District Attorney Greg Newman announced Wednesday, March 20, 2019, that Superior Court Judge Robert Bell has removed Public Defender Paul Welch as the lead counsel for Phillip Michael Stroupe. Stroupe is accused of murdering Thomas Bryson of Mills River in July 2017. The trial is currently scheduled to begin in May but will be delayed until Stroupe’s new lawyer has adequate time to prepare. The new lead counsel for Stroupe is attorney Mark Melrose of Waynesville. A new trial date has not been determined at this time. Stroupe remains in custody under no bond. Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty.