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DA Woodall Says NC Death Penalty System Needs Reform

Orange County District Attorney Jim Woodall has announced that if a conviction is brought against the two men charged with murdering 59-year-old UNC professor Feng Liu in July, he will not be seeking the death penalty.

Woodall says, “I don’t think, at this time, North Carolina has an effective death penalty.”

He says he is not opposed to the death penalty, but adds that the entire system is not in a functioning state.

“I do not have any moral opposition to the death penalty,” he says. “I think there are circumstances – extremely rare circumstances – where it is warranted. I don’t think that the law, as we have it presently in North Carolina, is sufficient to ensure that we carry it out properly.”

Woodall adds that in a case where capital punishment is on the table, there are many factors that go into that decision.

Botched executions in other states have sparked a nationwide review of the death penalty system. Earlier this year in North Carolina, two half brothers were exonerated on murder charges and released from prison after nearly 30 years behind bars. Both men were originally sentenced to death; one had his sentenced reduced to life in prison.

Woodall says that in many cases a term of life in prison can bring a victim’s family more closure than a death sentence.

“It would take decades for the sentence to be carried out,” he says, “if it were ever carried out. And victims’ families have to deal with it for decades.”

If North Carolina is going to continue to be a state that has the death penalty as an option for prosecutors, Woodall says the entire system needs to be reformed. He cites an example from the federal system that could serve as a model for North Carolina.

“For a federal prosecutor to pursue the death penalty,” he says, “they have to go before a federal panel that looks at the evidence. The defense actually gets to present a short version of their case. And that panel determines if it’s a death-penalty case.”

Woodall says this provides more consistency in the process, adding that he believes that is one thing missing in North Carolina.

“I believe it’s very important for an elected prosecutor to have a great deal of discretion to determine how the law is going to be enforced in his or her jurisdiction,” he says. “But I do think if you’re going to have the death penalty – the ultimate punishment – there has to be some way to ensure that it is going to be used consistently throughout the state.”

Juries issued three death sentences in North Carolina in 2014 – in 2013 juries returned one death sentence and none were returned in 2012, according to the Death Penalty Information Center. The state of North Carolina has not executed a prisoner since 2006.

http://chapelboro.com/news/crime/da-woodall-says-nc-death-penalty-system-needs-reform/

No Death Penalty in Case of Murdered Professor

Orange County District Attorney Jim Woodall will not be seeking the death penalty in the case of a murdered UNC professor from July of this year.

59-year-old Feng Liu was hit in the head with a landscaping rock on July 23rd, while he was walking near West University Drive and Ransom Street and died the next day at UNC Hospitals.

Two men were arrested in connection with the case the next day.

They’re charged with first-degree murder – a capital crime – but Woodall says there are issues that exist with the death penalty, in its current form.

“The death penalty is really in a state of uncertainty,” he says. “There has not been an execution [in North Carolina] in many years. There are lots of challenges to our death penalty statute and the scheme that is used in North Carolina. That’s true all over the country.”

DA Woodall also says that, based on recent history, he does not believe a death verdict would ultimately be handed down.

“[Even] as horrific as the circumstances of this case are, I think it’s extremely unlikely that there would be a death verdict in this case,” he says. “I talked to the Liu family, and they did not want it pursued as a death penalty case.”

Woodall says the discussion with the victim’s family does not make the decision of whether to pursue the death penalty or not, but it does factor into his equation.

The next step in the Liu trial is a court date set for April, which Woodall refers to as an “administrative” appearance.

Woodall adds that the investigation is ongoing and new discoveries are being made. Those discoveries must then be shared with the defense throughout the trial.

The district attorney is not expecting to have evidence back from the state crime lab before the next trial date.

“It will not be a case that’s for trial for some period of time,” he says. “Waiting to get the evidence back from the crime lab will take, probably, close to a year.”

27-year-old Troy Arrington, of Chapel Hill, and 23-year-old Derick Davis II, of Durham, have been charged in killing the professor.

The two men face charges of armed robbery in addition to first-degree murder.

http://chapelboro.com/news/crime/no-death-penalty-case-murdered-professor/

2012 Elementary School Murder Suspect Enters Plea No. 2 of Four

Additional reporting by Sarah Headley

The man accused of shooting his estranged wife to death in May 2012 outside Mary Scroggs Elementary School pleaded guilty to discharging a firm arm on educational property Tuesday in Orange County Superior Court.

Ali Cherfaoui

Ali Cherfaoui

Ali Cherfaoui of Carrboro was apprehended near 15-501 and Raleigh Road (NC-54) after officers, based on 911 calls, suspected him of shooting Chahnaz Kebaier just after 2:00 p.m. outside the school. Kebaier’s friend, Emily Martine, was the first to run into the school asking for help, saying her friend was just shot in front of her.

Tuesday’s guilty plea adds 23 to 37 months in prison to his first guilty plea of  possession of a weapon on school property. He made that plea on September 2 when he was sentenced to 19 months in prison.

Cherfaoui’s guilty plea is part two of a four part plea series. He was also charged with one count of second-degree kidnapping and one count of first-degree murder. Cherfaoui will appear in court again on October 14.

Cherfaoui and Kebaier had two children together who both attended Mary Scroggs. A judge ruled shortly after the killing that the children would live with Kebaier’s parents in Tunisia on the African continent.

http://chapelboro.com/news/crime/2012-elementary-school-murder-suspect-enters-plea-2-four/

Persons Of Interest Listed In Hedgepeth Murder Investigation Documents

Search warrants unsealed by the Durham County District Attorney’s office Friday morning reveal multiple people of interest in the murder investigation of Faith Hedgepeth nearly two years ago. Chapel Hill Police have yet to say if any have been ruled out as suspects.

The most notable connection with the victim is Eriq Takoy Jones, who lived in the same apartment complex as Hedgepeth, a few buildings away from where she was found murdered. Jones apparently had a previous relationship with Hedgepeth’s roommate, Karena Lynn Rosario.

According to a warrant, Jones told Rosario earlier that summer that he hated Hedgepeth and would kill her if Rosario didn’t get back together with him. Police were told that Jones resented Hedgepeth because he considered her a barrier to his relationship with Rosario.

Police say Rosario placed a restraining order against Jones two months before Hedgepeth was murdered, after he allegedly kicked two doors off their frame in Rosario’s apartment.

Jones gave investigators permission to search his cell phone. They found a text message Jones sent to a friend the day before the murder asking the friend to forgive him for what he was about to do. Jones also sent a tweet to someone else asking for forgiveness. Police said the cover photo on Jones’ Facebook page was changed to include, “Dear Lord. Forgive me for all of my sins and the sins I may commit today. Protect me from the girls who don’t deserve me and the ones who wish me dead today.”

Jacob Beatley of 103 West Longview Street in Chapel Hill was also questioned six months after the murder took place. A warrant shows that a cell tower search conducted early in the investigation connected an incident report to Beatley’s phone number.

Investigators said when they contacted Beatley they found that he lived with the person who Rosario was with during the time of the murder. Police said he also went to the nightclub The Thrill that night, but couldn’t recall when he left. The warrants say Beatley was asked to submit a DNA sample, but he did not do so voluntarily.

Another person of interest included Reginald Leonard Jackson, II who was living in Greensboro in November 2012 when investigators attempted to contact him.

A Chapel Hill Police officer said he attempted to get in touch with him by phone multiple times before traveling to his last known address in Greensboro. The CHPD officer said he caught up with Jackson with the assistance of local police. He said Jackson was in his car and pulling out of the parking lot of his apartment complex. The warrant says Jackson told the officers he “knew of (Hedgepeth)” but that he doesn’t talk to police like that.

In Thursday’s release, Police Chief Chris Blue said investigators collected hundreds of DNA samples, but did not name any suspects. Chapel Hill Police did report that at least one person refused to have a DNA sample submitted.

Investigators continue to ask that if you have any information regarding the case to call 919-614-6363. You can also call Crime Stoppers at 919-942-7515.

http://chapelboro.com/news/crime/persons-interest-listed-hedgepeth-murder-investigation-documents/

The Latest Faith Hedgepeth Murder Investigation Details

Some information in this story may be considered graphic

***Chapel Hill Police Chief Chris Blue Addresses the Media***

• At approximately 11:00am on September 7, 2012, officers with the Chapel Hill Police Department received a call to the Hawthorne at the View apartment complex located at 5639 Old Chapel Hill Road in reference to a possible dead body located in apartment 1502.

• When officers arrived, they were greeted by the primary tenant of apartment 1502, Karena Rosario, who advised that she had found the victim, Faith Hedgepeth, inside and that she was unresponsive.

• Officers located Faith Hedgepeth dead in a bedroom inside. Faith’s body was found on the floor leaning against the bed with her shirt pulled up; she had no clothes on from the waist down.

• There was pooled blood near her body and blood spatter on the wall and bedroom closet door. A note written on a take-out fast-food bag was also located on the bed.

Note image

Click to enlarge

• An autopsy determined that Faith’s death was caused by blunt force trauma to the head resulting from a beating.

• A sexual assault kit was collected, which revealed the presence of semen. It was determined that the DNA profile generated from this semen matched other DNA evidence which was also recovered from the crime scene. Investigators believe that this DNA belongs to the person responsible for Faith Hedgepeth’s murder.

• Investigators determined that, prior to her death, Faith Hedgepeth and Karena Rosario visited Davis Library on the UNC campus at approximately 7:30 pm and arrived home shortly after midnight. At a little before 1AM on Sept 7th, they arrived at the Wallace Parking Deck on East Rosemary Street and walked to The Thrill bar. Hedgepeth and Rosario left the bar together at 2:38 am and drove home in Faith’s car, a white Nissan Altima. Investigators believe the pair returned home and that Rosario left the apartment at 4:27 am. Rosario returned home with a friend at approx. 11 am that morning, at which time she discovered Hedgepeth’s body.

The Chapel Hill Police Department says it has surveillance from The Thrill.

• Investigators of the Chapel Hill Police Department and agents of the NC SBI, have collected hundreds of items of evidence; interviewed friends, family, coworkers, neighbors, classmates, etc. and consulted with experts in various scientific fields of study.

• Investigators have executed numerous search warrants and court orders for computers, cellular phones, social media accounts, financial records, etc. Investigators have asked persons of interest to provide oral DNA swabs so that their DNA could be compared to the DNA profile of the offender. Hundreds of DNA samples have been collected and analyzed during the course of this investigation. None of the samples have been found to match the DNA profile of the offender.

• Investigators have excellent evidence in this case and we are making a public appeal for any information that will help us tie that evidence to Faith’s killer.

• This is not a cold case. It has been and remains an active investigation.

• Reward money has been pledged from a number of sources and there is over $40,000 in reward money available in this case.

If anyone has information that they wish to provide, please contact investigators at 919-614-6363. If you call this number, you will speak directly to one of the Investigators who are assigned to this case and are familiar with it. This number will be staffed 24 hours a day. You can also submit a time online at www.crimestoppers-chcunc.org.

http://chapelboro.com/uncategorized/latest-faith-hedgepeth-murder-investigation-details/

CHPD Releases New Hedgepeth Murder Investigation Details

Some information in this story may be considered graphic

Chapel Hill Police Chief Chris Blue released new information Thursday that he says he hopes will help lead to the capture of the suspected killer in the murder of a UNC sophomore.

“Since September 7, 2012, a killer has been on the loose and has not been held accountable for Faith’s death,” Chief Blue said. “We believe that someone knows who did this and will be compelled to come forward.”

“If Faith’s killer is out there hearing this message, you should know that we will catch you,” Chief Blue said.

Sunday marks two years since a roommate of 19-year-old Faith Danielle Hedgepeth found her dead in their off-campus apartment.

However, Chief Blue says this has not, at any time, become a cold case.

“We’ve conducted an extensive investigation, and we have excellent evidence,” Chief Blue says. “This is a very strong case. What we need to do is connect that case to Faith’s killer.”

In the attempts of making that connection, Chapel Hill Police released never-before-told details about the investigation, which has—at times during the case—gone outside of North Carolina.

Click Here for the Latest Faith Hedgepeth Murder Investigation Details

Part of that release includes the confirmation of what Hedgepeth’s parents earlier told the media, that they suspected she was beaten to death. She was found badly beaten and partially undressed, according to the release.

On January 8 of this year, Chapel Hill Police announced the DNA of a male suspect was found at the scene.

STORY: CHPD Releases Timeline, Suspect’s DNA Discovery In Hedgepeth Murder Case

“Investigators have asked persons of interest to provide oral DNA swabs so that their DNA can be compared to the DNA collected at the scene,” Chief Blue says. “Hundreds of DNA samples have been collected and analyzed at this point. None of them have been found to match the DNA profile of Faith’s killer.”

Police say DNA samples were submitted in various forms, including oral swabs. At least one person has declined to submit a DNA sample.

Investigators also released a photo of a hand-written note that was found at the scene, which was believed to have been written by the killer.

Note image

Click to enlarge

The murder took place at the Hawthorne at the View apartment complex, which is located in the Durham County portion of Chapel Hill. The Durham District Attorney’s Office will prosecute a suspect, should any arrests be made, though the Chapel Hill Police Department is the investigating agency.

hawthorne_selection

Click to enlarge

STORY: Remembering Faith Hedgepeth 1 Yr. After Her Murder

If anyone has information that they wish to provide, please contact investigators at 919-614-6363. If you call this number, you will speak directly to one of the Investigators who are assigned to this case and are familiar with it. This number will be staffed 24 hours a day. You can also submit online at www.crimestoppers-chcunc.org. You can reach Crime Stoppers at 919-942-7515.

UNC spokesperson Karen Moon released the following statement regarding the release of information:

“Chapel Hill Police contacted the University in connection with their investigation into Faith Hedgepeth’s death. Because this is a Chapel Hill Police Department investigation, we are not in a position to comment on it. Our thoughts and prayers continue to be with the Hedgepeth family as they deal with such a tragic loss. We remain hopeful that the case will be solved as quickly as possible.”

Chapel Hill Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt told WCHL he did not want to comment on the information release at this time in order to allow the police department to continue its diligent work without interruption.

http://chapelboro.com/news/crime/chpd-releases-new-hedgepeth-murder-investigation-details/

Slain Durham Priest’s Public Memorial Services Cancelled

The public visitation and memorial services for the Durham volunteer priest who was found murdered last weekend have been cancelled.

WRAL reports the family of 71-year-old Kent Terry Hinkson has decided to pay their respects privately after the story has received such a high amount of attention. The services were planned for Friday and Saturday at All Saints Church on Farrington Road in Durham. Hinkson led religious activities there for people who couldn’t attend Sunday services.

Hinkson reportedly left his home to run errands on August 4. His family reported to authorities that he never returned.

A search effort ensued, and Hinkson’s red Hyundai Sonata was discovered Wednesday in a parking lot of Mews Apartments on Willamsburg Road, nearly five miles from his home.

Matthew John Reed

Matthew John Reed

The suspect, 36-year-old Matthew John Reed, reportedly led authorities to Hinkson’s body somewhere near Pleasant Green Road and U.S. 70 the Sunday following his disappearance. He is being held in the Orange County Jail for the murder. The cause of death has not yet been released.

http://chapelboro.com/news/news-around-time/slain-durham-priests-public-memorial-services-cancelled/

Indictments For 2 Charged In UNC Professor’s Death

HILLSBOROUGH – Two men now face indictments in the death of a professor at UNC.

An Orange County grand jury on Monday indicted 23-year-old Derick Davis II of Durham and 27-year-old Troy Arrington Jr. of Chapel Hill on charges of first-degree murder and robbery with a dangerous weapon.

The men were arrested after the attack last month. Police said 59-year-old Feng Liu died a day after suffering serious head wounds.

Davis and Arrington have been held at the Orange County jail, and it wasn’t immediately clear if they had attorneys. District Attorney Jim Woodall hasn’t said if the state will seek the death penalty.

Liu was a research professor in UNC’s Eshelman School of Pharmacy. A memorial for him was held Saturday on campus.

http://chapelboro.com/news/crime/indictments-2-charged-unc-professors-death/

Hundreds Gather for Vigil Honoring Slain UNC Professor Feng Liu

Hundreds of mourners gathered Wednesday night for a candlelight vigil, just a few blocks from where UNC Professor Feng Liu was murdered a week earlier.

Feng Liu

Feng Liu

“We should not be here today,” said Tony Yao, president of the Chinese-American Friendship Association of North Carolina. “Something…something is wrong with our community, something that has prevented Professor Feng Liu from enjoying another beautiful day of the life, family, and work.”

Dedicated scientist, humble man of achievement, generous friend, devoted husband, proud father, excited grandfather-to-be, wise counsel, drinking buddy, golf partner, and contributor to a better world.

As Tony Yao, president of the Chinese-American Friendship Association of North Carolina paid tribute to his fallen friend, UNC Professor of Molecular Pharmaceutics Feng Liu at the beginning of Wednesday night’s candlelight vigil, he included many of those things in his description.

Other friends, colleagues and admirers who spoke at the event on Pittsboro Street did too, And many, like Yao, expressed the same outrage at the circumstances of Liu’s death.

Corner of Ransom St and West University Dr (courtesy of Google Maps)

Corner of Ransom St and West University Dr (courtesy of Google Maps)

It was exactly one week since the 59-year-old professor was found lying on the ground with blood pouring from his head on West University Drive near the Ransom Street intersection. He was mugged, and his attackers hit him on the head with a rock. Liu died from his injuries.

The two accused assailants, Troy Arrington. Jr. and Derick Davis II, are being held on charges of first-degree murder and robbery with a dangerous weapon.

At Wednesday’s vigil, UNC Chancellor Carol Folt spoke near a flowing fountain that did its best to comfort the audience. Behind her and other speakers at the entrance of the FedEx Global Communication Center, a table had been set up with flowers, and a framed picture of Liu smiling – he was a great smiler, one friend recalled.

Two nights earlier, Folt met with Chapel Hill Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt in her office to discuss public safety concerns, as the UNC community mourned a shocking loss.

As she spoke to those assembled to honor Liu, Folt reaffirmed the university’s commitment to keeping faculty and students safe.

“As we go forward today in his honor, I know we want to concentrate about him, and his legacy, and what he has meant for our community, but also with his work, for so many people throughout the world” said Folt. “But I also do want to tell you that there is nothing, nothing more important than the safety of our campus and our community. And as we go forward, that too will be part of everything we do in the coming days.”

Liu came to the Eshelman School of Pharmacy in 2005. His research interest was in developing methods to deliver drugs to cancer cells.

His colleague Xio Xio, who knew Liu from his days at the University of Pittsburgh, remembered him as an excellent teacher and role model for students. He said Liu was also a great scientist whose achievements were felt around the world.

One of those achievements is the hydrodynamic method, a breakthrough in gene therapy.

“It’s used by hundreds of labs over the world,” said Xio. “I think many labs at UNC also use that technology. The paper was cited more then 1,200 times. That kind of achievement can rarely be matched by scientists in the world. But Feng was always a humble and modest man. He never bragged about it.”

Xio mentioned the Chinese tradition of paying tribute to the dead on the seventh day of their passing. Liu’s family couldn’t be present, he added, because they were in Asheville, where half of Liu’s ashes will be spread somewhere in the mountains. The other half will be placed in Liu’s hometown in China, near the graves of his parents.

Another reason Liu’s family is in Asheville is that Liu’s daughter had an appointment for a pre-natal checkup there. She’s due in less than two months, and as Xio reminded the somber crowd, the closest Liu ever came to seeing his granddaughter was in an ultrasound image.

Another colleague, Jun Li, spoke with emotion about his slain friend. He said he now avoids walking past Liu’s office, for fear that he’ll break down in tears.

Li talked about the trauma suffered by the entire UNC community. he said that the site of Liu’s murder is a street where many of his co-workers at the Eshelman School of Pharmacy also take regular walks around lunchtime.

“My wife and my little daughter also walk that way,” said Li. “it’s not a bad place. But it just happens to Dr. Liu.”

After about 45 minutes of tributes, it was time for mourners to walk to that once-unremarkable place, after candles had been lit, and Chinese liquor had been poured in front of the table in Liu’s honor, and all of the guests had bowed three times toward his picture.

The eight-minute walk was quiet, and orderly, and mourners were accompanied by a few Chapel Hill police on bicycles.

Darkness fell as people arrived at Ransom Street and West University Drive, and many heavy sighs and gasps were audible as flowers were left at the murder site on West University.

They were the sounds of disbelief at the senseless crime committed here, on a quiet, familiar street, at the tree-lined edge of someone’s front yard, in the middle of a sunny day.

http://chapelboro.com/news/unc/hundreds-gather-vigil-honoring-slain-unc-professor-feng-liu/

911 Call: Professor Was Breathing Before First Responders Arrived

The 911 call in response to the beating and subsequent death of a UNC professor Wednesday afternoon reveals he was alive when first responders arrived on the scene.

The following is a redacted recording of the 911 call. Listener discretion is advised.

“There is an individual laying on the street at Ransom and West University.”

“At where?” the dispatcher asked.

“Ransom and West University. Right near the intersection here,” the caller said.

Fifty-nine-year-old Feng Liu of Durham was a professor in the UNC Eshelman School of Pharmacy. He was known by his colleagues to take walks around the southern part of campus during his lunch breaks to reenergize.

Chapel Hill Police Chief Chris Blue said a Town employee was one of the first to arrive to find that the professor had been attacked. He added that even members of the police department were shocked by the random crime that claimed the young professor’s life.

When the caller arrived to find Liu laying in the street, already there were signs of concern.

“And he’s just laying in the street?” the dispatcher asked.

“He’s kind of laying to the side, breathing hard. And he’s breathing and there were two gentlemen here when I pulled around the corner and there are couple of other people hanging out here now,” the caller said.

The dispatcher asked the caller to wait, then the caller went on to say, “According to a lady here who is pre-med, there is blood coming out of his nose and his mouth – and his ears.”

“There’s blood coming out of his nose and his ears?” the dispatcher asked.

“His ears, yes ma’am.”

The dispatcher asked his age,

“He looks like he’s in his mid-30s,” the caller said.

The dispatcher then asked if the man was awake.

“No, he’s unconscious. He’s not responding,” the caller said.

“He’s unconscious?”

“Yes ma’am.”

“Is he breathing?”

“He is breathing, yes ma’am.”

“Is his breathing completely normal?”

“It sounds hard but he is breathing.”

First responders arrived and attended to Liu. He was transported to UNC Hospitals just a few blocks away. According to the News and Observer, prosecutors said Liu was hit in the head with a rock. He died the next morning as a result of serious head injuries.

The call also revealed that a number of people responded to the area in a reasonable amount of time, leading to ask the question of why the assailants chose that location and that time to take those actions.

Chapel Hill Police received enough information from someone who said they witnessed suspicious activity in the area to apprehend the suspects and arrest them Wednesday evening.

Derick Davis II, 23, of Scots Pine Crossing in Durham and Troy Arrington Jr., 27, of Johnson Street in Chapel Hill were arrested and charged with first degree murder, felony robbery, and assault. They’re being held at the Orange County jail without bond.

http://chapelboro.com/news/crime/911-call-professor-responsive-first-responders-arrived/