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Press Release

Clinton Kidnapping Results in Decades of Imprisonment for Three Sampson County Men

For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, Eastern District of North Carolina

WILMINGTON, N.C. – Three Sampson County men were sentenced yesterday to a total of 916 months in prison, collectively, for the kidnapping and torture of two victims, one under the age of eighteen. 

On August 26, 2020, Ethan Gabriel Autry, 21, pled guilty to one charge of aiding and abetting kidnapping.  On December 17, 2020, Leonard Edward Wilson, III, 23, and Isaiah Jeremiah Fennell-Best, 21, pled guilty to one charge of aiding and abetting kidnapping.

According to court documents and other information presented in court, Autry, Wilson, and Fennell-Best, along with other co-conspirators, lured the two victims into Autry’s apartment in downtown Clinton over a disputed debt.  After locking them inside the bedroom, Autry, Wilson, and Fennell-Best engaged in a three-hour “torture session,” holding the victims at gunpoint and physically beating them with objects.  During this time, Autry, Wilson, and Fennell-Best made phone calls to the victims’ family, demanding a ransom.  After the Sampson County Sheriff’s Office and Clinton Police Department were notified, authorities underwent an operation resulting in the safe recovery of the victims and the capture of Autry, Wilson, and Fennell-Best. 

The investigation later showed the firearms Fennell-Best and Wilson used during the kidnapping were the same firearms the men used to shoot into a residence on Byrd-Yancey-Bass Road less than twenty-four hours before.  There, Fennell-Best and Wilson shot several rounds of ammunition into an occupied home, hitting two victims.

As a result of their actions from this short period of time in October of 2019, the Court sentenced Autry to 274 months’ imprisonment; Wilson to 306 months’ imprisonment; and Fennell-Best to 336 months’ imprisonment.  As the Court noted, these extensive sentences reflected the horrific nature of these crimes and the need to protect the public this type of behavior.

G. Norman Acker, III, Acting U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of North Carolina made the announcement after sentencing by Chief U.S. District Judge Richard E. Myers II. The Sampson County Sheriff’s Office, Clinton Police Department, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, and District Attorney’s Office for the Prosecutorial District 5 assisted with the investigation of the case and Assistant U.S. Attorney J.D. Koesters prosecuted the case.

Related court documents and information can be found on the website of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina or on PACER by searching for Case No. 7:20-CR-23-M.

Updated May 20, 2021

Violent Crime