Local News

DA Turns Teen Slaying Case Over to State

Posted February 12, 2007 11:59 a.m. EST
Updated February 12, 2007 6:43 p.m. EST

— New Hanover County District Attorney Ben David on Monday said that he would no longer pursue a criminal case against a former deputy charged with killing a Durham teen in a botched raid two months ago.

David said he would turn the investigation over to the state Attorney General's Office to avoid the appearance of a vendetta against the former deputy or a cover-up.

"My office does not have an actual conflict of interest in prosecuting this case. Rather, what has arisen over the past few weeks is the appearance of one," David said at a news conference Monday.

Peyton Strickland, 18, a Cape Fear Community College student from Durham, was shot to death at his Wilmington home on Dec. 1 by deputies serving arrest and search warrants. Strickland and two friends were charged with assaulting a University of North Carolina at Wilmington student in November 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. Nine heavily armed deputies accompanied UNC-W police to Strickland's home to serve the warrants.

Three deputies fired shots into the home, and evidence showed some shots were fired before Strickland opened the door. Strickland, who was unarmed, died of a gunshot wound to the head.

Cpl. Christopher Long, 34, was fired by the New Hanover County Sheriff's Office a week after the shooting and was later indicted on a charge of second-degree murder in connection with the shooting.

But the murder charge was dismissed a day after the indictment was returned. The foreman of the grand jury said he checked the wrong box on the indictment form and that members of the grand jury didn't find enough evidence to charge Long with murder.

David had said the case remained open against Long. He said his decision to turn the case over to state prosecutors isn't tied to the merits of the case.

"It is vital that everyone understand that my action today is neither an exoneration, nor is it a prelude to an imminent indictment or other charges," David said in a statement. "Since this case began, I have been very mindful of the need to bring in outside review of the facts and law to ensure integrity in this process."

David has met several times with members of the Attorney General's Office and had the State Bureau of Investigation review the shooting.

"Having presented this matter to the grand jury, I do not believe that it is appropriate that my office do so a second time," he said in the statement. "Some would see such an action as a vendetta against Mr. Long and, if the matter is not reconsidered, as a whitewash. Neither option will, in my opinion, serve the public interest or permit the judicial system to bring this case to a conclusion."

Attorney General Roy Cooper said in a statement that members of his office's Special Prosecutions Section would review the case file to determine if it should be presented to a grand jury again.

But Long's attorney said the case should have been dropped instead of transferred.

"Christopher Long has already been exonerated once -- loud, clear and unmistakebly by the grand jury," defense attorney Mike McGuiness said. "There is no case. There has never been a case."

Strickland's parents released a statement Monday thanking David for his work on the case.

"The importance of this case justifies the decision to have it handled by the Special Prosecutions Section of the N.C. Attorney General’s Office," the statement from Don and Kathy Strickland said. "Though difficult for our family, we intend to see this matter through in the hope that other families might be spared a similar tragedy."