In a prominent local crime case, a young woman [Mary Elizabeth Judd] was raped and murdered and two young men were held in jail for two years without arraignment, then released. Another young man, already in jail on a rape charge, is supposed to have confessed to the rape and murder.
The deputies investigating this murder were taken off the case as lead investigators after a year with no progress—during an election year, when the Buncombe County commissioners, clerk of court, district attorney and sheriff were all up for election. Although there was a rumor that someone would run for the district attorney’s seat, few—if any—would consider a challenge to the powerful, long-time machine and its incumbent, Ron Moore.
Did this situation create a sense of urgency to solve the crime?
The reported chain of events: A woman said she saw two men put a body in the trunk of a car. She was a former girlfriend of one of those men. She was later re-interviewed, and her statement became less than clear. Investigators concluded that those two men were not the guilty parties. But by then, the men had been held in jail for almost two years.
What was the reason for the re-interview? Who permitted the men to be held in jail for two years without being arraigned in court? Was the lady pressured to give her first testimony? Was she pressured to change her testimony? Where was the DNA analysis? Was there a DNA analysis? If not, why not? Is it possible that all of these conditions set the stage for our own “Durham/Nifong affair”?
There is a procedural problem in this state that could permit a district attorney to intentionally hide evidence. Evidence can exist (or not exist) and be sealed after a plea bargain and sentencing by a judge—a situation in which the findings of the evidence are never presented in the open court. This is behind-the-doors legal action, and North Carolina is one of the few states to permit such actions. I believe this is the same procedure that Nifong was trying to use to get the convictions of the three innocent boys in Durham. Had the attorneys for the Duke lacrosse case not stumbled on the DNA problem, would their clients be convicted today?
Our newly elected sheriff was one of the original investigators in the murder case here, and the other investigator is now a chief staff member. We also have a jumbled-up evidence room and rape kits in disarray. Is this an attempt to cover up a procedural loophole that potentially permits a district attorney to do away with any hope of justice for the small, lowly person without high-powered lawyers to catch this blunder of justice? Where do the attorney general, members of the Legislature, and the local power structure in Buncombe stand on addressing this issue?
— Don Yelton