Teen gets attorney in murder case

The teenager accused of killing his roommate with an axe then carving a word into the man's body received court-appointed counsel Monday during his first appearance in court.

No fewer than four officers from the Catawba County Sheriff's Office were in District Court on Wednesday as Michael Joseph Anderson, 19, was led into the courtroom wearing a neon green jumpsuit. Anderson appeared emotionless as Judge Robert A. Mullinax told him he was charged with murder.

Anderson admitted in a 9-1-1 call released Tuesday that he shot his roommate, Stephen Starr, 36, three times before taking an axe to the man and mutilating his body. Sheriff's deputies said Anderson carved a word into Starr's body, but they won't release what that word is.

Anderson told Mullinax he needed the court to give him an attorney, and Mullinax appointed Scott Reilly for preliminary matters in the case.

Anderson's probable cause hearing is set for March 9.

The appearance lasted less than two minutes, and Anderson was escorted out of the courtroom and back to Catawba County jail, where he is being held without bond. Anderson's court-appointed counsel request detailing why he can't afford to hire an attorney himself wasn't available Wednesday at the clerk of court's office.

Reilly declined to speak with reporters after Anderson's first appearance in court. He also serves as court-appointed counsel for Elisa Baker, who is charged with obstructing the investigation into the death of 10-year-old Zahra Baker.

Monday's gruesome murder was the third murder in Catawba County in little more than a week. The county's first homicides of the year happened Feb. 7 during an apparent murder-suicide on Grassy Creek Road in Denver. Sheriff's deputies said Rick Wheeler shot his wife Angela and their 14-year-old daughter Samantha before taking his own life.

Catawba County Sheriff Coy Reid called Monday's murder scene one of the most gruesome crimes he's seen in awhile. Reid said counseling was offered to deputies involved in the murders, but as far as he knows, no one accepted the services.

Deputies were first alerted to the crime about 4:45 a.m. Monday when Anderson called 9-1-1 to report the murder. He told the 9-1-1 operator that "too many pills" made him kill Starr, who allegedly made unwanted sexual advances to Anderson.

Anderson sounded as if he started to panic several times during the call, but the 9-1-1 operator continually reassured him that help was on the way.

Reid commended the 9-1-1 operator and said her quick thinking probably prevented Anderson from committing suicide.

Anderson posted on his Facebook page at 4:04 a.m. on the day of the murder asking God to forgive him and saying he wouldn't be taken alive.