McDowell County Register of Deeds Tonia Hampton, charged with cyberstalking her estranged son-in-law, appeared in District Court Friday. The alleged victim did not. Earlier in the week, he sent messages to The McDowell News claiming he made up the accusations.
On Aug. 13, Hampton was charged with cyberstalking after 26-year-old Jesse Dellinger of Nebo said she sent him a text message threatening to kill him.
In District Court on Friday, Hampton pleaded not guilty to the cyberstalking charge. Dellinger was not present in the courtroom. The prosecution asked for a two-week continuance.
Hampton’s attorney, Larry McMahon Jr., of Morganton, challenged the motion, claiming that Dellinger had messaged both Hampton and The McDowell News confessing that the conversation that took place leading to the criminal charge had been faked and that he did not wish to pursue the matter.
“Under ordinary circumstances,” said McMahon, “it’s an especially known fact that this lady happens to be the register of deeds. There’s an election upcoming. The idea that somebody could take a warrant and have a court date on it and then send these messages and not show up and then say ‘We get to do this over in two weeks,’ I believe, is a mistake since this case isn’t under ordinary circumstances.”
In an email sent to The McDowell News on Wednesday evening, Dellinger wrote that the threatening messages referenced in the warrant and reported in the newspaper, as well as any claims of harassment, were fabricated.
“Hey I just wanted you to publish this and let everyone know Tonia Hampton is a good person,” Dellinger wrote. “I made all this up and she doesn’t deserve any of this. I’m truly sorry. I have tried to take my life twice. Both times I was un successful. Please run this story and let everyone know that this was fake please. It’s only fair to try and save her career. There’s no excuse for what I’ve done I just want her forgiveness.”
Later that night, Dellinger contacted The McDowell News again via Facebook:
SEPT. 11, 10:58 p.m.
DELLINGER: “Hey I just wanted you to publish this and let everyone know Tonia Hampton is a good person. I made all this up and she doesn’t deserve any of this. I’m truly sorry. I have tried to take my life twice. Both times I was un successful. Please run this story and let everyone know that this was fake please. It’s only fair to try and save her career. There’s no excuse for what I’ve done I just want her forgiveness. Please share this story like you did when I said she done all of this. People deserve to know she’s not a monster or a mean person. She’s actually a very smart and beautiful lady inside and out”
The McDowell News messaged back, asking if the screenshots of the threat Dellinger provided to the newspaper, screenshots with Hampton’s name and phone number on them, were fake.
DELLINGER: “Yes I made it all up. Please try to save her career for its to late. Im getting mental help now for myself. She doesn’t deserve this. She’s truly a beautiful woman inside and out and a outstanding register of deeds for McDowell county. There’s no excuse for my actions I just pray that it isn’t to late”
At the time when the initial warrant was served, Hampton provided the following statement: “As your Register of Deeds, I am embarrassed that my personal family business has to appear in the newspaper. I am an excellent Register of Deeds and daily serve the community to protect your county records, however; God and my family are the top priority in my life. My daughter is married to Jesse Dellinger, and she has a 50-B Domestic Violence Protective Order currently standing for herself and our family. My Attorney Larry McMahan will be making all statements on my behalf from this point forward.”
The case was continued in McDowell District Court to Sept. 20. The McDowell News received a subpoena from McMahon for “all emails, text messages or screenshots received from Jesse Dellinger from August 11, 2019 through the present.”