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A courthouse moment: ‘It’s filled with a lot of stuff I ain’t do’

Frederick McQuaig put his future on the line to shave a little over three years from his time in prison. 

In Courtroom 7C of Durham County Superior Court on Monday, Sept. 9, McQuaig was intent on trimming the state’s offer of 20 years and 11 months of imprisonment. His counteroffer was 17 years and 6 months.

He sat in a mostly empty courtroom next to his attorney Johanna Jennings from the Center for Death Penalty Litigation, a North Carolina law firm that represent inmates on death row. Although the judge and attorneys were discussing how long he’d be locked up, he didn’t show any emotion. 

In August, McQuaig had been arraigned on so many crimes it was hard to remember them all. The prosecutor, Ray Griffis, stumbled as he recited each case’s file number to the judge: robbery with second-degree kidnapping, 19 CRS 228; assault with a deadly weapon, 19 CRS 533; possession of a stolen motor vehicle, 18 CRS 57904 …

And a big one: a pending first-degree murder charge, though it hasn’t been arraigned yet. 

In an email on Aug. 20, the state had offered to wrap all of those charges into one global second-degree murder plea. The state would give McQuaig the least prison time allowed for that charge—almost 21 years. The offer was still available. 

Judge Michael O’Foghludha talked through the different offers, charges, and sentences, as if he was trying to keep them straight. 

“If the state’s offer was rejected, Mr. McQuaig would be going to trial in December on cases which carry the possibility of life imprisonment without parole. And then he would be waiting on a first-degree murder case, which carries the requirement of life without parole if convicted,” the judge said.

But McQuaig didn’t take the deal. The prison time difference wasn’t immense—but it was enough to matter to him.

“Mr. McQuaig and I had a long conversation about this,” Jennings said. “Mr. McQuaig continues to reject the state’s offer.”

“Okay,” Judge O’Foghludha said under his breath. 

Looking into McQuaig’s eyes, Judge O’Foghludha explained that the state’s plea wasn’t too different from McQuaig’s counteroffer. 

“(He’d have) the opportunity to essentially wrap everything up and begin serving a sentence that’s really only three years different from what would be acceptable to you,” Judge O’Foghludha said. “You understand that?”

“I understand, I understand,” McQuaig replied. “But it’s filled with a lot of stuff I ain’t do.”

“Alright, alright,” Judge O’Foghludha said.

Prosecutor Griffis said McQuaig had until Monday, Sept. 16 to accept the state’s offer.

But the deadline came and went. Now, he’ll go to trial for first-degree murder. If he’s convicted: A required life sentence without parole.

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly gave a date for the murder trial of Frederick McQuaig. The story has been updated to reflect that the date has not been set.

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