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Murder status hearings thwarted by pretrial delays and absent attorneys

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By Tyler Stocks
The Daily Reflector

Friday, February 8, 2019

More than a dozen murder status hearings were on the docket on Thursday afternoon at the Pitt County Detention Center, and not one was heard. 

Murder status hearings are updates on murder cases to determine whether or not the cases are ready to go to trial and if not, what factors are delaying their progress.

One such case cases involves a 20-year-old Ayden man accused of killing his elderly neighbor with a blunt object and then torching her house — killing several cats and dogs — on April 2 of last year. 

Nathan Wesley Boseman of 1641 W. Hanrahan Road, is accused of killing his neighbor Violet Webb, 66, and setting her home on fire. 

Another case concerns Dibon Jad Toone, 42, a father accused of beating his wife and children to death with a hammer in 2016. Five-year-old Myona Toone, 7-year-old Ayona Toone, and 11-year-old Bryanna Nicole Carr were found beaten to death in one bedroom, and their mother, 32-year-old Garlette Howard, was found beaten to death in a bed in another bedroom at their apartment at 1101 Grovemont Drive, according to the reports issued by the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner.

Cases such as these draw attention from the public and the media, and tracking their progression is a logical step. But, as evidenced on Thursday, status hearings do not always achieve this goal.

Superior Court Judge Jeffery Foster was visibly frustrated as several attorneys were not present for the hearings. He also said that he wanted the murder status hearings to be more efficient and that they needed to “have meat to them”.

Pitt County District Attorney Faris Dixon said common issues that stall status hearings include a delay in evidence processing, gathering witnesses for trial and motions that need to be addressed.

“These cases take longer than other cases to get set up for trial,” Dixon said. “We want to make sure we're getting the evidence we’re required to, and getting that over to the defense.”

Dixon said that having a backlog of old murder cases is not a new issue, and it is something that his office is hoping to address. The average time before a murder case goes to trial is anywhere between two and four years and sometimes, in rare instances, even longer, he said. 

“The DA’s office will be scheduling defense attorney meetings as a group to (discuss) when can we talk about these cases in particular, so that we can hammer out what the issues are,” he said, “so that by time we get to the court, both sides are prepared and we both know what we need to get done.”

“We’ll be having a meeting with the defense bar later this month,” Dixon said.

The efficiency of murder status hearings in Pitt County varies, Dixon said,  

“(The hearings) worked fairly well back when Judge (Rusty) Duke started the process, but over time, it sort of broke down,” Dixon said.  

Dixon said one commonality in a lot of murder cases is that the case may stay in District Court for months before being sent to Superior Court, where final trial preparations are made.   

“(Murder cases) should be in District Court for a while because we’ll be processing the evidence, making sure we have all the witnesses in place and typically in a murder cases, you’re also going to have a lot of expert witnesses in place,” he said. “That will take a while and eventually the case will be indicted in Superior Court.

“Once it gets to Superior Court, the Superior Court judges just want to make sure that since we’re up here (that) we’re much closer to the trial itself,” Dixon said.  

Foster used Thursday’s session to handle plea deals, and urged defense attorneys and the DAs office to work together to get murder status hearings back to being a more efficient process.  

Dixon said murder status hearings are important to keep judges up to date.

“Typically what they’re doing is making sure the process is moving along,” he said. Judges need to make sures witness are lined up, tests have come back and all is ready for the trial.

“Essentially there will be several murder status hearings — sort of weigh stations along the way to make sure everything is prepared,” Dixon said.

Contact Tyler Stocks at tstocks@reflector.com or 252-329-9566.