Local News

State AG to appeal dismissal of bones in backpack case

Posted August 17, 2011 2:59 p.m. EDT
Updated August 17, 2011 6:48 p.m. EDT

— The state Attorney General's office said Wednesday it will appeal a judge's dismissal of 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.

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.

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.

Defense attorney Lawrence Campbell asked that the charges against Dorman be dismissed because critical evidence in the case had been destroyed.

Durham County District Attorney Tracey 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.

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.

North Carolina Central University law professor Irv Joyner says he believes the state statute should be clear that remains shouldn't be released until at least the trial is over. He believes the ruling will set a precedent in at least one way.

"A lot of defense attorneys will now routinely file these motions to preserve evidence, because they see that the Durham Police Department and the Durham County District Attorney's Office have been slack," Joyner said.

Duke University law professor James Coleman said he was surprised the state would release a body before determining the cause of death and without giving the defendant an opportunity to review the findings and examine the remains. 

"I don't thinnk this requires any new law. This just seems like an error on the part of whoever released the body. At a minimum, under the circumstances, I would have asked the court for permission to release the body, giving notice to the defendant," Coleman said. 

The state medical examiner did not return calls for comment Wednesday.

Cline said Wednesday that she is not able to discuss the case because it is on appeal. 

"Our hopes are that the North Carolina Court of Appeals will give us the opportunity to seek justice for this victim," she said. 

A judge ordered that Dorman be involuntarily committed. He was transported to an area mental health facility for an evaluation on Wednesday. 

In general, the evaluation process can take up to 2 weeks. If Dorman is deemed in a sound mental state, he will be released.