Prison cell
DOliphant via Flickr

This November voters in North Carolina will decide whether people accused of felonies should have the opportunity to decide whether they want a judge or jury to decide their case. Jeff Welty, an associate professor in the School of Government at the University of North Carolina, has been studying the potential implications this constitutional amendment may have on the state.  He talked with Phoebe Judge.

Conversation highlights:

Why has it taken North Carolina so long to address the issue?

Concertina wire surrounding a prison
Kate Ter Harr / Flickr Creative Commons

A North Carolina judge has ordered a man to be released from prison after serving 20 years of eight life sentences.  An attorney says 57-year-old Michael Alan Parker was released from Craggy Correctional Center near Asheville today. 

Parker was convicted in 1994 of 12 counts of sex crimes against his children, performed in a ritualistic manner. 

His defense attorney Sean Devereux asked for a new trial after doctors reviewed medical evidence.  Henderson County District Attorney Greg Newman says advancements in forensic investigations swayed the judge's decision.

License plates, tag.

A federal judge says he will not dismiss a lawsuit against the North Carolina DMV that accuses the department of discriminating against drivers with disabilities. 

The complaint was filed by the group Disability Rights North Carolina

It says DMV workers are using the state's Medical Evaluation Program to target disabled drivers for further review when they apply for licenses. 

The program allows anyone to request a medical evaluation if he or she believes a driver can not safely operate a motor vehicle. 

Federal Building Winston-Salem
Jeff Tiberii / WUNC

  The trial of Alamance County Sheriff Terry Johnson is expected to conclude Friday in federal court. The U.S. Department of Justice brough a lawsuit against the sheriff, accusing him to have profiled Latinos by ordering road-blocks in minority neighborhoods, and for calling on his deputies to arrest and detain Hispanics, without probable cause. He denied those claims Thursday, taking the witness stand in his own defense. Federal prosecutors tried to call Johnson's credibility into question by repeatedly trying to impeach him under cross examination.

A portrait og Tom Bonfield
City of Durham

Durham City Manager Tom Bonfield is recommending that the Police Department require officers to complete racial equality training.

It's just one of dozens of points from a 131-page report his office compiled in response to complaints of racial bias and profiling within the department.

City Manager Tom Bonfield wrote that he reviewed the recommendations with the police department and six community advocacy groups.

Defense attorneys will call more witnesses today at a federal trial alleging racial profiling by the Alamance County Sheriff.

Among the possible witnesses is Sam Page, an outspoken supporter of border control and increased deportations.

Youth Radio: Dads In Prison

Aug 18, 2014
Aysia Evans and her father

The following is from WUNC's Youth Radio project reporter Chelsea Korynta.

When I was 15, my father was sentenced to three months in prison. I was one of the 2.7 million Americans under 18 with a parent who’s incarcerated. In 2013, Sesame Street even created a series of videos starring a Muppet named “Alex,” whose dad is in jail.

Federal Building, Winston-Salem
Jessica Jones

The U.S. Department of Justice has accused Sheriff Johnson of racially profiling and illegally detaining members of the Hispanic community. Yesterday attorneys for the federal government called John Lamberth, a social psychologist, to the stand. He's an expert on racial profiling.

Lamberth conducted a study using data from 2008 to 2013 showing that Hispanics in Alamance County were seven times more likely to be given tickets than other people.

Alamance County Sheriff's vehicle
Alamance County Sheriff's Office

Today is the second day of the federal trial for Alamance County Sheriff Terry Johnson. Several current and former sheriff's deputies took the stand yesterday.

The U.S. Justice Department has accused Johnson of racial profiling and arresting and detaining members of the Hispanic community without probable cause.

Several past and present law enforcement officials testified on the opening day of the trial yesterday. It was held in federal district court in Winston-Salem.

Early Voting
Leoneda Inge

Opponents of the state's new voting law are planning their next steps after a judge refused to put the law on hold for the November election. A district judge on Friday denied a preliminary injunction for a law limiting the number of early voting days and getting rid of same-day registration at the polls.

Advocates will decide this week whether or not to appeal the decision. Either way, leaders say they are directing their attention to boots-on-the-ground efforts.

The Chatham Park project could boost Pittsboro's population to 60,000 people
Screen shot from online video / Preston Development Company

A group of Pittsboro residents is suing the town board of commissioners for approving a re-zoning request for the Chatham Park Planned Development District.

A grand jury in Orange County has indicted two men in the robbery and death of a UNC Chapel Hill professor. 

Troy Arrington of Chapel Hill, and Derick Davis II of Durham are both charged with first-degree murder and armed robbery in the incident that led to Feng Liu's death. 

The News and Observer reports that evidence is still being gathered in the case according to Orange County D. A. Jim Woodall. 

Feng Liu

Dr. Feng Liu died in Chapel Hill recently. He was attacked on a street-corner in a residential neighborhood adjacent to the UNC-Chapel Hill campus. On a typical day, that corner serves as a bus stop for area kids.

Two men, Derick Davis of Durham and Troy Arrington of Chapel Hill, are now charged with Dr. Liu's death.

This timeline is a compilation of information that we have thus far about the people and the events.

A picture of two people shaking hands.

Just a month after the General Assembly voted to allow fracking in North Carolina, landowners in Chapel Hill and Durham are receiving offers to buy the right to drill on their properties.

But these offers are suspicious, and the Department of Justice is investigating them. The documents say they were sent from a Pennsylvania company called Crimson Holding Corporation. It doesn't have a web site, and claims the same address as another company called Campbell Development. Neither is licensed to do business in this state.

Shana Carignan (left) and Megan Parker with Jax
North Carolina ACLU

Some are saying it could be a matter of weeks before North Carolina's ban on same sex marriage is overturned. A ruling in the 4th Circuit court in Richmond Monday declared Virginia's ban on same-sex marriage unconstitutional. That ruling is binding on the entire 4th circuit, which includes North Carolina, South Carolina, West Virginia and Maryland.

Neil Siegel is a professor of law at Duke University. He says assuming the case is not retried, the outlook for North Carolina's ban is rather clear:

Professor Fend Liu Photo

Update 7/25/14 3:30 p.m.:

The Chapel Hill Police Department has charged the two suspects, Derick Davis II and Troy Arrington Jr., with First Degree Murder in the death of UNC Professor Feng Liu.  The two are being held in the Orange County Jail without bond.

Original story:

Concertina wire surrounding a prison
Kate Ter Harr / Flickr Creative Commons

The number of people in North Carolina returning to prison after their release is on the decline. In fact, a new report released just this month shows that North Carolina has had one of the biggest drops in recidivism in the country.

Gun Free Zone

Back in 2010, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention wanted to take on what some have called an "epidemic" of youth violence.

One of the initiatives was the Academic Centers of Excellence in Youth Violence Prevention, or NC-ACE. The program focused on Robeson County which, at the time, had the highest levels of youth violence in the state. NC-ACE is now entering the final year of its efforts, with some of the programs scheduled to wrap up at the end of the summer.

North Carolina's voter ID law has come under fire in the courts, challenged by lawyers from the U.S. Department of Justice, the NAACP and voting rights groups. A judge will decide whether parts of the law should be implemented or delayed. Jeff Tiberii of WUNC has been following the hearing, and he wraps up recent developments and possible outcomes.

Family, friends and lawyers filled a Durham County courtroom today in support of Darryl Howard.

Howard was convicted of murdering a woman and her daughter and then setting their public housing apartment on fire.  But new DNA evidence shows Howard is likely innocent of the murders and rapes of the women.

The Innocence Project thinks so and they joined Howard in court today.

Darryl Howard has been in prison for 20 years.  But the Durham native could soon be going home – released on bond – pending a new trial. 

Durham Police
Durham Police Department

The Durham Police Department is investigating an incident in which an officer lied about receiving a 911 call from a residence to gain access to the home and serve a warrant.

The officer told a District Court judge in May that it was a common practice within Durham's police department.

Police Chief Jose Lopez issued a memo to the department stating that fabricating 911 calls is not a policy.

City Manager Tom Bonfield says he assumes this is an isolated incident, but that it's unacceptable and bears investigation.

On April 13, 2014, former KKK member Frazier Glenn Cross pulled into a Jewish Community Center and ambushed a grandfather and grandson, killing both. He then killed another woman a short distance away.

What does the family left behind do when they are thrust into a national spotlight? How do they figure out what to disclose and what should be private?

Will Corporon knows - he lost his father and nephew to the violence that day. Listen to his story:

Photo: Rosanell Eaton and Mary E. Perry
Jorge Valencia

An expert witness returns to the stand this morning on day three of a federal hearing challenging the state's new voting law. MIT Professor Charles Stewart testified Tuesday that the state's new voting law disproportionately burdens and affects African Americans.

State House member Rick Glazier also testified. He called the measure "reminiscent of the Jim Crow Era" and gave a passionate description of how the bill was hastily moved through the General Assembly.

Testimony is set to continue in a federal courtroom today where plaintiffs are asking a judge to halt part of the state's new voter law. Former Guilford County Board of Elections Director George Gilbert will be on the stand when the court returns from recess.

He testified Monday that expanded early voting in the state led to an increase in African American voters, a smoother Election Day process and even savings for Guilford County of as much as $3 million.

Alamance County Sheriff's vehicle
Alamance County Sheriff's Office

Defense attorneys for Alamance County Sheriff Terry Johnson filed another pre-trial motion this week. The sheriff is accused by the federal government of illegally targeting Latino drivers as well as arresting and detaining people without probable cause.