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NORTH CAROLINA: Pastor's 30 year old double-murder conviction shocks many

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Those who knew James William Rupard describe the former Laurinburg pastor [Sandhills Community Church] as one of the nicest men you could ever meet.

So when he was charged with insurance fraud last week, it caught most people by surprise.

Even more jaw dropping was Rupard's conviction more than 30 years ago of the double murder of his grandparents — Lester and Ruth Rupard, who raised him from infancy.

The 48-year-old Rupard lives on Angus Drive in Laurinburg. He faces charges of insurance fraud and is the subject of an SBI probe into allegations he embezzled from local firefighter organizations. Rupard, who was released from jail on Wednesday, could not be reached for comment.

The murders

The Avery Journal reported that the murders happened Sept. 25, 1978 in Banner Elk, a town of less than 1,000 people in western North Carolina. Rupard was 17 at the time.

When Avery County Sheriff's deputy arrived at the Rupard residence, they found Lester Rupard's body lying in the front yard, the newspaper reported.

The elder Rupard had been shot by a 30-30 rifle.

Ruth Rupard's body was found inside the bedroom. She'd been shot three times by a .22 caliber pistol, the Journal said. Both were shot in their face and hands.

The Journal said Rupard was found at a neighbors house, about a quarter of a mile form the incident.

According to a Rupard family history published online, the shooting occurred after an argument between Ruth and James Rupard inside their residence. He first shot her, then walked out to the field where he shot Lester Rupard.

Family members say Ruth and Lester had adopted James shortly after his birth. He was the son of their only child, Dennis Rupard, who died in a car accident two months before James was born.

The Avery Journal also reported on the trial.

During the trial, Banner Elk Police Chief Frank Pusey told jurors that, when Rupard was arrested, he kept repeating "I loved Jesus and I loved them."

The police chief said the young man admitted to the shooting, telling officers he shot them because they were too strict and trying to get him to go back to school.

Pusey's testimony was supported by that of Avery County Sheriff J.D. Braswell and Banner Elk Officer Freddie Lowe.

But Rupard told a different story. He said he had felt sick that morning and laid down on the couch. He woke up to the sound of shooting and ran from his house. The next thing he remembered, he was hiding his blood-stained shirt under a rock. He then went to his neighbor's house to call police.

Rupard also denied that he had made statements to officers admitting to the murder or telling them where he hid the guns.

After three hours and 11 minutes of deliberation, a jury of nine women and three men came back with a guilty verdict. Rupard was sentenced to two concurrent life sentences.

He was released 15 years later in 1994, according to DOC records.

The next year he moved to Scotland County.

Insurance fraud

Rupard was arrested Friday and charged with three counts of embezzlement by an insurance agent and three counts of obtaining property by false pretense, according to investigators with the Laurinburg Police Department, Department of Insurance Criminal Investigations Division and the State Bureau of Investigation.

He was placed in the Scotland County jail under a $100,000 bond. A judge dropped the bond to $10,000 at his hearing Monday morning.

Rupard posted bond Wednesday afternoon. He will be represented by Russell Smith of the Scotland County Public Defender's Office.

According to the arrest warrants, Rupard, the owner of American Insurance Marketing, sold fake annuities to three victims; two at $5,000 and one for $35,000.

Authorities say Rupard did not write any of the annuity policies and believe he kept the money.

Investigators are still looking for victims. Anyone who thinks they may be a victim is asked to call the department at 919-807-6840.

Rupard has not surrendered his license to sell insurance at this time, according to Department of Insurance spokesman Johanna Royo.

She said a license hearing would determine whether he was required to surrender his license.

Fireman funds

Sheriff Shep Jones asked the State Bureau of Investigation to launch a probe in August of 2008 into allegations surrounding Rupard's involvement with the Scotland County Firefighter's Association and the Stewartsville Fire Department.

An SBI official confirmed the agency is conducting a probe of Rupard on allegations of embezzlement based on Jones request. The official would not comment further because it could hamper an ongoing investigation.

Rupard denied the allegations to The Laurinburg Exchange in August of 2008.

"I am not aware of any intentional wrongdoing, either by myself or anyone else. I will be glad to answer any questions asked, and will cooperate fully if contacted."

Rupard is a former president of the fireman's association and a former assistant fire chief at Stewartsville.

David Laviner, president of the Scotland County FIrefighters Association, said he could comment on the allegations at this time because of the ongoing SBI investigation.

He said he may be able to discuss the allegations once the investigation has ended.

Rupard had served as pastor for Sandhills Community Church, but stepped down shortly after news of the SBI probe surfaced.

Rupard could not be reached for comment.

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