Axe murderer sentenced
A Kings Mountain native will spend at least 16 years in prison after pleading guilty to one of the most brutal murders in Catawba County history.
Michael Anderson, 20, pleaded guilty to second-degree murder on Thursday in Catawba County court. Pursuant to a plea agreement, he was sentenced in the aggravated range to 196 to 245 months in a N.C. Department of Correction prison.
Anderson has been in jail since Feb. 14, 2011, when he called a 9-1-1 operator and said he had shot, killed and “mutilated” his roommate, 36-year-old Hickory resident Stephen Starr.
“Um, I took some pills and then some more pills, and I murdered my roommate,” Anderson told a 9-1-1 dispatcher last February. “I shot him three times and then used an axe and mutilated his body.”
Anderson had taken more than a dozen Mucinex DM pills, a medicine that contains Dextromethorphan that can sometimes create a psychedelic experience when consumed in bulk.
On Thursday, attorneys for Anderson and the state said there was little or no motive in the case, citing the drugs’ effects as the main cause of the murder.
“You take 18 or 19 of those pills and it feels like you’re tripping on acid,” said Robert Campbell, Anderson’s attorney. “There was no fight, no altercation.”
Anderson killed Starr while he was sleeping. He shot Starr multiple times in the head and chest before inflicting wounds and fractures to his roommate’s body with an axe, according to state evidence and police.
At the time, Catawba County Sheriff Coy Reid described the murder scene as "probably one of the nastiest crime scenes I've ever been to."
According to an autopsy report, Starr’s body was so mangled that it could not be transported to the medical examiner’s office in one piece.
His body contained dozens of stab wounds, and the word “joker” was carved into his left side.
“Stephen Starr was in a very troubling situation,” said Assistant District Attorney Michael Van Buren.
Van Buren said the state was ready to go to trial with the case, but Starr’s family had asked the district attorney’s office to settle the matter outside of trial if possible. Members of the Starr family in attendance at Thursday's hearing told attorneys they wanted to preserve the fond memories they had of him.
“We do not want our son’s name dragged through the dirt, which would happen in trial,” according to a statement from the Starr family that was read aloud in court.
Family members said the decision to avoid trial was their choice, and they were afraid that a public display would ruin the way they saw him.
The family also asked the court to destroy the weapons seized from the scene of the murder, a decision granted by the judge.
The family declined to comment further to the media.
Campbell said Anderson was a foster child for most of his life and was removed from his home by the Department of Social Services at age 7.
Foster parents described him as a “good kid.”
“He’s never even been in a fight,” Campbell said.
Anderson moved out of foster care when he was 19 years old and got involved with a crowd that abused cough medicine, such as Mucinex DM. Anderson, too, started experimenting with the drugs, Campbell said.
Anderson moved in with Starr at 5209 Ruth Drive in Hickory just days before the murder, authorities said in February 2011.
On Thursday, Anderson showed little emotion. His hair was long, and he looked almost unrecognizable compared to the mug shot taken when he was arrested.
Though he did not address the court directly or speak to Starr’s family, his attorney did relay a message.
“He would like to express his sincere apology to the family,” Campbell said, looking at the Starr family. “He is very sorry.”