Accused murderer appears in court

Richard Clifford Gaither Jr. stared straight ahead Wednesday as a judge told him he is charged with murder.

Catawba County District Court Judge Amy R. Sigmon read the charges against Gaither, 23, during his first court appearance after he allegedly shot and killed a Hickory teenager Monday night.

Police found Steven Darnell Simpson, 19, in a red Toyota Camry about 9:30 p.m. Monday near downtown Hickory. Simpson was shot in the head, and he later died from his injuries. Police later arrested Gaither and charged him in connection with Simpson's death.

Gaither was confined in Catawba County jail, and he walked into the courtroom Wednesday wearing a lime green jumpsuit with his hands and feet shackled. He showed no emotion.

Gaither's attorney, Blair Cody, stood by his side as Sigmon outlined the maximum sentences for each of Gaither's alleged offenses.

In addition to the murder charge, Gaither also appeared in court Wednesday on charges of felony possession of cocaine and maintaining a place for a controlled substance.

Cody told Sigmon that Robert M. Hurley, of the North Carolina Capital Defender's Office, appointed him to defend Gaither, but only on a temporary basis. Sigmon allowed the appointment and agreed Cody could serve temporarily as Gaither's counsel.

Gaither's murder charge carries no bond, and the combined bond amount for his remaining charges is $19,000. Sigmon asked Cody if he wanted to address Gaither's bond amounts during Wednesday's court appearance, but Cody declined. Cody said he didn't want to address Gaither's bond at this time.

Sigmon set Gaither's probable cause hearing for April 20. He is scheduled to appear in court July 28 for a driving while impaired charge and failure to heed a blue light/siren relating to his alleged escape from the scene of Simpson's murder.

Meanwhile, Hickory Police continue investigating Simpson's death and haven't ruled out the possibility of making additional arrests in the case.

"Obviously, like with any homicide, the first 48 hours are critical," said Hickory Police Maj. Clyde Deal. "But once you've got someone arrested, that doesn't mean the case stops."

Hickory Police continued Wednesday interviewing people about the case.

Deal said they will proceed with additional charges or arrests, if necessary, as the case evolves.

"We haven't closed it by any means," he said.