been cleaned up from the swirl marks. This is a picture of the bathroom where the sink has blood on it.”
Webb looked at each of the photos, asked Mabe what he made of the firearm. The lieutenant said it was the weapon used to shoot the victim.
The DA handed other color photos to the officer. He described what had been found in the fireplace – rags, a box – that somebody had tried to burn.
“Mr. Frye was there – sitting in his recliner – inside the home,” Mabe said. “I asked Mr. Frye if he would come back to the Moore County Sheriff’s office to talk with me, and he agreed. I spent about 5 hours with him.”
Later, he took Frye back to his house after the defendant had been given his Miranda rights. He was not sure whether Frye knew he had been videotaped during the questioning, Mabe testified. He read from a number of statements Frye gave at the sheriff’s office.
“I was in the kitchen, and Bertha was in the bedroom,” Frye said, as Mabe read. “Bertha was complaining about the dogs barking. I took the gun back to Bertha and told her to shoot and the dogs would stop. I handed the gun to her and the gun went off. I took the gun back, and handed it to her again and it went off. I knew that she was gone.”
Frye wanted a copy of that first statement. Later, he gave another.
“I turned the coffee pot off,” Frye said in this statement as Mabe read it. “I went back to Bertha and she did not make any movement. I knew that she was gone. I went to the kitchen and got some old rags and some Pinesol. I tried calling the police department but did not get any answer, so I called 911.”
“When I Shoot I Don’t Miss”
Mabe then read from another statement Frye had given that night.
“I took the gun to Bertha, gave Bertha the gun and the gun went off. If I had been closer, she would have shot me. She got snappy with me. I stepped back to the closet, and I shot. When I shoot, I don’t miss. I thought she was trying to shoot me.”
Mabe said he found no evidence that the gun had been fired more than once. He identified autopsy photos of the victim and the medical report listing “gunshot wound to the head” as the cause of death.
“He acknowledged shooting his wife prior to his arrest?” Trenkle asked Mabe on cross-examination after bringing out that his client had been cooperative. “You confirmed that his wife had been arrested twice for assaults on him, correct?”
Mabe said he knew of one time.
“At times he quoted poetry to you?” he asked Mabe. “He talked of painting the room. He spoke of cleaning up, dumping the ashtrays?”
Mabe agreed Frye did talk of these things. EMS had come to check after Frye complained of chest pains. Afterwards, that was when he confirmed to Mabe that he’d shot his wife.
How Many Shots
“You have testified there was no evidence of more than one shot being fired. What was the evidence of that?” Webb asked.
A single .22 shell casing was all that was found, no others. Mabe told the judge that was the basis for the conclusion that only one shot had been fired. That weapon ejects to the right side, he said.
A hole had been found in the ceiling, and investigators checked to see if it could have come from a fired shell – but no evidence was found in the attic or anywhere else of such an event, according to Mabe’s testimony.
“So the basis for concluding that only one shot had been fired is from only finding one shell casing – is that right?” Webb asked. “Let me see the exhibits.”
The judge looked through them.
“It states stippling is present over a two inch area,” Webb said. “Does that mean anything to you?”
Mabe said that kind of stippling at the wound site indicated the fatal shot had been fired from between four and six feet away. Webb asked Mabe if his opinion was “based on what someone told you at the medical examiner’s office” and Mabe said yes — that, and his experience.
“Have you or other officers been called to this residence in relation to a domestic dispute?” Webb asked.
Mabe said once, that present police chief had responded and Bertha Frye arrested for assault.
“Hit him with frozen food, in the head,” Mabe said.
“Mr. Frye said Bertha had held a gun to his head on several occasions,” Webb said. “Did he tell you that during his seven hours of questioning?”
He asked about the .22 rifle Mabe testified had fired the fatal shot. That weapon holds at least 16 shots but only had 14 left, according to his testimony.
“Every time you pull the trigger it will eject and put another one in,” Mabe said. “I do not know what the trigger pull is to the pound.”
“He told you multiple times that the victim fired at him first,” the judge said. “Did he abandon that?”
“He said, ‘She got snappy with me. I eased the gun back and shot her,’” Mabe said. “He said he went back to the sunroom, got the gun, and handed her the gun. He said he got the gun from her, eased back, and shot her.”
Trenkle asked if every time his client told the story, he said Bertha Frye shot first.
“Every statement he indicated she fired first?” Trenkle asked. “You did not participate in any search for a casing, did you?”
Mabe didn’t, but did go over all the reports.
“I don’t know if they went up inside the attic,” Mabe said.
Krueger said she had four family members who would like to speak with the court. Webb asked if Trenkle had any evidence.
The defense attorney offered three reports of domestic violence. The first was from April, 2001.
On June 22 of that year another report said Bertha Frye found her husband’s loaded shotgun in the house and threatened to shoot him with it. While she was outside getting a beer, he hid the shotgun.
“At this point, the argument became physical,” Trenkle read, offering reports of physical confrontations in the past. Photos were attached to these reports. He introduced a report in which Frye complained his wife struck him in the back.
He introduced his client’s honorable discharge from the military and a letter from Catharine Graham, former Clerk of Court of Moore County.
“Judge Webb I understand is to be sentenced for the murder of his wife,” Graham’s letter said. “I have known Gayle Frye and his family for over 30 years. I first met him at a church youth group. … I believe he and his brothers and sisters have had an excellent reputation in this . He did work for me and my husband, and we were very impressed by his work ethic and his honesty. … He was very kind and courteous to his wife when she was working. I recognize the seriousness of Gayle’s charge and that he will be punished for this offense …”
What Family and Friends Said
The DA called Doris Hickman, the victim’s daughter. She testified that her mother was 76 at the time of her death, but was not in good health.
“She had major heart surgery,” she said. “We lost her, three times. She was in the hospital for two and a half months. She had kidney problems, gout, heart problems. She had arthritis in her back, could hardly get up and down. Aunt Rachel helped her. A whole lot. Feb. 11, 2010, was the worst day of my life. It changed my life forever. They called me on the phone and said the sheriff needs to speak to you, won’t speak to anyone but you.”
This was the Harnett County sheriff, but he had said it was Gayle Lynn Frye who was deceased. That was in error.
“They called to tell me it had been Momma, and not Gayle,” she said. “I couldn’t cry. I’ve never been to a place where I could not shed tears. Momma loved Gayle. She would take up for him if somebody said something bad about him.”
She described the last Thanksgiving dinner with her mother, in that house in Carthage – a time her mother had told her might be her last.
“Momma was good,” she said. “She wasn’t this mean person that everyone thinks she was. Momma had a good heart. She loved her family. She loved us. And she loved Gayle.”
She asked the judge to take into consideration these things.
“I want you to give the max,” she said. “I don’t hate Gayle. I don’t understand why. Momma – I don’t know what I want to say. I’m sorry – I can’t do it.”
Dorothy Godfrey, her eyes already wet, took the stand next – bringing with her a few scraps of paper on which she’d written notes. She is Doris Hickman’s twin sister, who lives next to her.
“I watched her come off the respirator three times at Rex Hospital,” the daughter said. “I just don’t think God meant for her to die the way she died. At least I did get to talk to her that Tuesday before it happened, told her I loved her – but my sisters did not. She would help anybody, because she had a lot of help in the past herself.”
That heart surgery ended her mother’s working life, she said. There had been a restraining order against the defendant, but “he got back in the house, and they dropped the charges,” she said.
Krueger asked if there was anything else she would like the judge to know.
“It has changed my life,” she said. “There is a hole in my heart. I have not accepted her death at this time. I feel like she is with me. We just loved her; we loved her very much.”
One after another three of Bertha Frye’s children took the stand to speak of their unspeakable loss. A longtime family friend, and a grandson testified as well. This violent end to a life has changed lives irrevocably, they said.
Trenkle did not ask questions of any of them on cross-examination. Krueger submitted restitution and criminal record worksheets to the court.
The defense called Ken Suggs, a retired magistrate of 30 years on the bench who said he’d known the defendant for at least half a century.
“To me, he’s one of the best,” Suggs said. “He is a painter, and he has painted my house twice. He is honest, a law-abiding citizen, and does wonderful work.”
Suggs testified he’d never known Frye to act other than honorably. On cross-examination he told of going by the house one time – but never knew anything about him drinking.
Mitchell Scott followed Suggs, taking he oath and testifying he knew Gayle Frye as his employer.
“He hired me to brick his house,” he said. “The first time he had bruises on his face and arms. Him and his wife had been fighting the first time. The second time, he had been pushed down in the bathtub. She was kind of abusive to him, language wise. It was like he had no say-so as to what we were doing, and she would go to cussing at him. I had raked some pinestraw and asked Mr. Frye if he could have it. He said Frye told him ‘one day she is going to kill me.’”
Another longtime Carthaginian, Johnny Grimm, was next.
“I’ve run a heating and air-conditioning business for 58 years; I’ve known Gayle all his life, went to school with his sister and brother over at his house. I’ve known him all his life, knew him when he was born. All those kids had jobs to do, and didn’t fuss back and forth. You never heard anything out of them; they did what they were supposed to do.”
Grimm knew Bertha Frye after their marriage.
“The first time I saw Gayle, the side of his head next to his eye, there was fingernail mark,” he said. “She hit him with something and scratched him. The second time, he come to me and said he was scared she was going to kill him. He – to my knowledge – never did go deer-hunting. He was scared of Bertha. I knew he had guns, so I told him to hide the shells. He had a rifle and a shotgun. I told him put them in the attic, lift the insulation up and put the gun down. The third time, he was coming up an alley, barely moving. Barely getting along. I headed down Martin Street, and there was Gayle. I parked and walked back up the street. Gayle could hardly open his eyes. From his forehead all the way down, where she had pushed something in and tried to take his eyeballs out. She had found the two guns that he had and was asking him where was the shells for the guns. I said come on, let me put you in the truck. He left the house, and said if he went down there he was scared she would come and find him. I helped him on down the street. I said, ‘Sit here, and nobody will see you.’ He said he wasn’t going back there, that if he did, she would kill him. I told him several times he needed to go to the law. I think it was six or seven months before the accident; might have been four months. Those places on is forehead didn’t happen the day before. It had started scabbing over.”
Defense called James Needham next, a lifetime county resident who was in school and National Guard with Gayle Frye with he 252nd Armored Division.
“If you got a detail with Gayle, you had good help,” he said. “Gayle didn’t have problems. He painted my house. Gayle was a good painter. He could mingle the best with a stranger, fitted in better than I did. I never did see Gayle drink. In all the years, I never saw him lose his temper.”
Krueger asked if he’d visited with Gayle and Bertha Frye in their home – but he hadn’t.
Webb had a few questions.
“In all this mountain of paper, there is a number of mental health reports,” he said. “One said he was the only one issued ammunition because he was a marksman. Was that right?”
No, Needham said – everybody in the Guard has ammunition.
Longtime former magistrate Oscar Eldridge was next. He told the court he’d known Frye fifty years, more or less, never saw him drinking.
“Since I heard what happened, I asked around some,” the former magistrate said. “I got no negative comments about him. I was on duty when he came in the night of the incident.”
The DA asked when the last time was – before the murder – that he’d seen the defendant and if he’d every visited with him and his wife in their home. He hadn’t visited, had only seen him once at a fast food restaurant.
19 individuals were present on behalf of Bertha Frye, by a bailiff’s count at Webb’s request. 42 were there on behalf of Gayle Frye
“Without a doubt this is a tragedy,” Trenkle said “The legislature has given you a range of punishments and left to you to determine where in that range the defendant falls. A sentence of 12 years for a 30 year old may be quite different. I would suggest this is one of the few times a mitigated range sentence is appropriate. Consider Gayle Frye’s character. I probably could have called 20 more people. Fair to say – in my 25 years doing this kind of work – this is the greatest number of people I’ve seen. He worked hard, served his country – those things are established.”
He contended a number of statutory mitigating factors would apply, and that the situation in his marriage was extenuating.
“There is no suggestion he was abusive,” he said. “Three times Mr. Frye called the police on his wife.”
Trenkle reminded the court of two witnesses to injuries to Frye by his wife.
“The evidence is clearly there that Mr. Frye was someone that was abused,” he said. “What is particularly significant Your Honor is that you see she gives three different accounts as to what occurred. In the verified divorce complaint she offers yet a third account – it is significant she told three stories, did not at any time say her husband had been abusive to her. You have pictures of the injuries. There has been talk of his drinking, no question that he had a drinking problem. What is significant about their marital relationship is that there was violence and that was directed toward Mr. Frye. As to the offense, he has taken responsibility for his actions. He consistently said to detective Mabe that she fired first. One, there is a hole in the ceiling. Mabe said this gun holds 16 bullets, and at the time he recovered it there were only 14 – indicating two had been fired. Those casings are very small. His testimony is clear. His actions afterward indicated someone who was confused – out of it – someone that had acted on an impulse.”
Trenkle contended his client’s taking responsibility by pleading guilty is a mitigating factor. He spoke of his mental state at the time of the offense.
“All four doctors have agreed there was something wrong with Mr. Frye,” he said. “You can see from the report he had white matter disease, a sign of dementia. What all four doctors did agree was that his IQ at the time this happened was 73 – borderline with mental retardation. All the doctors agreed with that, a decline, something was going wrong – that’s why he had the decline that affected his mental capacity. They affect the frontal lobe of the brain. Those conditions were real, and were there the morning of Feb. 11, 2010. That’s ten mitigating factors, more than any I’ve seen. There is nothing he can do to take away what’s happened. What someone has done in their life should affect their punishment.”
He asked for a sentence in the mitigated range for this charge. Webb looked to the state.
Wife Didn't Deserve Death for Being Snappy says DA
“Your Honor, I think the court has heard a significant amount of testimony and there is a disconnect,” Krueger said. “Some of it is that the defendant had a drinking problem and that Bertha had a drinking problem – but others say that’s not the case. You have report after report from doctors saying he did have a drinking problem, but community testimony that he did not. I am sure they are well-intentioned, but that is not what the court needs.
“She was scared. She feared for her life. People witnessed firsthand that the defendant was abusive toward her. The defense would like us to believe this was a tragic accident. The defendant’s own statement says, ‘She got snappy with me. I eased back away from her, and I shot. When I shoot, I don’t miss.’
“She doesn’t deserve death for being snappy. This was not a tragic accident. Mr. Frye’s own words: ‘When I shoot, I don’t miss.’ Sentence the defendant in the top of the range, not the mitigated range. This is a painful memory. The only thing that will make that right for them is that the defendant serve that time in prison, and we ask you to give that to him. Thank you.”
Webb looked through the material, taking notes, as the courtroom sank into a watchful silence — all waiting.
Finally, his decision made as to range, the judge looked at the blue card with its structured sentencing chart.
“Stand up, Mr. Frye,” he said. “The defendant comes before the court on this date for sentencing. This is a B2 felony. Court finds the following mitigating factors: the relationship with the victim was otherwise extenuating – the defendant voluntarily acknowledged wrongdoing to a law enforcement officer at an early stage – the defendant has had good character or a good reputation in the community – the defendant was honorably discharged from the military – the defendant accepted responsibility – the defendant has a support system in the community – the defendant has a positive employment history.”
Having considered the evidence and arguments and having found mitigating factors, Webb said he did not make any determination of their relative weights because he would sentence Frye in the presumptive – not the mitigated – range.
He sentenced Frye to a minimum of 125 months, 159 months maximum in the Department of Corrections with credit for 1,007 days time served. That means, in effect, between seven and a half to a little over 10 years in prison for Frye.
The judge recommended he be housed in a substance abuse facility and ordered restitution based on the worksheet the DA provided and to the state for the services of his court-appointed attorney.
“That is the judgment of the court,” Webb said.
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