CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - A convicted felon could face murder charges for a shooting in which he's already been convicted. The victim died nearly 15 years after being shot and paralyzed.
John Lewis Southerland, 39, died last month as the result of medical complications from injuries he received after being shot in 1997, the Charlotte Mecklenburg Police Department said Tuesday.
Southerland was shot by 39-year-old Maurice Lacato Phifer, who at the time was the estranged husband of Southerland's girlfriend, police said.
The incident happened in the woman's apartment on Frontenac Avenue.
Phifer was arrested a day after the shooting and charged with Assault with a Deadly Weapon with Intent to Kill Inflicting Serious Injury.
He was convicted in 1999 and was released from prison in 2007.
Records from the NC Court of Appeals show much of the evidence in Phifer's case was destroyed upon conviction. That evidence includes videotaped police interviews, photographs, and witness statements.
"When evidence is destroyed, it becomes a serious complicating factor," said criminal defense attorney Eben Rawls.
He said the case could be difficult to prosecute also considering the passage of time.
Police have ruled Southerland's dead as a homicide. The Mecklenburg County District Attorney's Office is reviewing the case to determine if Phifer could face additional charges, including murder, police said.
According to North Carolina law, a defendant may be charged with murder for any unlawful, intentional act that results in a homicide, even after an extended period of time.
The DA's office must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Southerland death is directly related to being shot by Phifer, even after 14 and a half years, according to the CMPD.
The case will also be reviewed under the principles of double jeopardy since the defendant has already been tried and convicted for the shooting.
Rawls said double jeopardy may not apply to the case, considering different elements would have to be proved with a murder charge.