Local News

Murder charge filed before probation case heard

Posted May 14, 2008 7:00 p.m. EDT
Updated May 14, 2008 8:32 p.m. EDT

— A Durham man arrested Wednesday in an April slaying is the latest person to be charged with murder while on probation for earlier offenses.

Jonathan Herrera, 22, of 319 Gray Ave., was charged in the April 19 death of 22-year-old Joel Perez, who was shot in the head in a parking lot on Welch Place.

On April 2, Herrera was charged with violating his probation from a 2006 drug case. His hearing has been scheduled for June 6.

According to court documents, he tested positive for marijuana, failed to make payments, failed to provide a change of address and failed to complete a drug program.

On top of that, he was convicted in Granville County last November of misdemeanor larceny and possession of stolen goods. The judge in the case sentenced him to more probation.

Efforts to revoke Herrera's probation began in February, but Durham probation officers said it took months to find him.

Herrera's family disputed that claim, saying he had a hard time reaching probation officers.

"He was never on the run. I don't know why they would say something like that," said his stepmother, Carol Sanchez.

Probation officials said they wanted to review Herrera's file before commenting on the case.

State probation officials have been trying to overhaul the system in the wake of the March slaying of Eve Carson, the student body president at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. The two suspects indicted in her death, Demario James Atwater, 21, and Laurence Alvin Lovette Jr., 17, had been charged with other crimes while on probation but were never jailed for violating the conditions of probation.

At least three top managers in the Wake County probation office have since been reassigned, and several employees in the Durham County office have left or been reassigned.

The National Institute of Corrections, a federal agency in the Department of Justice, has agreed to provide a team to look at case management, staffing levels, employee training and other areas of concern.

Sanchez said she doesn't believe Herrera had anything to do with Perez's death.

"I know he's had his trouble in the past, but he was doing good. He has a 3-year-old baby, and he was trying to stay out of trouble," she said.

Durham County's incoming district attorney said cases like Herrera's raise questions about the criminal justice system.

"I can't speak directly about this case because it's pending, but I would say it's frustrating for the entire system to have a person who's already in the system arrested for a violent offense, murder in particular, " said Tracey Cline, who last week won the Democratic primary and will run unopposed in the November general election.

Still, Cline said, the court system has reason to try probation over prison.

"During the process while someone is on probation, you're trying to determine whether he can reform himself," she said.