Man who killed three in Salisbury out on parole

  • Posted: Tuesday, March 19, 2013 1:16 p.m.
    UPDATED: Tuesday, March 19, 2013 1:41 p.m.

A man who pleaded guilty in 1990 to killing three Salisbury residents over drug money was released this week on parole, a state agency said.

Clifford Allen Nichols was serving back-to-back life sentences for the 1987 murders of Gralin Nailing, Booker Barfield and Edwin Little Jr.

But because he was sentenced prior to the 1994 enactment of the state’s structured sentencing law, which eliminated parole, Nichols walked out of prison on Monday.

According to the N.C. Department of Correction, Nichols, now 63 years old, has returned to Davie County, where he lived at the time of the killings.

The crimes occurred Oct. 22, 1987, at Barfield’s apartment on West Horah Street in Salisbury. An officer responding to a disturbance call around 12:30 a.m. found 28-year-old Marcella Denise Carr wandering in the street near the home. She’d been shot and beaten.

At the home, police found Barfield and Nailing dead. Little was alive but died on the way to the hospital.

Barfield, 58, had been bludgeoned to death with the butt of a shotgun. Nailing, 31, and Little, 23, had been shot.

Carr survived, but was hospitalized for a month and underwent multiple surgeries.

Police found cocaine and drug paraphernalia in the home.

Investigators arrested Nichols a week after the murders. They found blood on the steering wheel of his car, parked at his mobile home near U.S. 601 at the Rowan-Davie line. In nearby bushes, they found a bag that contained a bloody washcloth and clothes.

The .410 shotgun was found on a creek bank along Woodleaf Road. In the creek, authorities found more clothes, including a pair of pants with a payroll number that identified them as belonging to Nichols at a former employer.

Nichols initially denied committing the crimes. But charged with first-degree murder and facing a possible death sentence, he pleaded guilty to three counts of second-degree murder and assault with a deadly weapon. The four charges were consolidated into two for sentencing.

In a 1994 interview, Nichols said he went to the home — with the shotgun he’d borrowed from his brother-in-law — to confront Nailing. Nichols said he’d given Nailing $700 to buy cocaine a day earlier, but Nailing told him he’d used up his money after they spent the night smoking the drug.

He said he shot Nailing when he believed the man was reaching for a gun. When Barfield rushed him, he began beating the older man with the butt of the gun. It went off as they struggled, Nichols said, and he accidentally shot Little and Carr.

Nichols said he continued struggling with Barfield, who had grabbed a butcher knife, and accidentally struck Carr with the gun when she got into the fight. When the still-living Nailing grabbed his leg, Nichols said, he hit him with the gun. Then he beat Barfield to death in the kitchen.

But investigators and Carr told a much different story.

They said Nichols showed up Barfield’s apartment demanding money. Nailing wasn’t there at the time, they said.

Nichols began beating Barfield and told Little and Carr to lie on the floor. At some point, Carr said, Nichols put the shotgun against Little’s temple and fired. She was struck by pellets from the blast. Nichols then returned to beating Barfield.

Carr said she didn’t remember when Nichols first struck her with the gun. She lost consciousness, then woke up later and left the apartment. And she said she didn’t see Nichols kill Nailing.

Police said Nichols hid behind a door and waited for Nailing. Witnesses told investigators they had overheard Nichols earlier that evening telling Nailing that he was waiting for his money. Nailing told Nichols to be patient and that he would meet him at Barfield’s apartment later.

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