Jorge Valencia

Capitol Reporter

Jorge Valencia has been with North Carolina Public Radio since 2012. A native of Bogotá, Colombia, Jorge studied journalism at the University of Maryland and reported for four years for the Roanoke Times in Virginia before joining the station. His reporting has also been published in the Wall Street Journal, the Miami Herald, and the Baltimore Sun.

Ways to Connect

A picture of a gavel on a document.
Brian Turner / Flickr Creative Commons

An atheist group filed a federal lawsuit to compel the North Carolina Department of Corrections to make space available for group studies by atheists in the same way it does for religious inmates.
 

The suit, filed in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina, was brought by Kwame Teague, an inmate being held for life on a 1996 first-degree murder conviction. Teague has requested space for a study group since 2012.

Chad Biggs (left), 35, and Chris Creech, 46, were the first gay couple to be wed in Wake County.
Jorge Valencia / WUNC

The North Carolina Senate approved on Wednesday a plan to allow magistrate judges who oppose same-sex marriage on religious grounds to refuse to preside over any wedding.

The proposed legislation, which passed on a mostly party-line 82 to 16 vote, is a direct response to federal court rulings in October of 2014 that struck down North Carolina’s constitutional ban on same-sex unions.   

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

A North Carolina legislative panel has approved a Republican plan that would allow magistrate judges to recuse themselves from officiating any weddings if they have a faith-based opposition to same-sex unions.

The bill, introduced by Senate Leader Phil Berger (R-Eden), was passed on what appeared to be a mostly party-line vote in a Senate Judiciary Committee this morning.

Unemployment lines
Wikimedia

The North Carolina Senate has approved a proposal that would change a panel that hears appeals for unemployment insurance, but Governor Pat McCrory vetoed a similar bill last year.

The plan would shorten the amount of time board members serve on the panel and stagger the terms between each member. It would also require people getting unemployment benefits to contact five instead of three potential employers every week.

Photo: Mohammed Elgamal, chairman of the Islamic Association of Raleigh, and leaders from national Muslim advocacy organizations.
Jorge Valencia

When three young Muslim people were killed in a Chapel Hill apartment last week, their families, friends and advocates from around the world said they knew why: Their neighbor shot them because he hated their religion.

Chapel Hill police didn’t deny that claim, but didn’t validate it either. Within a day of the shooting, authorities said the neighbor, Craig Stephen Hicks, 46, had been disgruntled over a parking space.

As it turns out, there are wide discrepancies between establishing a hate crime in a court room and a hate crime in the court of public opinion.

In North Carolina, three Muslim students who were shot in their home have been buried.

The sky was gray over North Carolina State University as more than 5,000 people prayed for Deah Barakat, his wife Youser Abu-Salha and Youser's sister Razan.

Usman Rahim attended the service. He says that the victims touched people far beyond the Muslim community.

"The wide variety of people that these three angels touched, it's just such a meaningful, deep and sorrow - yet joyful - day for the three of them," Rahim said.

The UNC Chapel Hill vigil for three slain students. UNC Dental School students are in the center of the image. 2/11/15
Eric Hodge

People in Chapel Hill and across the Triangle are grieving. Last night was the first public gathering to honor the three Muslim students who were shot and killed this week. Deah Barakat, Yusor Abu-Salha and Razan Abu-Salha. Their neighbor has been charged with their murders.

wunc's Reema Khrais attended the vigil and filed this report for NPR:

'Our Three Winners' Facebook page

Forty-six-year-old Craig Stephen Hicks has been charged with three counts of first-degree murder for the killings of Deah Barakat, a second-year student in the UNC School of Dentistry and his wife, Yusor, who had planned to begin her dental studies at UNC in the fall. Yusor's sister, Razan, a student at NC State University, was also killed. We will continue to update this story as information becomes available.

Updated Monday, February 23, 10:15 a.m.

AtlantaMuslim.com has created a map of vigils and gatherings related to the shootings and the hashtag #OurThreeWinners

Updated Thursday, February 19 10:30 a.m.

President Obama includes the Chapel Hill shootings in an address at the White House during a summit on violent extremist. Here's a video of the full address:

Updated Thursday, February 19 7:00 a.m.

Much of the discussion about the motive behind the Chapel Hill shooting is whether it was a hate crime. Many in the Muslim community and on social media say it is, but police have not. Jorge Valencia filed this report today about the decision the police face, and the intricacies of a legal hate crime designation.

Updated Monday February 16 5:10 p.m.

A grand jury has indicted Craig Stephen Hicks in the murder of three young Muslims in Chapel Hill, reports Jorge Valencia. Hicks turned himself into authorities last week, just hours after the shooting of Deah Barakat, Yusor Abu Salha and Razan Abu Salha. Now a grand jury believes there's enough evidence to pursue a felony case against Hicks. He's charged with first-degree murder and discharging a firearm into a dwelling. Chapel Hill police are still investigating and say Hicks may have been motivated by a parking dispute. Family and advocates around the world say Hicks was acting out of a bias against Muslims. 

Updated Monday February 16 10:50 a.m.

Qatar students and community hold solidarity walk for Chapel Hill victims. The march was Sunday and began at the Hamad Bin Khalifa University.

Read more about this march

Hear Phoebe Judge's conversation with a BBC news analyst about the Qatar march

Update Friday February 13 3 p.m.

The White House issued a statement by the President:

"Yesterday, the FBI opened an inquiry into the brutal and outrageous murders of Yusor Mohammad Abu-Salha, Deah Shaddy Barakat, and Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.  In addition to the ongoing investigation by local authorities, the FBI is taking steps to determine whether federal laws were violated.  No one in the United States of America should ever be targeted because of who they are, what they look like, or how they worship.  Michelle and I offer our condolences to the victims’ loved ones.  As we saw with the overwhelming presence at the funeral of these young Americans, we are all one American family.  Whenever anyone is taken from us before their time, we remember how they lived their lives – and the words of one of the victims should inspire the way we live ours."

“Growing up in America has been such a blessing,” Yusor said recently.  “It doesn’t matter where you come from.  There’s so many different people from so many different places, of different backgrounds and religions – but here, we’re all one.”

Thursday evening, the FBI announced it is looking into the murders. In a statement, the FBI said it has opened a "parallel preliminary inquiry". They're looking to determine if federal laws were violated. Agents will assist local police to process evidence from the triple-homicide.

Update Thursday February 12 2:58 p.m.

Frank Stasio joined Dr. Omid Safi, director of Duke University's Islamic Studies Center to talk about the events on the nationally syndicated program, The Takeaway. Listen to the audio here.

"If these acts happen in your community, then they are a part of your community, they are a part of your legacy." - Dr. Omid Safi

Update Thursday February 12 11:48 a.m.

The Islamic Association of Raleigh will lead funeral prayers for the three shooting victims today. The funeral prayer will follow the midday prayer at 1:35. NC State University will host a vigil at the Brickyard tonight at 6.

Update Thursday February 12 11:13 a.m.

Update Thursday February 12 10:49 a.m.

One of the victims of the shooting, Yusor Abu-Salha, came to the StoryCorps Mobile Booth when it visited Durham, NC last summer.  >> Listen

Update 8:51 a.m. Thursday Feb 12

Hundreds of people gathered at UNC Chapel Hill last night to remember the three Muslims killed in a nearby shooting, and to support their families.

Farris Barakat is the older brother of victim Deah Barakat. He spoke of the three at the vigil last night. He asked the big crowd to live in their legacy.

"That you share the good that you know of them, and take the message that my mom wanted to make public and 'do not fight fire with fire," Barakat said.

>>WUNC's Jorge Valencia and Reema Khrais both attended the event. Here are their reports.

Update Wednesday February 11 8:44 p.m.

Update Wednesday February 11 8:11 p.m.

"You can't see where the crowd ends" at the vigil to honor the three slain students, reports Jorge Valencia.

Update Wednesday February 11 6:00 p.m.

There is a vigil this evening at 6:30 p.m. at the UNC "Pit." Prior to the vigil, at 6 p.m., a prayer service will be held in the Great Hall of the Carolina Union. Parking will be available in the Bell Tower lot.

Update Wednesday February 11 5:31 p.m.

Nada Salem was best friends with the two young women who died. The 21-year-old Muslim woman told reporter Reema Khrais that she strongly believes the crime was motivated by hate.

Salem points to something that happened a few months ago. She had gone over to the couple's house for dinner.

After she went home, her friend Yusor texted to say that their neighbor, Hicks, had come by, complaining that that young people had been "really loud and disrespectful."

And then, Yusor texted, Hicks "pointed to his gun and his pocket and he said 'I don't want this to happen again.'"

Salem had plans to attend UNC School of Dentistry with Yusor. She says not too long ago the couple gave her her first Carolina Dentistry sweater. The two women wanted to wear the sweaters to school at the same time.

"So that we can be matching and we can tell everyone we got in together; and two days ago she texted me again with [the sweater] picture saying that she can't wait for us to start again…together at dental school," says Salem. "It's like a daze for me, personally, I just don't want to believe it."

Illustration: Cadeceus
Flickr user takomabibelot

Roughly 480,000 people in North Carolina have signed up or been automatically re-enrolled for Obamacare plans by the end of January using the healthcare.gov system, according to government data released Friday. Almost 7.5 million in total have signed up across the country.

WUNC's Capitol Reporter Jorge Valencia was at Governor McCrory's State of the State speech Wednesday. He live-tweeted the proceedings:

Photo: Map of North Carolina
Flickr user Lindley Ashline

A coalition of Democratic and Republican state representatives wants to cede their responsibility to draw North Carolina's electoral districts, to non-partisan staff or a non-partisan commission.

They say they want to take politics out of the process, but similar efforts have failed for more than 20 years.

Photo: A voting ballot
Flickr Creative Commons/ Ken Zirkel

Voting rights advocates argued in a Wake County court on Friday that a new state law requiring voters to show photo identification at polling stations is unconstitutional because it will create a barrier to voting, keeping primarily minorities from the ballot.

N.C. Attorney General Roy Cooper
N.C. Democratic Party

Attorney General Roy Cooper says he'll continue to criticize Republican policies during the legislative session that begins Wednesday, hinting once again hinting that he might run for governor in 2016.  
 

At a luncheon held by the women’s group Lillian's List, Cooper told a few hundred Democrats that he supports issues such as abortion rights and expanding Medicaid in North Carolina.

He hasn't announced his candidacy for governor, but he’s widely seen as the most likely Democrat to try to unseat Republican Gov. Pat McCrory.

Stephen LaRoque
North Carolina General Assembly

Stephen LaRoque, a former high-ranking member of the North Carolina House of Representatives, pleaded guilty to aiding and abetting theft at a federal court in Greenville on Monday.

LaRoque, who resigned his house seat after he was indicted in 2012, entered a plea as part of a deal with the U.S. Attorney’s Office, allowing him to avoid a trial originally scheduled for next week. He will pay $300,000 in restitution and faces up to 10 years in prison, the attorney’s office said in a statement. Sentencing is scheduled for May 12.

Joseph Sledge and his attorney Christine Mumma 1/23/15
Jorge Valencia

A man held in a North Carolina prison for most of his life was released on Friday, after a special panel found he had been wrongfully convicted of a double murder in 1976.

Following a brief hearing in Columbus County, a specially appointed three-judge panel found Joseph Sledge had proven he was innocent of the stabbing deaths of a mother and her adult daughter in neighboring Bladen County.

Photo: UNC School of Law
Photo by Caroline Culler

Prosecutors, defense attorneys, activists and former police officers will discuss the deaths of unarmed minorities at the hands of law enforcement at a forum at the University of North Carolina School of Law today.

The forum, organized by law school professors, will include three panels examining civil rights, self defense, and the use of force from legal, historical and activist perspectives, said Associate Professor Tamar Birckhead, one of the organizers.

The Oakwood Inn Bed and Breakfast in downtown Raleigh
Jorge Valencia

Raleigh council members are continuing to debate how to manage the growing number of homes whose owners are listing on sites such as airbnb.com for short term rentals.
 

In a report he presented at a council meeting Tuesday, Raleigh Planning Director Travis Crane said the rental listings could represent additional income for property owners and the city, but can generate additional traffic and a parking crunch in residential areas.

Photo: Filming of Iron Man 3
Marvel

North Carolina will offer up to $10 million a year until 2020 to encourage video production companies to film in the state, as part of the new incentives package going into effect today.

The state's new grant program will give preference to filmmakers who use "economically distressed" locations or show attractions that could promote tourism to the state, according to guidelines drafted by the N.C. Film Office.

Flickr user Etolane

A North Carolina law that requires abortion providers to take a woman's sonogram and describe it to her in detail is unconstitutional because it violate's the woman's free speech rights, a U.S. appeals court said on Monday.

A three-judge panel on the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond unanimously ruled that the state cannot require physicians to disseminate its message discouraging abortions. The ruling upholds a district judge's decision.

Illustration: Cadeceus
Flickr user takomabibelot

Dozens of people advocating for and against abortion rights filled a room at the North Carolina health department headquarters on Friday morning to respond to proposed rules that will apply to the 14 clinics that provide abortion in the state.

Photo: Death row inmates are housed at Central Prison in Raleigh. No executions have been carried out in North Carolina since 2006.
North Carolina Department of Public Safety

About 12 percent of the inmates in North Carolina's prisons are mentally ill, state prisons administrators told lawmakers at a hearing this week.

Administrators, including David Guice, the commissioner for the state Division of Adult Correction and Juvenile Justice, said the they're starting a re-structuring of how they handle the roughly 4,600 mentally ill inmates. They're beginning to concentrate transfer some inmates and concentrate some services in some locations - instead of having them spread among the roughly 37,000 inmate population throughout the system's 56 facilities.

Photo: A Bed and Breakfast and a home on Bloodworth Street in downtown Raleigh's Oakwood neighborhood
Jorge Valencia

The Oakwood Inn Bed & Breakfast was built in 1871, and since 2001, Doris Juerkiwicz has been the owner and innkeeper. It was earlier this year that she heard about some brand new competition.

A woman ran the bell at Victorian-era house in historic Oakwood in downtown Raleigh, and asked Juerkiwicz if she remembered her.

"She said, 'I used to stay with you, but I'm staying at your neighbor’s now because I just can’t beat the price,'" Juerkiwicz remembers.

beer bottle
Gary Simmons / Flickr/Creative Commons

Almost twice as many middle and high school students compared to parents think that underage drinking is a serious issue, according to a survey commissioned by the North Carolina Alcoholic Beverage Control Commission.

"North Carolina has an underage drinking problem," ABC Chairman Jim Gardner said on Wednesday. "What’s worse: Our state’s children think underage drinking is a much bigger problem than their parents do."

Commerce Secretary Sharon Decker, Gov. Pat McCrory, and Department of Environment and Natural Resources Secretary John Skvarla
Jorge Valencia

There will be some key changes to Governor Pat McCory’s cabinet in the New Year. Commerce Secretary Sharon Decker is stepping down. And Environment Secretary John Skvarla will be the new head of the commerce department. The two positions are central to the governor's plan to attract businesses to North Carolina.

The governor feels very passionately about the members of his cabinet, or as he prefers to call it: his team. Yesterday, he was in front of a crowd in the historic chambers of the Old Capitol building, and beside him was Sharon Decker.

Illustration: Cadeceus
Flickr user takomabibelot

North Carolina health officials have proposed updating regulations governing clinics that provide abortions, in compliance with a 2013 law that requires them to be treated like outpatient surgery centers.

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