Local News

Man, 70, sentenced to 12 years in prison for 1971 Raleigh murder

Posted December 16, 2014

Map Marker  Find News Near Me

— A judge in Wake County sentenced a 70-year-old Carrboro man Tuesday to 12 years in prison for killing of a Raleigh cab driver more than 40 years ago.

Sinatra Dunn, who was arrested in July on a charge of first-degree murder, pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in the Oct. 22, 1971, death of Ralph Smith, 51, who was found outside his taxi on Bragg Street.

Prosecutors said Tuesday that Dunn was an original suspect in the crime but that investigators did not have enough evidence to charge him with it.

The case went cold until this year, when Dunn confessed to a detective re-examining the case.

Dunn admitted that, at the time of the crime, he was a violent man who struggled with mental illness and drug addiction. He turned around his life, however, according to family and friends who spoke at his hearing Tuesday.

"He accepted Christ. He's just a changed man – very changed," Dunn's sister, Jessie Jackson, said.

Superior Court Judge Donald Stephens acknowledged during sentencing his struggle with an appropriate punishment. He noted the stark contrast between Dunn 43 years ago and the man before him that relatives described as being humble and caring.

"Judges have this compelling need to try to make things right, and in a situation like this, there is no such sentence," Stephens said.

He even asked Dunn what he thought an appropriate punishment might be.

Dunn did not respond.

"You don't know, do you?" Stephens asked. "Neither do I."

Smith's daughter and granddaughter said they supported the plea deal and felt like Dunn's sentence was an appropriate outcome.

Monica Taylor said after sentencing that the family never thought her grandfather's murder would be solved.

"I think it's commendable that he's accepted what he did wrong. Otherwise, we would never have known and never would have gotten that closure," Taylor said.

"So, while we do commend him, we still believe he needs to pay for that crime that was done," she added. "My grandfather missed out on those additional 40 years of his life."

10 Comments

This story is closed for comments.

Oldest First
View all
  • Cheree Teasley Dec 17, 2014
    user avatar

    View quoted thread


    first degree murder in NC is life without the possibility of parol. He might have made a deal to get second degree murder... I'm agree with you... light sentence considering that murderers in NC don't get out ever.

  • Cheree Teasley Dec 17, 2014
    user avatar

    View quoted thread


    The guy confessed, willingly. Let's not be senseless.

  • tunnybass123 Dec 16, 2014

    The innonnce commision will review his case and release him

  • David McIntee Dec 16, 2014
    user avatar

    View quoted thread


    His time is coming and he probably wanted to be right with the Lord.

    Too bad he will likely die in prison.

  • Jack Miller Dec 16, 2014
    user avatar

    Why the heck did he confess? That's all they had?! Wow... I guess he really wanted to do things right.

  • babylaceycarpenter Dec 16, 2014

    I've got mixed feelings on this one. 12 years may or may not be a life sentence for him. With good behavior he'll be out in 6. Any other"typical" murder case uses a 25 to life sentence. Why the light sentence here?

  • ILoveMyDog Dec 16, 2014

    It took a long time, but justice is served.

  • nclgw Dec 16, 2014

    There is no statute of limitations for murder...

  • saturn5 Dec 16, 2014

    View quoted thread


    For murder? Um, no.

  • miseem Dec 16, 2014

    12 years? Sounds pretty much like life without parole for a 70 year old. Particularly considering how healthy the prison environment is. But at least he got more time to live than the cab driver.