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Judge Throws Out Raleigh Manslaughter Case

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RALEIGH — The case of a grocery store employee charged with the beating death of a suspected robber took another unusual twist Monday.

Judge E. Lynn Johnson dismissed involuntary manslaughter charges against Daniel Rodbourn, ruling the prosecution did not make a good enough case.

Johnson ruled that Rodbourn should not have been charged with involuntary manslaughter in the death of Jason Cort. Instead, he says the evidence points to the more serious charge of voluntary manslaughter.

Jurors in the trial are frustrated that a legal technicality took the case out of their hands, and the prosecutor was shocked by the defense tactics.

"I was very surprised by that motion," said prosecutor Craig Croom. "His motion was that we undercharged his client. I've never seen someone raise that motion."

Since a person can only be tried once for the same crime, Rodbourn is a free man. His conscience, though, is still wrestling with the death of Cort.

"I can't put it into words," he said, "how remorseful I am. This is not what I wanted. This is just...I can't express it."

For the first time, Rodbourn is speaking out about what he says happened May 9, 1998 in the parking lot of the Food Lion store on Avent Ferry Road.

"I never hit him until he came at me in a violent way. He was out of control, and I was scared for my life," Rodbourn told reporters.

Rodbourn was charged with involuntary manslaughter for hitting Cort with a branch after chasing him from the store into a nearby parking lot. Cort's injuries were not detected for several hours, when he lapsed into a coma and later died.

Rodbourn's attorney says his client was indicted on the wrong charge.

"I don't think it's a technicality," said Defense Attorney Richard Gammon. You can't charge someone with breaking and entering if in fact they committed rape, and that's what happened in this case."

Jason Cort's mother, Cheryl Cort, is not bitter about the decision. She says even though Rodbourn is free, the judge's words gave her solace.

"I felt like I could walk out of there with at least knowing in my heart and mind that Daniel Rodbourn was wrong and he did go over the line," she says.

Cort hopes this is a wake up call. She hopes Rodbourn will find peace in his life and maybe even reflect upon the life of her son.

For both the Cort family and Rodbourn's family, the last year has been a nightmare. Now, Rodbourn would like to go back to school.

Cheryl Cort is concerned about violent youth and would like to continue to educate people about this problem.

This case has a long history:
  • The incident happened May 9, 1998.
  • In July and again in August, the grand jury decided not to file voluntary manslaughter charges against Rodbourn.
  • In September, the grand jury handed down a lesser charge of involuntary manslaughter.With Monday's ruling to drop the charges, a re-trial would violate the double jeopardy rule. That means Rodbourn cannot be tried again in criminal court.
  • He could face a civil lawsuit from Jason Cort's family.

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    Amanda Lamb, Reporter
    Gil Hollingsworth, Photographer
    Michelle Singer, Web Editor

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