Man, 70, sentenced to 12 years in prison for 1971 Raleigh murder
Posted December 16, 2014
Raleigh, N.C. — 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."