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Posts tagged as “Plea bargain”

DA Deberry’s progressive agenda put on trial at town hall meeting

Allen Jones’ grandson was murdered last year in Burlington. The person charged with killing the 18-year-old and two others had multiple prior violent convictions, including homicide, but was released on probation.

“When he committed armed robbery, it was like this murder didn’t exist,” Jones told the 9th Street Journal. “He got a smack on the hand and probation.”

Now, Jones says he is fighting against policies that he considers to be too lenient on violent offenders. He’s particularly concerned about plea deals for people who have been previously convicted of a violent crime. 

District Attorney Satana Deberry’s annual report shows that she relied heavily on pleas for murder convictions — just three of 25 convictions were decided by a jury trial, doubling the previous year’s total number of plea convictions. 

Jones took the microphone at a town hall event Thursday to ask about her office’s role in keeping the community safe when releasing violent offenders. 

“How can that be of any good to the community?” Jones asked. “How do you all play a part in being responsible for turning that murderer loose back into the community?”

“This is not a science,” Deberry responded. “We cannot predict down the road what’s going to happen. I’m sorry about what happened with your grandson … What I can say is we don’t take any homicide plea lightly.” 

During the event held at St. Joseph’s African Methodist Episcopal Church near North Carolina Central University and attended by hundreds, community members, like Jones, questioned Deberry’s progressive stance on prosecution. 

In her first year in office, Deberry has discouraged cash bail for lower-level crimes and welcomed less traditional methods such as restorative justice. But she has weathered her fair share of criticism. Half of her staff has changed since she took over in January 2019, with some quitting over disagreements about her approach. 

Deberry used Thursday’s town hall to tout her accomplishments from her first year in office, which include: 

  • Prioritizing more serious crimes

Deberry reported a 12 percent drop in the jail population since enacting a policy to no longer seek cash bail for most non-violent misdemeanors and minor felonies. The goal: to not punish people who can’t afford to pay with jail time. 

“We don’t want to send people to prison. We don’t think that’s our job,” Deberry said. “We want to reserve the criminal justice system for those people who we don’t really have tools to deal with. Those are the people who commit the most serious crimes.” 

Instead of spending more time on lower-level offenses, Deberry said her office has prioritized more serious crimes. Her office got 25 homicide convictions in her first year in office, 10 more than the previous year. 

Deberry has prioritized cutting down Durham’s backlog of homicide cases. In one year, she has closed one-third of them.

  • Calling for cooperation to curb gun violence

Nearly 200 people were shot in Durham last year. At the recent town hall event, Deberry moderated a panel discussing how her office was responding to gun violence. 

Officials in Deberry’s office said they have focused on collaborating with law enforcement and prosecuting people who are involved in gangs or “in close proximity to violence.” But they can’t keep the community safer on their own, they said. 

Deberry urged witnesses to come forward to help combat gun violence, explaining that her office works to protect witnesses. 

“On television … you see people put a bullet into a machine and the machine spits out a mugshot. We don’t have that technology,” Deberry said. “The absolute best evidence in any case is you.” 

  • Implementing alternative practices 

Deberry has expanded the use of restorative justice, a practice that voluntarily brings the victim and the accused together to promote healing. 

Her office has also expanded referrals to a cognitive behavioral intervention program. This course, which helps people who may have committed crimes improve decision-making, used to be available only after conviction, but now people can be referred before trial. 

“Our goal is not just to punish crime, it is to reduce crime. We want people to not come back to the system,” Deberry said.

Deberry’s office also helped wipe $1.5 million in traffic debt that had barred thousands of people from reinstating their driver’s licenses.

At top: Assistant District Attorney Kendra Montgomery-Blinn speaks at a town hall event for the District Attorney’s office on Thursday, Jan. 30. Photo by Corey Pilson

CORRECTION: This story has been updated. An earlier version misstated where Allen Jones’ grandson was murdered. 

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.