Local News

State criticizes judge for tossing Durham murder case

Posted June 1, 2012 2:18 p.m. EDT

— State attorneys say a Superior Court judge abused his discretion last year by dismissing a murder case against a man found to be carrying a woman's remains in his backpack.

Judge Orlando Hudson threw out the charges against Michael Dorman last August, ruling that Durham County prosecutors, police and state agents conspired to destroy key evidence, depriving Dorman of his right to a fair trial.

In appealing the dismissal, the state Attorney General's Office said many of Hudson's factual findings weren't supported by the evidence and that some "without any support, improperly and incorrectly impugn the professional reputations of prosecutors, Office of the (Chief) Medical Examiner, an associate medical examiner, police officers, the Durham Police Department and Victim Compensation Services."

Dorman, 34, was arrested in July 2010 after one of his friends told authorities that Dorman admitted to killing a prostitute and had 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 then-Durham County District Attorney Tracey 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.

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, preventing the defense from conducting its own tests on the remains.

The state's appeal, which was filed in late April, notes that there was no evidence that Cline acted in bad faith and encouraged Boxley's family to cremate her remains.

"Dismissing a murder charge is an abuse of discretion because it is not the result of a reasoned decision and because it was based on a misapprehension of law," the state concludes in its appeal.

Despite the dismissal of the murder charge, Dorman remains in custody. Hudson had asked that he be monitored to ensure that he doesn't pose a threat to himself or others.

Hudson's ruling in the case helped escalate a simmering feud between Cline and Hudson and prompted the prosecutor to file several motions accusing the judge of bias and asking him to be removed from all criminal cases in Durham County.

The motions later led to Cline being removed from office, and the North Carolina State Bar is now seeking to strip her of her law license.