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/

Zones Chosen By FSA Council To Create Pipeline to Success for Children

The Family Success Alliance Council has chosen two of the six geographic zones to enact a pilot program with the goal of creating a pipeline of success for children living in poverty.

Dr. Michael Steiner, with UNC Health Care, announced the selection following a committee vote.

“Congratulations to Zone 4 and Zone 6, and the Family Success Alliance will look forward to continue working with you and starting the next steps of the process.”

Zone 4 represents central Orange County, specifically between I-40 and I-85. Zone 6 covers a densely populated area from downtown Chapel Hill to Highway 54.

Representatives from the six zones that were being considered for the pilot program gave their pitch to the council during a special meeting, on Tuesday evening.

Delores Bailey, from the non-profit EmPowerment, represented Zone 6. In her pitch to the council, she focused on a need of young children in the community.

“There’s been a major setback in the Head Start program,” she says. “And that alone has been responsible for the groundwork and young people growing. If we’re missing that Head Start piece, we’ve got to have resources that wrap around what we’re missing from there.”

Zone four was campaigned for by Aviva Scully from Stanback Middle School and New Hope Elementary’s Rosemary Deane.

Deane says that during some community events they were able to break down barriers and establish a cumulative goal for the area.

“During our forum, we had families from all over come together. You could see a common vision of what they want for our community,” she recalled.

They are looking to calm some of those concerns with the help of pilot program from the Family Success Alliance Council.

One common theme developed throughout the meeting. No matter which zones were ultimately selected, the ball was rolling and each zone would have the support of the zones that were not chosen.

As for those zones that were not selected, Orange County Health Department Director Dr. Colleen Bridger cautioned that this was a pilot program, so there was no firm timeline for involving the other zones. But she made clear the intention was to do so.

“We need to try it and see how it goes. And then as soon as we can, we want every single zone to be involved in this.”

Doctor Bridger adds that the zones that were not selected will be encouraged to continue their work, and the council will be able to provide some guidance following their next meeting in February.

Meanwhile, the implementation of the pilot program will immediately go into action in zones four and six. Feedback from the success of these programs will be documented and passed along to other areas throughout the community to encourage similar efforts.

http://chapelboro.com/news/pre-k-12-education/zones-chosen-fsa-council-create-pipeline-success-children/

Organizations Team Up To Help Unemployed

Getting the unemployed back to work is the goal of a new program being rolled out by a partnership of local organizations.

The Orange County Partnership to End Homelessness and Chapel Hill-based Community Empowerment Fund are joining forces to launch a new program called Job Partners.

“We’re starting Job Partners, which is a program that’s designed to combat unemployment in the Chapel Hill area through facilitating connections between local employers and community members,” says CEF’s Kaity Taylor.

Taylor says that Community Empowerment Fund started in 2009 by micro-financing loans to help people get back in the job market.

“We started offering savings opportunities [and] financial education, as a support for people who are looking to seek employment, housing, and financial freedom,” she says.

Jamie Rohe, with the Orange County Partnership to End Homelessness, adds that there is one thing that stands out about the Job Partners program.

“[I’m impressed with] how relational they are. They will have one-on-one advocates working with their clients, sometimes two-on-one.”

Rohe says, “It’s so important and it’s so effective to make their clients feel like someone really cares about them. Somebody takes the time to learn about them.”

According to Taylor, maintaining those connections is paramount to the success of Community Empowerment Fund.

“CEF really focuses on developing those relationships, exploring those relationships, understanding the factors that are at work, and the things that are impacting people’s lives.”

Rohe adds that the relationship extends far beyond the job search.

“They work very hard to make people become job ready,” she says. “And then (they) really cream off the people who are ready and connect them to employers. And then maintain that connection after the people are employed, to make sure it’s working out.”

The organizations are looking for community members that live in Chapel Hill, have strong connections in the area, and are willing to use those connections to better the entire community.

If you would like more information on how to get involved, you can visit the Orange County Partnership to End Homelessness website or call CEF at (919) 200-0233.

http://chapelboro.com/news/business/organizations-team-help-unemployed/

Orange County Deputies Looking For Lobster Chef

Orange County authorities are on the lookout for an alleged breaking-and-entering lobster chef.

Investigators with the Orange County Sheriff’s Office are looking into reports of a break-in at Antioch Baptist Church – specifically in the kitchen, according to Lieutenant Tim Horn.

“The suspect had, apparently, been in the process of fixing a meal,” says Lt. Horn. “They had a lobster tail that was cooking. There were noodles on the stove. There was hot chocolate that had been fixed and poured. But the suspect fled from the church.”

The suspect apparently was spooked out of the kitchen by a cleaning crew around 10 o’clock Friday night, December 5. Lt. Horn adds that K-9’s tracked the suspect for approximately 80 yards from the church before losing the scent.

The chef has also made sure to remove any evidence that could be tracked back to where the food was acquired. Lt. Horn says, “It appeared that the plastic wrapping that came on the box itself had been removed, which would have had a barcode, a store name, or some kind of identifying mark that we could track down.”

So, while they are not sure where the food came from, Lt. Horn says they know where it was not stolen from the church.

“The food products that were consumed were not from the church – the suspect brought them to that location,” Lt. Horn says. “It’s possible that they went to the store and got those items, and for whatever reason decided to cook them at Antioch. It’s also possible that some of these items may have been taken from an outdoor freezer.”

Anyone with information regarding the incident – whether you saw someone near Antioch Baptist Church the night of the incident, or perhaps you’re missing a lobster tail from your outdoor freezer – is encouraged to contact the Orange County Sheriff’s Office.

http://chapelboro.com/news/crime/orange-county-authorities-looking-lobster-chef/

OC Sheriff Seeks Two Suspects In Monday AM B&E

The Orange County Sheriff’s Department needs your help identifying two suspects of a residential breaking and entering that occurred late Monday morning.

A home near the intersection of Ivey Road and Old Greensboro Highway in Southwest Orange County was broken into at around 11:00 a.m. Monday. Two black males of medium height and build wearing zip-up hooded sweatshirts were caught on camera and were possibly seen fleeing in a white vehicle.

If anyone has information regarding the incident or can identify the men in the photos, call Sergeant Tim Horne at 919-245-2900 or Crime Stoppers at 919-942-7515. You can also email Sgt. Horne at thorne@orangecountync.gov.

http://chapelboro.com/news/crime/oc-sheriff-seeks-two-suspects-monday/

The 2014 Inter-City Visit, As Told By Aaron Keck: Tuesday Evening

The second and final day of the 2014 ICV wrapped up Tuesday for nearly 100 Orange County residents, including WCHL’s Aaron Keck, who is making his second-consecutive trip with the Chapel Hill-Carrboro Chamber of Commerce.

This year’s ICV has taken the group to Athens, Georgia, with a stop in Greenville, South Carolina on the way. Athens is a college town much like Chapel Hill-Carrboro with the campus of the University of Georgia abutting the City.

Aaron joined Ran Northam on the WCHL Tuesday Evening News to tell the latest about the trip.

***Listen to the Interview***

 

Have you missed any of Aaron’s updates from Athens?
Monday Morning | Monday Evening | Tuesday Morning | Tuesday Evening

While in Athens, Aaron has also been writing a column.
Dispatch From Athens: Part I | Part II | Part III

http://chapelboro.com/news/news-around-time/2014-inter-city-visit-told-aaron-keck-tuesday-evening/

The 2014 Inter-City Visit, As Told By Aaron Keck: Tuesday Morning

The second and final day of the 2014 ICV is already upon the nearly 100 Orange County residents, including WCHL’s Aaron Keck, who is making his second-consecutive trip with the Chapel Hill-Carrboro Chamber of Commerce.

This year’s ICV has taken the group to Athens, Georgia, with a stop in Greenville, South Carolina on the way. Athens is a college town much like Chapel Hill-Carrboro with the campus of the University of Georgia abutting the City.

Aaron joined Ron Stutts on the WCHL Tuesday Morning News to tell the latest about the trip.

***Listen to the Interview***

Have you missed any of Aaron’s updates from Athens?
Monday Morning | Monday Evening | Tuesday Morning | Tuesday Evening

While in Athens, Aaron has also been writing a column.
Dispatch From Athens: Part I | Part II | Part III

http://chapelboro.com/news/news-around-time/2014-inter-city-visit-told-aaron-keck-tuesday-morning/

OC Home Invasion Leads To 20-Mile Chase, Wanted Suspects

Story originally posted September 5, 2014, 6:33 a.m.

Police agencies from Orange, Durham, and Wake counties continue their search for two men considered armed and dangerous after they fled from a reported home invasion in Orange County early Friday morning.

The Orange County Sheriff’s department released a statement Friday morning that said deputies responded to a home in the eastern part of the county at 4820 Pleasant Green Road near U.S. Highway 70. Two black males reportedly invaded the home holding firearms and demanding money from the occupants. One of the home’s occupants was forced into the residence from the front yard, according to the release. It also states that one person was later forced back out of the home and kicked repeatedly, but no shots were fired and no one else was injured.

When deputies arrived, they reportedly found the men fleeing in a gold-colored vehicle. The vehicle was stopped by officers and the driver and passenger both put their arms out the window, but when officers tried to approach, the driver sped off.

After a 20-mile chase, they ended at a shopping center on Carrington Mills Road in Morrisville. They left the vehicle and ran into a wooded area near the shopping center. Orange County deputies, Durham and Morrisville police officers, and State Troopers–with help from a K-9 unit–all assisted in the unsuccessful attempt to locate the suspects.

Evidence was recovered at the scene where the car was discarded and is being processed while the investigation is ongoing, according to the Orange County Sheriff.

Anyone with information is encouraged to call the Orange County Sheriff’s Department at 919-644-3050, or you may email Sergeant Clark at bclark@orangecountync.gov.

http://chapelboro.com/news/crime/oc-home-invasion-leads-20-mile-chase-wanted-suspects/

Chatham Residents: Check Your DMV Bills

Chatham County residents should double check your vehicle registration renewal before sticking the check in the mail.

Some residents have received tax bills citing the incorrect county rate. Orange County’s property tax rate is 87.8 cents; Durham County’s is 79.31 cents. However, Chatham County’s rate is much lower at 62.19 cents.

Not only are you overpaying if the bill is incorrect, but the funds are going to the incorrect county.

If you received a bill from the Division of Motor Vehicles that is incorrect, you can call the DMV at 919-814-1779.

http://chapelboro.com/news/local-government/chatham-residents-check-dmv-bills/