CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - McCrae Dowless made his first appearance in court Tuesday morning, in a proceeding that took place without any public notice.
Dowless was indicted by a Wake County grand jury last week on multiple felony charges, including possession of an absentee ballot, obstruction of justice and conspiracy to obstruct justice.
He was arrested last Wednesday, taken to the Wake County jail and held overnight before posting a $30,000 bond.
In announcing his arrest, Wake County District Attorney Lorrin Freeman--who is prosecuting the case after Bladen County District Attorney Jon David recused himself--said his first appearance would take place March 25, 2019.
But Dowless was told to appear before a judge on Tuesday, March 5 when he was released from jail.
A WBTV reporter roamed the halls of the Wake County courthouse on Tuesday morning, trying to determine whether Dowless did, in fact, have court that morning and, if so, where the hearing would take place.
In an email late Tuesday, Freeman said Dowless and his attorney waited in a room inside the District Attorney’s Office before he was escorted to a courtroom where a Superior Court judge was presiding over cases for individuals accused of violating probation.
The hearing took minutes and was over before any reporter--including the WBTV crew who was already at the courthouse looking for the hearing--could enter the courtroom to observe the proceeding.
Dowless and his attorney were then taken to a back hallway after the hearing, Freeman said, before he was escorted back through the public courthouse hallway, Freeman said.
Freeman released a statement detailing Dowless’ unexpected court appearance Tuesday afternoon following an inquiry from WBTV.
“Mr. Dowless had been scheduled by the District Attorney’s Office to appear in Superior Court on the March 25th Motions and Arraignment calendar,” Freeman said. “Because Mr. Dowless and his attorney had traveled to Wake County based on incorrect information provided to him, District Attorney Lorrin Freeman proceeded with Mr. Dowless’ first appearance in Superior Court in front of Judge Collins in Courtroom 402.”
At the hearing, Cynthia Singletary, an attorney from Bladen County who had acted as Dowless’ attorney prior to the criminal charges, entered a limited notice of appearance on Dowless’ behalf.
Separately on Tuesday, Freeman met with staff from the North Carolina State Board of Elections.
NCSBE Director Kim Strach and Chief Investigator Joan Fleming met with Freeman late Tuesday morning, less than an hour after Dowless appeared in court.
In her release Tuesday, Freeman said Dowless’ case has been taken off the calendar while the investigation into the 9th Congressional District voting irregularities continues.
This article has been updated to correct an earlier sentence that said Dowless was taken through a back hallway to his court appearance. That is incorrect. Instead, he was held in a back hallway with his attorney temporarily after the hearing concluded.