Brittney Lofthouse – Staff Writer
Members of the community have expressed concern since the town of Franklin petitioned for the arrest of Donald “Chris” Marrow, 58, after he was accused of trespassing at town hall.
Marrow was arrested on Oct. 31 after a True Bill of Indictment was issued charging Marrow with two counts of felony intimidation of a state’s witness and obstruction of justice.
According to a press release issued Monday by the town of Franklin, Marrow had previously occupied the foyer of town hall, “harassing citizens merely attempting to pay utility bills and conduct other lawful business with the town, and causing other disruptions to the town’s service.”
Town hall is public property and has public restrooms, so being inside town hall or using the restroom is not illegal. While town authorities stated that Marrow was never threatening, he was “menacing.” Because of Marrow’s frequent use of the town’s public restroom – Marrow is listed as homeless – Marrow was verbally warned that his behavior would be considered trespassing, according to the town.
Marrow continued to utilize the public space and was issued a cease-and-desist letter from town administration and a written citation for misdemeanor 2nd degree trespass.
Marrow has become known around town for his vehicle which displays signs that read, “Repent.” According to Marrow and those who support his right to free speech and his right to utilize public facilities, what the town considered “harassing” behavior was Marrow sharing his story and religious views on public property, which in itself isn’t a crime. Prior to being trespassed from town property, Marrow and Franklin Mayor Bob Scott allegedly had a confrontation regarding Marrow’s “preaching” on town property. Following that encounter and Marrow continuing to visit town hall, Marrow was trespassed from the location by police.
Marrow isn’t the first person to use town property to share their religious message. As recently as this summer, Jehovah’s Witnesses have set up on town sidewalks with brochures and displays speaking to visitors as they pass by.
According to the town’s press release, Marrow returned to town property and “stared through windows into offices of town employees, took pictures and recorded videos of employees as they attempted to carry out their daily functions, and intimidated employees working to host the town’s PumpkinFest event.”
The True Bill of Indictment states that the charge of intimidating state’s witness was issued because he “parked his van directly in front of town hall from 7:30 a.m. through the entire business day, sitting on a bench directly across from town hall most of the day, taking photographs of town employees as they entered town hall, requested drawings or building plans for town hall, and enlisted another individual to enter town hall to record video of town employees.”
The obstruction of justice charge states that Marrow “attempted to influence or prevent the testimony of the town employees who were acting as witnesses in the trespass case against Marrow.” Because town employees are considered witnesses in the second degree trespassing charges against Marrow, the additional felony charges were filed.
Marrow was not parked illegally in front of town hall and while he was trespassed from town hall, there was no restraining order in place to prevent Marrow from being within a certain distance from town employees. It also isn’t against the law to photograph the building or request drawings and plans of the building, which are public record. Prior to parking in front of town hall, Marrow spent several months parked across the street from the Macon County Sheriff’s Department’s annex building and frequented the sheriff’s department annex speaking to employees, none of which ever complained or claimed to feel threatened by his actions.
“This whole situation is unfortunate, and really all town staff wants to do is to provide services to our citizens and customers,” said Town Manager Summer Woodard. “But we have a duty to provide our employees with a safe working environment, and town administration was left with no alternative but to press charges.”
While Marrow has no criminal record in North Carolina, the town noted that he does have a criminal record from another state that includes other charges such as trespassing.
In the statement to the press, Mayor Scott referenced a dispute that occurred at town hall 22 years ago as a reason for the extra precaution.
“Nov. 1, was the anniversary of a 1995 tragic incident in which a town employee was shot at work, and the shooter took his own life at the scene,” said Scott. “Our employees still remember that this happened. The Town is committed to doing whatever it reasonably can to protect them.”
The incident Scott referenced took place at the former town hall building and involved a former employee who had been harassing the victim.
Marrow appeared in court on Tuesday for the trespass charges, which were continued to Jan. 9. He is scheduled to appear for the new charges in December.
*Photo used for this article was provided by Macon Media.
*Court documents for Marrow list the spelling of his name has Marrow and Morrow.