OC DA Woodall: ‘Don’t Blame Durham’ for UNC Professor’s Murder
Orange County District Attorney Jim Woodall says that people shouldn’t blame Durham County’s probation and supervised pretrial release programs for the brutal murder of a UNC professor in Chapel Hill on Wednesday.
“People get frustrated whenever they see that individuals from Durham come into Orange County, to Chapel Hill, and they commit crimes,” said Jim Woodall, the District Attorney for Orange and Chatham Counties. “But the two communities are very close to each other, and I think that happens in a lot of places.”
The tragic beating death of UNC School of Pharmacy Professor Feng Liu on early Wednesday afternoon, at the intersection of Ransom Street and West University Drive, has a lot of people pointing fingers at Durham, in reader comments under news stories about the tragedy.
Woodall pointed out that Durham is much larger than Chapel Hill, which also contributes, he says, to something he accepts as fact.
“Some of the crime in Chapel Hill is always going to be coming from Durham,” he said, “because of proximity and size.”
But it’s not just the fact that Derick Davis II, one of the suspects being held in Orange County for the brutal murder, is from Durham that has some Orange County residents fuming publicly.
Both first-degree murder suspects have long criminal records, and both have been involved with Durham’s court system recently. Twenty-three-year-old Derick Davis has a long history of breaking-and-entering and larceny charges, and he was released from probation in Durham County on June 30.
The other suspect, 27-year-old Troy Arrington Jr. of Chapel Hill, was reportedly on supervised release with an ankle monitor at the time the brutal murder was committed. He was awaiting a hearing on charges related to breaking and entering in Durham.
For some people, it brings back infuriating memories of UNC Student Body President Eve Carson’s kidnapping and murder in 2008. Both killers – Demario Atwater and Laurence Lovette Jr. – were on supervised release in Durham when it happened.
Both men are serving life in prison, and Lovette is currently on trial for the 2008 shooting death of 29-year-old Duke graduate student Abhijit Mahato in Durham.
Woodall prosecuted the Eve Carson murder case, and he told WCHL that people shouldn’t be too quick to judge Durham’s court system based on these two crimes.
He says that Durham isn’t unusually prone to criminal recidivism, and that Orange County suffers its share, too.
“Over the years here, we’ve had situations where people under our supervision have gone out and committed very serious crimes,” said Woodall. “That happens in every jurisdiction. And, so, that’s why I’m not pointing the finger, because the finger can be pointed right back at us at any time.”
For one thing, he said, an electronic monitor simply cannot prevent a person from committing a crime.
“People have this feeling that somehow we have the technology and the ability to control what people do,” said Woodall. “Quite frankly, the only way you’re going to ultimately control what they do, at least in how it affects the general public, is for them to be in custody – to be locked up.
“And we’ve decided as a society that the crimes that these two gentlemen had committed were not serious enough to keep them locked up for substantial periods of time.”
On Friday, Woodall said he didn’t know yet what type of ankle monitor Arrington was wearing.
“Some GPS tracking is done, and it’s virtually real time,” says Woodall. “It may not be true real time, but if someone violates an exclusion zone, then it can be within minutes that law enforcement or whoever’s doing the monitoring may know.
“Some of the GPS tracking is not virtual real time. It’s really used to see if a person has complied with restrictions that they’ve been on. It’s a way to check.”
Calls from WCHL to Durham’s Pretrial Services office were not returned on Friday.
But on Friday afternoon, a statement was issued by the Durham County Criminal Resources Center regarding Troy Arrington.
According to the statement, Arrington was released from the Durham County Detention Facility on July 2 after posting a $5,000 secured bond and a $5,000 unsecured bond.
He was fitted with an electronic bracelet pending a hearing on charges of larceny of a dog, obtaining property by false pretense, possession of stolen goods, breaking and/or entering, larceny after breaking/entering, and felony conspiracy.
According to the press release, Arrington complied with all the conditions of his pretrial release, including home restriction between 7 p.m. and 7 a.m.
He was wearing the ankle monitor when he was arrested for Liu’s murder.
As for Derick Davis, WNCN News reported late Friday afternoon that he had just been released from Wake County Jail a day before the murder. Davis was reportedly detained from June 28 through July 22 on shoplifting charges.
Woodall offered these words of sympathy to the family of Professor Liu, and the UNC community.
“My heart goes out to his wife, and his family,” says Woodall. “I just think it’s terrible. A man who is so gifted – and I’ve talked to people who knew him – who had so much to give, and was doing such important work, that when he’s out on a lunch break, taking a walk, doing what we all should be doing, that he is victimized, and he’s murdered, and murdered brutally.
“I just think it’s a tremendous tragedy.”