Local News

Former judge doesn't regret call for anti-gang laws

Posted August 18, 2008 4:20 p.m. EDT
Updated August 18, 2008 8:27 p.m. EDT

— A former District Court judge who made a high-profile appeal for anti-gang legislation five months ago said he is beginning to see some response to his plea.

Judge Craig Brown was setting bond for Laurence Alvin Lovette Jr., 17, of 1213 Shepherd St. in Durham, who is charged with murder in the Jan. 18 slaying of Duke graduate student Abhijit Mahato and is one of two men charged with killing Eve Carson, University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill student body president. Brown called for state legislators to immediately pass laws to curb gang activity.

"I respectfully and sincerely ask the governor to call a special session of the Legislature," Brown said during the March 14 court hearing. "I'm sending an SOS to Raleigh."

Less than two months later, he retired after almost a dozen years on the bench in Durham. He said he stepped down for medical reasons and wasn't forced out for being outspoken, but he admits his comments rankled people.

"I think a lot of people felt that I had overstepped my bounds, and I understand that," he said, but he added that hindsight hasn't made him regret his decision to speak out.

Brown said his frustration had boiled over after watching the gang problem grow in Durham over the years as legislation designed to fight gangs repeatedly stalled in the General Assembly.

Despite the fact that police said there's no evidence that Carson's slaying was gang-related, Brown used the media attention garnered by the case to make his point.

Gov. Mike Easley on Friday signed into law a bill that toughens penalties for crimes committed by gang members and makes recruiting people into a gang a crime in itself.

The Carson case also exposed problems with the state's probation system, and Brown said he already is seeing improvements to the way the system works with the judicial system.

"The left hand doesn't know what the right hand is doing," he said, noting judges sometimes had to make decisions on bonds and sentences without knowing if a defendant was already on probation.

Probation officials are now trying to make those records more available to judges, he said, and juvenile records are also becoming more available for judges to review when a defendant has been convicted of serious felonies as a juvenile.

The reforms are all a result of the Carson case, Brown said.

"The Eve Carson case, whether you like it or not, brought those issues to the forefront, and the system had no choice but to change as a result of it," he said.