Crime

A picture of lights on a police car.
Alejandro Mejía Greene/JubiloHaku / Flickr Creative Commons

Violent crime – especially rape – increased in North Carolina in 2015, continuing an upward trend that began in 2013, according to federal statistics released this week.

East Durham, Durham, Police, Poverty, EDCI
Leoneda Inge / WUNC

Editor's note: This story is part of an occasional series on what area community leaders and residents are doing to balance "peace and pride" in their neighborhoods.

Every Friday in the basement of the Maureen Joy Charter School on South Driver Street in Durham, families get a bag of food packed with oatmeal, fruit bars, noodles, tuna, fruit boxes and more.

Asheville 'Bans The Box'

Feb 3, 2016
Asheville is removing questions from city job applications that ask about criminal convictions. The city hopes to remove this hindrance for job seekers who have a criminal history.
Kathryn Decker / Flickr Creative Commons

Asheville passed a policy last week that will remove any question about criminal convictions from city job applications.

Proponents want to “ban the box” that job seekers check for convictions because they claim it puts previous criminals at a disadvantage. Though this doesn’t preclude private companies from including questions about criminal histories, the city hopes to lead by example.

The Charlotte Mecklenburg Police Department could implement no-go zones to prevent criminals from returning to the same areas.
James Willamor / Flickr Creative Commons

The Charlotte Mecklenburg Police Department is considering a policy that would preclude people who are arrested from returning to designated areas.

The measure is designed to reduce crime and other cities have instituted similar measures with carried successes. Opponents say the no-go zones raise constitutional concerns.

Photo: The lethal injection room at San Quentin State Prison
California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation / Public Doman

North Carolina prosecutors have sought the death penalty against about two people per year since 1989 without enough evidence to prove their guilt, according to the Center for Death Penalty Litigation.  The advocacy group opposes the death penalty and helped represent former death row inmate Henry McCollum, who was recently exonerated after 30 years in jail.

Image of Allison Leotta, who wanted to show the ways the criminal justice system does and doesn't work in her books.
Allison Leotta

Allison Leotta was a federal sex-crimes prosecutor in Washington D.C. for more than a decade. Every day when she came home from work, she would think to herself, “I can’t believe what I saw today…someone should write about this.”

She began writing in the mornings before work and at night when she got home. In 2011, Leotta left the Justice Department to write full-time. She has now written four novels about a prosecutor named Anna Curtis, and people often refer to Leotta as “the female John Grisham.”

Photo: A graffiti painting at an intersection in Asheville
It's Tea / Flickr

State lawmakers are expected to send Gov. Pat McCrory on Wednesday a bill that would make graffiti vandalism a felony if performed by repeat offenders.

Under House Bill 552, which was approved unanimously by the House and is expected to get final approval from the Senate, anyone who has two or more prior convictions for graffiti vandalism or violates the law against it at least five times within two months could be charged with a felony. The offender could face up to 39 months in jail.

Window and Wooden Boards
Sherrie Thai / https://flic.kr/p/6vjNqk

The city of Durham is no longer using plywood to cover up windows and doors in abandoned buildings.

Faith Gardner works for city's Neighborhood Improvement Services Department.

"If you're living in a neighborhood with boarded structures, they don't look good, you can tell that they've been abandoned, there's also an attraction there for criminal activity."

Gardner says a new, clear, polycarbonate material has been installed in ten vacant homes, with more to come. She adds that it improves the appearance of the buildings and allows police to look inside.

Photo: U.S. Attorney Thomas Walker
Jorge Valencia

Federal prosecutors charged 13 current and former law enforcement officers in connection with a drug shipment network in North Carolina. 

Authorities say seven officers connected to the Northampton County Sheriff's Office conspired to distribute controlled substances from North Carolina to South Carolina and Maryland. Some also face money laundering, extortion and weapons charges.

Host Frank Stasio talks with WUNC reporter Jorge Valencia about the indictments.

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.

Composite graphic image of Criminal
Artwork by Julienne Alexander

The North Carolina podcast Criminal is on a mission to tell the stories of “people who’ve done wrong, been wronged, or gotten caught somewhere in the middle.” 

Venus flytrap
David McAdoo / Flickr/Creative Commons

It used to be a misdemeanor to steal Venus flytraps from the wild. But the law changed in November, and now four suspects face felony charges, and up to 39 months in jail.

Hervey McIver of the Nature Conservancy says there’s high demand for Venus flytraps for novelty as well as medicinal use. The plants only grow wild in a roughly-100-mile radius around the Wilmington area.

The cover of Mette Ivie Harrison's The Bishop's Wife.
http://sohopress.com/

Linda Wallheim is a stay-at-home wife who is married to quite possibly the most influential man in her Mormon community of Draper, Utah. 

crime scene tape
Ian Britton / Flickr/Creative Commons

Delays at North Carolina's State Crime Lab are a longstanding issue. Now, some local law enforcement agencies are seeking quicker assistance elsewhere.

Steve Williams heads Greensboro's Forensic Services division. He says that because rapes and homicides take precedence, the review of evidence for other crimes can take a very long time under the state system.

"It could take years to get a lot of the property crimes even looked at," Williams said.

The bank robber is described as a light-skinned black male, approximately 20-35 years of age with a medium build.
FBI

The Charlotte Division of the FBI has been on the lookout for a bank robber who has operated in Wake, Nash, and Franklin Counties. The suspect is known as the "Eyes Only Bandit" because in each case, the robber wore a hooded jacket and gloves and covered his face with a mask, leaving only his eyes visible.

The "Eyes Only Bandit" struck these banks:

Venus flytrap
David McAdoo / Flickr/Creative Commons

Did you know that picking a Venus Flytrap in North Carolina can now land you two years in prison? The law, enacted earlier this week,  is meant to protect the Venus Flytrap, a rare carnivorous plant that only grows in the wild in swamps near Wilmington.

Tonya Rush is an analyst at the crime lab. The NC General Assembly recently added funding for 30 more analysts to help with the backlog.
Eric Mennel / WUNC

We've been looking at the problems in the State Crime Lab this week, particularly the backlog in evidence testing. A group of judges, lawyers, and scientists came together in recent months to suggest solutions for clearing up the backlog, but inside the lab, some efforts are already under way.

One of the refrigerators at the NC State Crime Lab
Eric Mennel

Like many crime labs across the country, the North Carolina State Crime Lab in Raleigh has a serious backlog. One reason is finding and paying qualified staff. But a new report issued by researchers at the University of North Carolina School of Government shows a second, more complex problem.

The report goes into detail about the effect a 2009 U.S. Supreme Court decision, Melendez-Diaz, had on the way forensic evidence gets admitted at criminal trials.

Criminal's episode art is by Julienne Alexander
Julienne Alexander

Criminal is a new podcast that's gaining some buzz. In August, the Huffington Post called it the Best New Radio Show In America. A couple of months later, it was included in Buzzfeed's list of "12 Podcasts That Will Make You A Better Human."

September 2, 2014, Leon Brown on exoneration day.
Jenny Warburg / Death Penalty Information Center

In 1984 Henry McCollum and Leon Brown were both charged with the rape and murder of an 11-year-old girl, Sabrina Buoy. 

McCollum was 19 years old at the time. Brown was 15. Prosecutors said that the two took Buoy into a soy bean field to rape her.

The half-brothers have intellectual disabilities. Both signed written confessions that they later recanted. Both were convicted.

Update at 7:05 a.m. ET

A judge in South Africa handed down a verdict of culpable homicide against double-amputee Olympic and Paralympic runner Oscar Pistorius in the shooting death of his girlfriend. The conviction carries a maximum of 15 years in prison.

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. 

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:

North Carolina House of Representatives, North Carolina General Assembly
www.ncleg.net

State lawmakers in the House have passed a bill that would raise the age at which North Carolina teens can be charged as adults. North Carolina is one of only two states that still treat 16- and 17-year-old offenders as adults. Republican representative Marilyn Avila is a sponsor of the bill.

"This bill is one that I feel like North Carolina needs to consider because we’re one of only two states who do not have our 16 and 17-year-old juvenile delinquents placed in the juvenile justice system. They go into the adult system," said Avila.

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