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Cary Family Pushing For Background Checks At UNC System Schools

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RALEIGH, N.C. — A murder at an area college is still fresh in a local family's mind as the victim's family pushes a law to make sure university students don't get admitted without criminal background checks.

In May 2004, Jessica Faulkner of Cary was raped and killed at the hands of classmate Curtis Dixon, investigators believe.

Curtis Dixon has been charged with Faulkner's death. Dixon did not reveal his criminal history when he applied for admission.

According to a UNC-system study, 250,000 students were in the system from 2001 to 2004.

Of those, 21 students with a criminal history committed crimes on campus. More than half -- 13 of them -- never told the university about their previous run-ins with the law.

Faulkner's family now backs an effort to make sure no one slips through the cracks.

"It's an ongoing travesty we all got a life sentence that day as well," says Jessica's father, John Faulkner.

Police say Jessica was killed at UNC-Wilmington by a classmate. Her family says her murder could have been prevented if the UNC System required background checks on all incoming students.

"This is something that should have been done all along. They are asking these questions and thinking the students are going to be honest about their backgrounds and obviously its not true," says Desiree Randolph, the victim's mother. "He shouldn't have been there."

State Sen. Neal Hunt is now proposing legislation to make background checks mandatory. The $20 cost would be paid for by the prospective student. If UNC admissions staff discovered a potential problem, administrators could require the student to submit fingerprints, too.

"All we want administrators to do is have facts before them to make reasonable decisions. We don't want our children to be assaulted and murdered while they are in school," Hunt said.

"I don't think this is the best way," says State Sen. Janet Cowell. She lauds the effort to keep state campuses safe, but thinks Hunt's measure is too broad and not the most effective way to weed out troubled students. The $20 fee doesn't bother her, however.

"To me if you can get a really good school record of the kids suspended, expelled or other issue like being enrolled in other schools and dropped out, that would be a much better predictor," Cowell said.

Jessica's family disagrees and says the background check could have prevented the Faulkner and Dixon from ever crossing paths.

"Our daughter would never have met him and our daughter would have been on to her next achievements and goals," John Faulkner said.

After Faulkner and another student's death, a UNC task force studied the idea of mandatory background checks but in the end did not recommend them. Members recommended using a more targeted approach when information on the application seems suspect.

The UNC System is not taking a position on this proposed legislation.

Curtis Dixon committed suicide before his case ever went to trial. Faulkner's family is suing UNC for negligence because he was allowed to enroll after being kicked out of other schools in the system.

The family is also suing Dixon's father. Prosecutors say James Dixon III helped his son lie on his college application. Dixon III was an executive assistant to the Chancellor of UNC-Charlotte at the time.

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