Local News

Grand Jury: Deputy's Indictment in Teen's Slaying a Mistake

Posted December 12, 2006 6:17 p.m. EST
Updated December 13, 2006 12:10 a.m. EST

— A day after authorities announced that a former New Hanover County deputy had been indicted in the shooting death of a Durham teen during a raid on a Wilmington home, members of the grand jury now say the indictment was a mistake.

The grand jury never intended to charge Cpl. Christopher Long with second-degree murder, but the foreman testified in court Tuesday that he inadvertently marked the bill of indictment improperly.

After the foreman's admission, Judge Ernest B. Fullwood dismissed the indictment.

There was no word Tuesday evening on whether New Hanover County District Attorney Ben David would bring the case back before a new grand jury next year. In a statement, however, David said he would be meeting with senior members of the state Attorney General's Office in Raleigh on Wednesday to evaluate all options.

Peyton Strickland, 18, a Cape Fear Community College student from Durham, was shot to death Dec. 1 at his Wilmington home by deputies serving arrest and search warrants. Strickland and two friends were charged with assaulting a University of North Carolina at Wilmington student last month and stealing two PlayStation 3 consoles from him.

UNC-W police asked for support from the New Hanover County Sheriff's Office during the arrests of the suspects in the case because of the potential that they were armed and dangerous, authorities said. Strickland had an earlier arrest on a felony assault charge.

Nine heavily armed deputies accompanied UNC-W police to Strickland's home to serve the warrants. Three deputies fired shots into the home, and sources close to the case said they believe several shots were fired before Strickland opened the door.

Long, 34, told investigators he mistook the sound of a battering ram officers were used to break open the front door to the house as gunfire.

Strickland, who was unarmed, died of a gunshot wound to the head.

Don and Kathy Strickland issued a statement Tuesday afternoon calling the latest twist in their son's death "bizarre."

"How can an indictment one day not be an indictment the next? How could this happen?," the statement said. "We are upset, confused and searching for answers."

The family demanded that the judge presiding over the grand jury hold an inquiry into the issue and make the results public.

"If it shows that anyone even attempted to influence the grand jury, we trust charges of obstructing justice will be filed," the statement said.

Michael McGuinness, Long’s attorney, said he was relieved.

“He's a gentleman who had to go home last night under a cloud of falsely being accused of a murder charge,” McGuinness said of his client. He also said he had questioned the severity of the charge from the beginning, saying also that the shooting was a tragedy, but not a crime.

“We believe that Chris's law-enforcement conduct was consistent with his training and consistent with the law. He acted responsibly and properly,” McGuinness said.

The New Hanover County Sheriff's Office fired Long a week after the shooting.

Two other deputies -- Detective Larry Robinson, 34, and Sgt. Greg Johnson, 39 -- were placed on administrative leave a week ago pending the results of investigations by the State Bureau of Investigation and the New Hanover County Sheriff's Office. They were reinstated Monday after being cleared of wrongdoing in the case.

Ryan David Mills, 20, of Durham, and Braden Delaney Riley, 21, of Apex, have been charged with armed robbery, assault with a deadly weapon and breaking and entering a motor vehicle in connection with the alleged PlayStation robbery, according to warrants.