The impact of homicides on the DA's office, court system

CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - Assistant district attorneys in Charlotte never travel light. They head to court with cases which are sometimes several thousand pages deep.

As the homicide rate surges, they are managing more cases and meeting more families thrown into grief.

"This is a big file," said Assistant District Attorney Anna Greene who pointed out large binders in her office uptown. They were filled with reams of paper and dozens of discs about suspects and victims.

"When you first start interacting with a family, we buy all in to helping them through this process," said Greene.

It's their job to understand victim, suspect, and circumstance deeply; then apply the law evenly. No matter how many cases come through the door, they must be fair, consistent, and efficiently detail driven.

Part of the checks and balances involves a monthly roundtable of police officers and prosecutors. It started several years ago when the homicide rate was lower. The collaboration helps even more now with a growing caseload.

"We did that because we wanted to make sure a person committing the same crime with the same type of evidence is treated fairly whoever they are," said homicide team leader Bill Stetzer. "We also did that because it's a way to manage cases coming in the door … so we can track our results as we go," Stetzer added.

He also lends perspective to the increase in deadly violence. "Our highest year in Mecklenburg County history was 129 murders in 1993," he said, pointing out that the homicide rate now is still lower.

Stetzer says the point doesn't diminish problem. Killings are up and each life lost is tragic. "Things go from anger to death much faster than they should and I think that a part of it," he said.

Some weeks are worse than others.

"Just last week I was called out to four different homicide scenes," said homicide team member Spencer Merriweather. "When you do something like that you are meeting people at the beginning of a truly life-long tragedy."

One of Merriweather's cases involved Justin Reid, who was murdered during a robbery two years ago. His killer just started a 30-year prison sentence.

After court, Merriweather and the family started to debrief in private. "Not very long after that we heard a knock on the door. We were told by courthouse staff that the mother of the defendant …   wanted to ask permission to apologize on behalf of the family," said Merriweather.

He said Reid's family welcomed the mother and surrounded her with hugs.

"We had to relieve ourselves of that resentment and anger, of that burden and not be victimized twice," said Ollie Reid, who was Justin's uncle. "Like we told him, not everyone is your friend. The people he associated with, the things he did were part of the outcome," said Reid, about the nephew who was like a son.

Members of the homicide team say their work is their passion. The reward is watching how some families push through the anger and loss.

"There's never been a moment when that hasn't astounded me," said assistant district attorney Greene.

They see it time and time again.

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