Durham, N.C. — A judge on Tuesday dismissed a murder charge against a Mebane man arrested last year with the remains of a Durham woman in his backpack.
Superior Court Judge Orlando Hudson ruled that the state withheld evidence by allowing the family of Lakiea Lacole Boxley to cremate her remains.
Durham County District Attorney Tracey Cline immediately said she would appeal the ruling.
Michael Charles Dorman, 33, of 1411 Sundown Drive, was arrested in July 2010 after one of his friends told investigators that Dorman admitted to killing a prostitute and asked him to help dispose of her remains. Prosecutors said Dorman told investigators that he only found the remains and planned to use them for his sexual gratification.
Boxley, 31, had been missing since March 2008, and an autopsy determined that she might have been shot in the head.
Defense attorney Lawrence Campbell asked that the charges against Dorman be dismissed because critical evidence in the case had been destroyed.
State law requires remains to be returned to families once a medical examiner's investigation into the cause of death is complete, North Carolina Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Deborah Radisch testified.
Campbell said the medical examiner was finished with Boxley's remains weeks before they were released to her family in South Carolina. He argued that the Durham Police Department allowed the remains to be destroyed only after securing a murder indictment against Dorman last September, and he pointed to an email in which a police investigator gave his approval on the release as evidence that the State Medical Examiner's Office consulted with police in the case.
Cline argued that there was no evidence that police or the medical examiner's office "acted in bad faith" in turning the remains over to Boxley's family. A court order to preserve evidence in the case was a "generic motion" filed in every felony case, she said, noting that any concerns about the remains weren't raised until after the family had already cremated them.
Boxley's older sister, Latifah White, testified that she had Boxley's remains cremated last September. Nobody from the Durham Police Department or Durham County District Attorney's Office suggested the cremation, she said.
”I felt real bad because, as a big sister, I didn’t think I did my job of protecting my little sister,” White said. "It was very hurting that I couldn’t see my sister or couldn’t come back for my sister when she needed me. I wanted to cremate her to let her know I would never leave her."
Under Campbell's cross-examination, White said she talked to police investigators and a victim's advocate in the police department dozens of times before the remains were finally released to her.
"I still don’t know who released them, but I’m glad they did," she said.
White was emotional at times during her testimony. She is legally blind, and at one point, she asked Hudson if she could take off the sunglasses she normally wears.
"Dorman is looking at me, and I really want (him) to see (me),” she said.
The state Victims Compensation Services office paid more than $2,700 for the cremation, and Campbell pointed out Monday that local law enforcement must determine that a victim is innocent before the state agency will pick up the tab for something like that.
Cline said the state agency has nothing to do with investigations and doesn't get permission from prosecutors to pay for cremations.
Hudson ordered that Dorman remain in custody under an involuntary commitment until he could be evaluated to determine whether he is a threat to himself.
Cline asked Hudson to order the State Medical Examiner's Office to hold all remains involving homicides in Durham County, but the judge said the handling of remains needs to be on a case-by-case basis.