"Bargains by the bunch" - The News & Observer (September 21, 2001)
As hard as it is to believe, just one of 22 murder cases went to trial in Durham County in the last fiscal year. What's more, District Attorney Jim Hardin's office disposed of two of every three of the remaining homicides by offering the defendants plea bargains on lesser charges.
... Durham's trial and plea-bargaining rates are way out of line when compared with other judicial districts in the state. Statewide, in fact, 23 percent of murder cases went to trial in the same period that Hardin's office prosecuted less than 5 percent.
Hardin's reasons for his office's swiss-cheese performance ring hollow.
He says he doesn't have enough assistant district attorneys to take homicide cases to trial. ...
Hardin complains about a staff that is "just getting to the point" where they "can go into Superior Court." An inexperienced staff, though, is his responsibility. He's been district attorney since early 1994.
He also hints that plea bargains have to be offered because police don't collect the kind of evidence that juries need to return guilty verdicts.
... Durham police are known for solving an embarrassingly low number of crimes. Still, if police are doing sloppy work, Hardin owes it to the community to make that fact known, not quietly make deals with possible murderers.
Victims and their families deserve aggressive prosecution of homicide. And it should go without saying that killers cannot be returned to the streets as a matter of convenience or ineptness. Durham needs Hardin to fix the problems, not give excuses.