Durham, N.C. — In dismissing a murder charge against a Mebane man who carried human remains in his backpack, a Superior Court judge sharply criticized Durham County District Attorney Tracey Cline, Durham police and state investigators.
Judge Orlando Hudson issued a 69-page ruling in Michael Dorman's case on Monday, almost three months after throwing out the murder case against him because key evidence had been destroyed.
Dorman, 33, was arrested in July 2010 after one of his friends told authorities that Dorman admitted to killing a prostitute and asked him to help dispose of her remains, which he had in a backpack. Dorman told investigators that he only found the remains and planned to use them for his sexual gratification.
The remains were identified as those of Lakiea Lacole Boxley, 31, who had been missing since March 2008. An autopsy determined that she might have been shot in the head.
Boxley's remains were released to her family in September 2010 – days after Dorman was indicted on a murder charge – and the state Victim's Compensation Fund paid for their cremation.
Hudson ruled that Cline delayed presenting Dorman's case to the grand jury long enough so that the remains could be cremated before a judge could order that evidence in the case be preserved. Cline then misled Dorman's attorney for months, the judge ruled, making him believe that the State Medical Examiner's Office still had a portion of the remains and that the rest had been buried.
Cline also dropped the initial charge filed against Dorman – concealing a body and failure to report a death – because that would have required her to preserve Boxley's remains, Hudson ruled.
The District Attorney's Office, the Durham Police Department and the Victim's Compensation Fund worked together to cremate Boxley's remains as quickly as possible after Dorman was indicted, Hudson ruled. The judge went so far as to create his own timeline of calls between the three agencies and court proceedings in the case.
"The state and its agents intentionally facilitated, assisted and enabled the permanent destruction of material and favorable evidence in Mr. Dorman's cases," the judge wrote in his ruling.
Dorman has been diagnosed with several mental disorders and has given conflicting stories in the case, which Hudson said made the remains the most critical evidence.
Because Dorman's attorney couldn't have independent tests run on the remains to confirm they belonged to Boxley and that she had been shot, Hudson said, prosecutors violated his right to examine all evidence against him.
Cline and officials with the Victim's Compensation Fund didn't respond Tuesday to requests for comment on the ruling, while Durham police declined to comment. A spokeswoman for the state Department of Health and Human Services, which oversees the State Medical Examiner's Office, said state law requires the office to release remains to family members once the investigation into a cause of death is finished.
Despite the dismissal of the murder charge, which the state has appealed, Dorman remains in custody. Hudson had asked that he be monitored to ensure that he doesn't pose a threat to himself or others.
Defense attorney Lawrence Campbell said he will ask during a hearing scheduled for Friday afternoon that Dorman be released.