Thursday, November 30, 2006

A Durham Solution?

In March, Durham County District Attorney, Mike Nifong, made the following comment to ESPN’s George Smith in reference to the charges he was pursuing as lead Hoax investigator:

"Under North Carolina law, the only felony more serious than that is first-degree murder. These crimes are actually punishable at a higher level than second-degree murder." ESPN

By law, the only possible punishments for first-degree murder in North Carolina are life imprisonment without the possibility of parole and death. It appears, however, in Durham first-degree murder is, at times, rewarded with a much lighter sentence.

Earlier this week, murder charges were dismissed, at the request of the District Attorney’s office, for Julius Gray, the second defendant in the case of a drug related killing.

“A murder charge stemming from a fatal shooting outside The Streets at Southpoint mall was dismissed Tuesday, and the suspect pleaded guilty instead to a minor drug charge and received probation. Julius Gray was sentenced to two years of supervised probation and fined $200 after admitting he had conspired to sell marijuana. A suspended prison term of four to five months was left hanging over his head and could be activated if he violates any conditions of probation. Gray and another man had been charged with murder in the fatal shooting of Harvey Dennard Wiggins, who was shot outside The Streets at Southpoint two years ago this week while the mall was thronged with holiday shoppers. No one else was injured. The gunfire reportedly was sparked by a drug deal gone sour.” Herald Sun

Last month, Barry Evans, the man who shot the victim in the head and had subsequently been charged with first-degree murder, received a sentence of time served, a total of seventy-six days in jail, after being allowed to plead guilty to involuntary manslaughter.
“A man who was charged with killing a Raleigh man outside The Streets at Southpoint mall nearly two years ago pleaded guilty Wednesday [October 19] to involuntary manslaughter.”

“Evans, who surrendered to police the day after the shooting, pleaded guilty to the lesser charge in Durham County Superior Court on Wednesday. He was ordered to pay $5,712 in court and legal costs and was released on probation. He also pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit the sale and delivery of marijuana.”

“Evans already had served 76 days in jail for the crimes, according to court documents.” N&O
Reporting on this week's conclusion to the case, Benjamin Niolet notes:

“Investigators think that the 2004 shooting death of a man in a parking lot at The Streets at Southpoint mall was a case of cold-blooded murder. But they can't prove it.”

“Wiggins was looking to buy a large amount of the drug, and he got into the front seat of the car driven by Gray, Garrell said.”

“What happened next is in dispute.”

“Gray says that in the middle of a drug deal, Wiggins pulled a gun on him, and Evans fired his own weapon.”

“Investigators think Evans, who was sitting in the back seat, pulled a gun and shot Wiggins to death. Later someone threw a gun down to make it seem that Wiggins drew first, Garrell said.”

“The only other witness, who was across the parking lot, had credibility issues, Garrell said.”

Curiously, this anemic case of justice, Durham style, comes in the wake of widely questioned instances of violent offenders who had previously received similar leniency and lax supervision while on probation only to commit additional violent crimes. As recently as two weeks ago, an editorial in the N&O questioned the effectiveness of the probation system after a Durham mother was murdered by a man, on probation with over one hundred charges under his belt, fleeing in a stolen car.
“Probation is a privilege, in view of the fact that a defendant is judged guilty before the court spares him or her from a stretch in prison. In the case of Shawn Maurice Powell, that privilege was taken advantage of, and his probation should have been revoked. It wasn't, and Powell now is accused of murder. He allegedly stole a car, ran a red light and smashed into a car driven by Lisa Knelson, a Durham mother of two.

If Powell is convicted, it will be clear where the principal blame for this tragedy lies. But the episode also reflects poorly on the probation system.

Powell is a serial criminal, having tallied more than 100 charges, mostly minor, in 12 years.” N&O
Three months ago, the N&O reported on another case of a murder committed by an offender on probation.

“A man charged in an Aug. 8 slaying violated his probation several times this year but never was arrested.

“Michael Harrison Hunt Jr., 19, received a year of probation in February when he was convicted of misdemeanor larceny, second-degree trespassing and injury to personal property. Four months later, Hunt was accused of first-degree murder in the shooting death of Adam Christopher Lutz, 20, of Roxboro.” N&O

As frightening as the prospect of releasing the perpetrators of drug related murders with little to no punishment is, it is even more ominous to consider the reality that these killers are released into a probation system which appears more inclined to graduate offenders to crimes of greater gravity than to ensure they tow a straight line after receiving such leniency.

In March, we heard the District Attorney tell us:

"I'm making a statement to the Durham community and, as a citizen of Durham, I am making a statement for the Durham community. This is not the kind of activity we condone, and it must be dealt with quickly and harshly." NBC17

In November, we hear, by virtue of the disposition of this drug related homicide, an equally strong statement of the kind of activity that is seemingly condoned and dealt with slowly and leniently. The message is clear. Apparently, under Nifong’s rule it is a far more grave circumstance to be subjected to a transparently false accusation during an election campaign than to shoot a man in the head while conducting a drug deal.


Not surprisingly, Bob Ashley at the Herald Sun takes full advantage of the opportunity to spin the probation deal given in the drug deal killing. In an editorial, “Murder to Probation,” appearing in today’s paper, the Snooze Room goes to bat for the District Attorney’s office.

"At first blush, an article in Wednesday's Herald-Sun about reduced charges in a murder case might seem like a simple case of a Durham court letting a killer off easy.

“It’s true that the facts in the case seem cut and dried. Three guys in a car at Southpoint Mall during the holiday season two years ago were up to no good -- engaged in a drug deal. Things went south, and one of them wound up dead with a
bullet in his head. The other two were charged with murder.

“Case closed? Not so fast. As often happens, the facts in this case might get in the
way of a simplistic story line."

Conveniently, the Snooze Room offers only one version of the "facts" in this case.

"Wiggins apparently went to the mall intending to buy marijuana from Gray and Evans. But according to defense lawyer Bill Thomas, Wiggins pulled a gun and wound up being shot himself, apparently by Evans."

Ashley fails, of course, to mention what investigators and prosecutors feel are the true facts in the case as doing so would make his argument justifying the mild slap on the wrist less credible. As noted above, the other side to the story belies what Ashley presents as the “facts.”

"Investigators think that the 2004 shooting death of a man in a parking lot at The Streets at Southpoint mall was a case of cold-blooded murder."

"Investigators think Evans, who was sitting in the back seat, pulled a gun and shot Wiggins to death. Later someone threw a gun down to make it seem that Wiggins drew first, Garrell said.” N&O

Ashley’s willingness to accept the defendants version of events as factual is a radical departure from his efforts to promote Nifong’s hoax. When first degree murder yields probation, assumedly due to the prosecutor and police being unable to make their case, the defendants version of events become facts as Ashley dons his cheerleader outfit. When the accused are politically expedient pawns, he instead warns readers to distrust the defense attorneys.

"We've tried to consistently remind that all the facts aren't out, and that the defense attorneys are releasing just what fragments of the total evidence they choose to make public."

Incredibly, Ashley concludes with the following caution to young people after rationalizing the acceptability of probation as punishment for shooting a man in the head during a drug deal:

"The case may be complicated, but it holds one sure lesson for young people. Don't put yourself in a situation like this -- things could go south for you too, and you might not get off as easily."

By "go south," we assume that Ashley refers to shooting someone in the head and not getting shot in the head as his reference to getting off lightly certainly doesn't seem to apply to the dead young man. Sadly, it appears that the Snooze Room's willingness to casually dismiss the event as something akin to a close call could only have done the community a greater disservice if Ashley had pointed to the lesson as being, "Kids, be sure that if you pull out your gun in a drug deal, you use it. Draw quickly and make certain to aim for the head. Above all, don't forget to bring an extra piece to drop so you can be sure to get off easily by making it look like the dead guy started it."


Anonymous said...

Welcome to Durham. Where we are tough on Duke students but locals can get away with murder. Enjoy your stay.

Anonymous said...

Well, I see that the NAACP is calling in it's favors to Nifong already.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for taking the time to do this research. This is the type of information that should be collected and printed and repeated until the majority of people in this country, in the state of NC, and Durham, become as outraged with this Durham DA as we, your readers are, and demand action by the Bar against him.

Anonymous said...

Thanks Mr. Liestopper for sharing the TRUTH with all that read here!

Mikey's had a year at the wheel, guiding his staff, steering that department to meet the goals and follow the policies he has control of. An obvious pattern of what he's NOT going to do to reduce crime has developed.

The opportunity for the public he serves to make it known they want a change in this pattern made it known they do not consider a change is needed.

To avoid blaming the uniformed within that group of voters from all the responsibility of why he may hold that position another four years, we must look at their sources of information; the local media.

Many in that group, the local media, should have trouble sleeping at night, if they actually live in Durham.

Their agendas did NOT include providing the readers with the TRUTH about what was actually happening. Their reports displayed an assortment of suppressing, coloring and distorting that TRUTH.

Anonymous said...

Welcome to Durham, if you not a resident, turn around, before you get arrested.

Anonymous said...

Don't forget the judge who has been sitting on the motions for 5 months. What the hell is he doing. He has allowed Nifong to get away with lying in court, be in contempt of court orders, destroy evidence, smirk, snear and make nasty remarks. It seems like the judge is just another idoit in this hoax like the Governor and Attorney General who don't want to get involved. This judge is involved and still will do nothing. THis case should have been dismissed long ago. The Department of Justice should be investigating the judges on the bench who have allowed this terrorism to continue.

Anonymous said...

please. like you people REALLY care about what happens to a black guy shot at the mall--not! you only care about this as it relates to the white and priviledged duke 3 still being in the justice system. your hypocrisy is showing.

Anonymous said...

1:47 AM, How do you know what we really think? A man died here. I don't care what color he was. He was shot in the head during a drug deal and the other men involved didn't even have to plead to involuntary manslaughter.

Anonymous said...

1:47 a.m.
Apparently you don't care what happens to those who shoot young black men in the head either!

Greg Toombs said...

1:47 am -

Racists tend to see racism and other racists everywhere. Hypocrits are everywhere.

You'll always find what you seek; these fit you like a glove.

We're seeking justice for the 3 players. We're seeking for justice to be administered within the system, by rules and procedures that are there to protect all of us.

We see that justice has not occurred for the killers of Harvey Wiggins.

We see that in Durham there is a casual and variable application of the rules and procedures of the justice system to the disfavored as well as the invisible.

Anonymous said...

the reality is there are no blogs started by the likes of you about the injustices that young black men face in the justice system. in fact, you all are probably the main ones who support most police actions againist blacks, questionable charges,seeking the death penalty, etc; all that and old Nifong were perfectly ok as long as the people being chraged were black. I do not rememeber seeing any liestoppers on nifong before this case and neither do you because serious questioning of LE did not exist from the white community before this case; rodney king was almost beat to death on camera and the all white simi valley jury still acquited because he was black and they(like most of you) could give a damn. the only reason you all are posting and blogging and writing the attorney general, etc is because these defendants are white. the absence of such activity on your parts before this occured speaks volumes. If you were interested in justice per se, you would have been active before this case. hypocrites!

Anonymous said...

'there are no blogs started by the likes of you'

"in fact, you all are probably the main ones who support most police actions againist blacks"

"rodney king was almost beat to death on camera and the all white simi valley jury still acquited because he was black and they(like most of you) could give a damn."

"serious questioning of LE did not exist from the white community before this case"

"If you were interested in justice per se, you would have been active before this case. hypocrites!"

Prejudice - "An adverse judgment or opinion formed beforehand or without knowledge or examination of the facts."

Hypocrite "a person who pretends to have virtues, moral or religious beliefs, principles, etc., that he or she does not actually possess, esp. a person whose actions belie stated beliefs. "

How dare you ... do you know me? Do you know my race, or my stand on previous cases of LE/judicial/jury misconduct? Do you know my stand on the Rodney King case, the OJ Simpson case, or the 1000's of other cases where our justice system got it wrong??

No? And yet you judge me.

My personal involvement (contrast w/ personal interest) in justice is based on many factors... proximity, age (mine), family status and personal status in life (i.e. can I relate, personally, somehow w/ the case). Is the same not true for you?

I have never witnessed, in my own home town (which has changed throughout the years), a case so blatantly (fraudulently) mishandled. This case personally affects me. That is why I got involved.

How dare you brand us all hypocrites, without knowing anything about us.

Take a look at the your own statements, I quoted above and consider who is really the hypocrite here and who is being prejudice.