Man who set fire to gay Army vet, federal marshal, killing him after picking up him up in bar has conviction upheld


GREENSBORO —  First-degree murder and arson convictions of a North Carolina man have been upheld in the death of an Army veteran set on fire in a hotel room.

The state Court of Appeals on Tuesday rejected arguments by Garry Joseph Gupton, now serving a life prison sentence for Steven White’s death in 2014. Gupton’s lawyer failed to convince the three-judge panel that prosecutors lacked the evidence for arson and to prove Gupton’s sanity when the crime occurred.

Gupton, 29, was convicted of first-degree murder and first-degree arson in the death of 36-year-old Stephen White during a 2017 trial.

White and Gupton had met one another on the night of Nov. 8, 2014, at Chemistry Nightclub, a gay bar and lounge in Greensboro. They traveled together the next morning to Battleground Inn where Gupton, who testified he was struggling with his sexuality, said a sexual encounter went further than he expected and he ended up beating and strangling White before setting him on fire.

Doctors tried for the next six days to save White, who suffered from burns so severe his bones were exposed. He died from his injuries on Nov. 15, 2014.

During the original sentencing, in 2017, Guilford County Assistant District Attorney Robert Enochs spoke to jurors about the victim. He reminded jurors that White served his country as a member of the U.S. Army, the U.S. Border Patrol, a Federal Air Marshal and Blackwater Security.

Enochs played on jurors emotions reminding them that White’s family can’t write him letters, call him or video chat with him, all things that Gupton’s family said they would continue to do while he serves his prison sentence.

Enochs held up photos showing the extent of White’s injuries and reminding jurors that doctors had to amputate his arms in a last ditch effort to save his life.

“We learn as children about heat,” Enochs said. “Everyone knows that heat and fire hurts. This defendant intentionally burned the victim to the point that the burn doctor compared his skin to hot dog casings.”

The jury ultimately decided Gupton should spend the rest of his life in prison over sentencing him to death.

(Popular Military updated this story from when it was published in 2017)

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©2017 the News & Record (Greensboro, N.C.)

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