A Morganton man who was given a federal life sentence for an attempted act of terrorism three weeks ago also was given a life sentence without parole on murder charges in state court on Monday, July 17, 2017.
Justin Nojan Sullivan, 21, pleaded guilty to first-degree murder charges for the December 2014 shooting death of John Bailey Clark during Burke County Superior Court. The Honorable Robert C. Ervin, Superior Court Judge from Burke County, sentenced Sullivan to a life sentence in state prison to run at the expiration of his federal life sentence.
Following, Sullivan’s plea, Judge Ervin remanded him to the custody of the Federal Bureau of Prisons.
“The murder of John Clark was as cowardly an act as has ever happened in Burke County, as was Sullivan’s plan for mass murder,” District Attorney David Learner said, noting that Sullivan had expressed no remorse for his actions.
When given an opportunity to speak, Sullivan said he “didn’t mean for any of this to happen.”
Sullivan was sentenced federally in Asheville on June 27, 2017, for attempting to commit an act of terrorism transcending national borders, in support of the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS). He pleaded guilty to that charge on Nov. 29, 2016.
Sometime the night of Dec. 17 or in the early-morning hours of Dec. 18, 2014, Sullivan shot the 74-year Clark in the head three times with a .22-caliber Marlin rifle while he slept in his own bed. The defendant stole the gun from his father’s locked gun cabinet while his parents were out of town.
After killing Clark, Sullivan stripped the victim of his clothing and buried him in a shallow grave that the defendant dug outside Clark’s home, located less than a quarter of a mile from Sullivan’s residence.
Deputies with the Burke County Sheriff’s Office and Agents from the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation (NCSBI) responded to Clark’s residence when he was reported missing and located a blood trail as well as blood in the bedroom. They also recovered a .22-caliber shell casing and located Clark’s body in the shallow grave.
An autopsy determined that Clark’s cause of death was from being shot in the head.
Further investigation of Sullivan by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) revealed that he was an Islamic convert who was communicating with ISIS leaders and plotting an attack on American citizens.
Sullivan was arrested on June 19, 2015, and FBI agents found the Marlin rifle, a black ski mask and lock pick kit in the crawl space under his house. Testing at the FBI laboratory in Quantico, Va., confirmed that the rifle was the weapon used to shoot and kill Clark.
According to information provided by the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Sullivan plotted with Islamic terrorists to execute acts of mass violence in the United States in the name of ISIS. He planned to buy an assault weapon at a gun show in Hickory in June 2015 and also attempted to buy ammunition to use with that weapon.
A silencer that he planned to use with the weapon to carry out his attack was delivered to his Rose Carswell Road address in Morganton, but his mother opened the package instead. When his parents questioned him about the silencer, Sullivan believed they may interfere with his plans to carry out the attack and offered to compensate an undercover employee of the FBI to kill them.
The Federal Court noted that Sullivan’s plan to murder innocent civilians at a social gathering was similar to the Orlando nightclub attack in 2016, though perhaps more sinister because he planned to use stealth by wearing a mask to conceal his identity and using the silencer to kill as many people as possible, with the hope of escaping to kill again.
Learner and Lance Sigmon prosecuted the murder case for the State. Caleb Mace led the investigation for the Burke County Sheriff’s Office, with assistance from Agents Chris Chambliss and Paula Carson of the NCSBI. FBI Agents Jim Meade and Cory Zachman assisted with the cases along with the N.C. Medical Examiner’s Office, the Federal Department of Homeland Security, U.S. Marshal’s Office, the U.S. Department of Justice, United States Attorney Jill Westmoreland and Assistant U.S. Attorney Mike Savage.
“This case was solved through an amazing level of cooperation and coordination of multiple law enforcement agencies,” Learner said.
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