FAIRMONT — More than 44 years after a prison guard at the Robeson Correctional Center was shot and killed by an inmate, relatives of Earl C. Strickland say there are still unanswered questions about what took place that day.
“There has never been substantial information brought forward containing details of the shooting,” said Leroy Freeman, a first cousin of Strickland. “Even today, people who know what happened are reluctant about talking step-by-step about the shooting.”
According to the official version of what happened on June 2, 1969, Strickland, then 33, was shot and killed by two inmates who gained control of a weapon that somehow was smuggled into the prison during a chaplain service. The two inmates then took another officer hostage and fled in Strickland’s car.
The escaped inmates reportedly stopped at a nearby farm, where they took a family of four hostage and barricaded themselves in the house. Three of the family members escaped during the night and notified police.
Reports of the event say that the next day the escaped inmates surrendered to police, who had surrounded the house. Ricardo Resendez, who had been in prison since 1961 on second-degree murder, kidnapping and robbery charges, was convicted of Strickland’s murder and was given a life sentence in November 1969. He was released from prison in May 1991.
But Millicent Collins, one of twin daughters born to Strickland’s wife Josephine just three months after his death, doesn’t think the whole story has been told. In March 2012 she began looking for information about her father’s death.
“I was curious. I’m a researcher. That’s what I do,” Collins, who is the grant administrator for Robeson County, recently told The Robesonian. “And what I found by my research didn’t make sense.”
Family members who spoke with The Robesonian recently said there were conflicting stories concerning many details of the case, including where in the prison Strickland was when shot; what gun was he shot with; where was the warden when all of this was occurring; and who was responsible for smuggling the gun into the prison.
There are also questions about whether Strickland’s wife Josephine ever received all the benefits from the state she should have received as the widow of a law enforcement officer killed in the line of duty, Collins said.
Collins said that some of those she has spoken with who witnessed the events surrounding the death of her father are still reluctant to give her information. Officials with the Department of Corrections, she said, insist her mother received what was coming to her in light of not being able to provide any records.
Collins said she has been assisted in her efforts to get information from the state by Reps. Charles Graham and Garland Pierce.
Graham said Thursday that he and Pierce have helped Collins in her efforts to contact officials at the state Department of Corrections, who may be able to answer some of her questions.
“Millicent has been very professional in her approach,” Graham said. “She has done a lot of research and her case is well documented. “
Collins and other family members say that state officials have been standing by their position that Strickland’s wife and family received all of the compensation they are entitled to receive. The family disagrees, saying their was negligence on the state’s part in allowing a weapon to be smuggled into the prison.
Collins said that she is going to continue her crusade to find out additional information that can give the family closure.
“I’m not going to go away,” she said. “My mother is very sick and I am asking that justice prevail and we are allowed to know the real truth.”
Collins and other family members who spoke recently with The Robesonian are asking that anyone with “first-hand knowledge” of the case contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org. They can also call her at 910-521-0540.
“Our lives were changed forever because someone chose not to do their job that day,” Collins said.