Rockholt pleads guilty, sentenced in 2019 “Ratty Shack” murder

By Catharin Shepard • Editor • John Brian Rockholt last week pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in the 2019 slaying of Hoke County machinist and motorcycle designer Galen Christopher DeBruler, and was sentenced to at least 18 years in prison.

Rockholt was originally charged with first-degree murder. Attorneys negotiated a plea deal, and Rockholt pleaded guilty to the lesser charge. As part of the plea deal, Rockholt received a sentence of a minimum 221 months and a maximum 278 months in prison.

According to victim impact statements from DeBruler’s family, Rockholt stalked and harassed the DeBrulers in a series of escalating events over the five years he lived next door to them. The threats continued until November 21, 2019, when DeBruler was shot and killed in his own yard on Noble Drive in Hoke County.

Chris DeBruler’s widow, Saralyn DeBruler, described her late husband as a man with a huge sense of humor and a heart of gold, who would go out of his way to help those in need.

“Chris was an artist, an old soul and a free spirit. He was a man of character and integrity. He loved his craft as a machinist, fabricator and metal worker. He had more work ethic than I’ve ever seen in anyone and spent most of his time working in his shop,” she said.

He named his motorcycle shop “Ratty Shack,” based on the principle that “it matters not what is on the outside, it’s the gold within.”

At times speaking through tears, Mrs. DeBruler told the court in detail what she, her late husband and their two children went through, which she described as “a murder that lasted for five years.”

After his father died, Rockholt moved into his father’s home on Noble Drive next door to the DeBrulers. The trouble began in November 2014, Mrs. DeBruler said.

In the impact statements, family members said Rockholt stalked, harassed and threatened the DeBrulers, including behavior toward their children such as throwing glass bottles and inappropriately touching himself.  In one incident in June 2019, Mrs. DeBruler and the couple’s children saw Rockholt hit DeBruler with his car as DeBruler came down the road on his motorcycle. Rockholt then ran over the motorcycle, Mrs. DeBruler described. Rockholt pleaded guilty on May 15, 2024 to charges stemming from that incident.

In other incidents, the family’s two pit bull puppies were fatally poisoned with antifreeze. The windows of DeBruler’s shop, and the windshield of a vintage car were also broken. When DeBruler turned on a fan in the shop, shards of broken glass shot out from it.

In November 2019, DeBruler’s motorcycle workshop burned down. The fire happened a few months after Rockholt’s home next door was destroyed by fire, leaving Rockholt living in a tent in his yard. The DeBrulers believed Rockholt intentionally set both fires, among the myriad of other forms of harm and harassment against their family, according to the victim impact statements.

The family looked to authorities for help. The DeBrulers made nearly two dozen calls to 911, including 11 calls in 2019 alone, Mrs. DeBruler said. They had a no-contact order against Rockholt, and called the Hoke County Sheriff’s Office again when the motorcycle shop burned down.

“When HCSD arrived on scene, the response from them was again lackluster at best. They asked Chris, ‘If he wants him to draw up a police report for this.’ Chris, frustrated that things had gotten this far, could only respond with ‘If you have to ask that, then I guess it must not be that important.’ To which the officer on scene just said, ‘Okay,’ and walked away,” Mrs. DeBruler said.

The family called deputies to their home again a few weeks later on November 21, 2019. Rockholt was “exhibiting threatening behavior,” Mrs. DeBruler said.

“He begins pacing up and down the fence line, crouching behind his car, which has been pulled around to the backside of his yard, and gazing at the burned remains and ashes of the shop,” she said.

When her husband arrived home, Rockholt began making more threats, she continued.

“He is yelling, cussing and being very aggressive. Chris calls 911. After the deputies arrive and speak with both Chris and Mr. Rockholt, Chris asks them to please enforce the no-contact order as Brian is visibly stalking, harassing, and communicating threats, and take Brian into custody for violation of the protective order. I am standing beside Chris when the deputy says, ‘I don’t have the authority to enforce this no-contact order.’ He then tells me that maybe I should go to the magistrate’s office when I get off work later that day to take charges out against Brian. I was dumbfounded.”

She went to work and their children went to school. Her last words to her husband were, “I love you. I’ll see you later. Please be careful.”

Two teenagers who had been helping DeBruler clean up after the fire were the ones who discovered him in the yard shortly after, dead of a gunshot wound to the head. Later, after law enforcement cleared the scene, the family reportedly found Chris DeBruler’s cell phone lying just a few feet away from where he had been shot. When they pulled up the photos on his phone, they discovered he had filmed his last moments.

“‘I have a no-contact order against you! What are you doing here? Just leave me alone! LEAVE ME THE F ALONE!’ Brian then says, ‘Are you ready to die?’ and raises the handgun and points at Chris. Chris is surprised to see the gun and says, ‘Oh, you’re gonna shoot me!?’ and turns to get away,” Mrs. DeBruler described the video.

“The gun fires three shots. The phone fumbles out of Chris’s hand and falls to the ground facing up to the sky. This may very well be the hardest thing I’ve ever had to see.”

Deputies took Rockholt into custody. The gun used in the murder was never found, but authorities discovered his mother’s gun had gone missing. Rockholt was held without bond.

It took over four years for the case to go to court because on previous occasions, experts determined Rockholt was not competent to stand trial, District Attorney Mike Hardin said during remarks in the courtroom. At one point Rockholt had attempted to seek his own no-contact order against Chris DeBruler, alleging, among other things, that DeBruler was using “telepathy” on him, Hardin said. When questioned by a judge, Rockholt told the court that he had been on medication for about a year and a half prior to the court hearing.

Mrs. DeBruler read from some of the many documents her husband filed during the ordeal.

“On April 22, 2019, and for the past several years, Mr. Rockholt has terrorized, stalked and communicated threats of loss of life and physical harm against me and my family despite numerous attempts with law enforcement to intervene, we fear for our lives and our personal wellbeing. Mr. Rockholt demonstrates verbal and physical aggression on a daily basis at my home and place of employment. He has delusional fits of aggression and mental instability,” she quoted.

Mrs. DeBruler said what she and her family endured had caused them to lose faith in public servants meant to protect and serve.

“The amount of times Chris and I sought help from county offices going from the magistrate to the clerk of court, to the district attorney, to the sheriff’s office, back to the magistrate even to social services, begging anyone to hear our pleas of desperation – and yet there was no help,” she said. “Chris did everything he could, documented incidents, filed police reports, obtained protective orders, gathered evidence, filed charges and official paperwork. But it is evident that this protective order wasn’t even worth the paper it was printed on. Even after all that it still wasn’t enough to stop a bullet! It is a false sense of protection and completely worthless. The system failed my family in every way.”

The DA said in comments at the proceeding that the system had failed the family.

The murder and events leading up to it left his family members suffering from PTSD, anxiety, depression and suicidal thoughts, Mrs. DeBruler said. The stress took a physical toll, causing physical ailments both before and after DeBruler’s murder, which left them unable to work.

The court proceeding included victim impact statements from DeBruler’s children, parents and sister.

“Brian Rockholt is in my nightmares.”

“It’s not me you need forgiveness from, it’s God.”

“You took my first friend from me.”

“He didn’t even make it to 40 because of what you did.”

“The system is so broken…if anyone had paid attention, Chris might be here today.”

“He had so many dreams. He just wanted to create.”

Rockholt’s attorney and the prosecutor negotiated a plea deal, and the case did not go before a jury. In the court proceeding, the judge asked Rockholt if he believed his mind was clear, and if he understood his rights. Rockholt answered yes to the questions.

“Are you in fact guilty?” the judge asked.

“Yes, sir,” Rockholt replied.

Rockholt’s defense attorney said the negotiated plea deal “was a fair resolution of this case.” The judge did not recommend Rockholt for work release, and ordered that he is to have no contact with the DeBrulers. Rockholt was to receive credit of 1,644 days of pre-trial time against the maximum of his sentence.

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