News Roundup

This week North Carolina was in the national news after Governor Roy Cooper vetoed a bill that would have required sheriffs to cooperate with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement detainer requests.  The bill included a provision that would have made a sheriff’s refusal to cooperate with ICE a basis for removing the sheriff from office.  Several sheriffs around the state, including those in Buncombe, Mecklenburg, and Wake counties, have a policy of not honoring ICE detainer requests.  As this Charlotte Observer report indicates, political controversy over the legislation continues following the veto, with Cooper saying that it uses “fear to divide North Carolinians” and Republican lawmakers saying that Cooper irresponsibly vetoed a common sense bill.  Keep reading for more news.

Blackmon Exonerated.  The Charlotte Observer reports that yesterday a three-judge panel exonerated James Blackmon of the 1979 murder of Helena Payton at St. Augustine’s University in Raleigh.  As the Observer report explains, Payton’s death went unsolved until investigators received a tip that a mentally ill patient at Dorothea Dix Hospital had been talking about committing the murder.  Blackmon confessed in a series of interviews during which he wore a Superman cape, claimed to be able to cause earthquakes, and compared himself to Dracula.  Despite his confession, other evidence showed that Blackmon very likely was in New York at the time of the murder.  The proceedings followed an investigation into Blackmon’s conviction by the North Carolina Innocence Inquiry Commission.

Asheville Murder.  As WLOS reports, a particularly disturbing incident in Asheville over the weekend has become a murder case after the severely injured victim died yesterday.  In the early hours of Sunday morning, Larry Donnell Alston was set on fire and suffered severe burns.  He was transported to the Wake Forest Baptist Health Burn Center in Winston-Salem, but he died early Thursday morning.  The suspect in the case, Robert Charles Austin has been charged with first-degree murder.

Hate Mail.  Last week, several African American city leaders in Charlotte, including Mayor Vi Lyles, received threatening letters filled with racist language.   WCNC reports that the FBI has been asked to investigate the letters and that the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department is looking into the incident.

Prison for Cancer Treatment.  The Greensboro News & Record recently published an unusual story about a man who wants to go back to prison so that he can complete his cancer treatment.  John Earl Sturdivant disappeared from his drug trial in 1989 and was convicted despite his absence. Sentencing was delayed until Sturdivant could be located – that didn’t occur until Sturdivant turned himself in nearly 30 years later.  Sturdivant apparently was undergoing cancer treatment while he was serving his 35-year prison sentence, but the Court of Appeals granted him a new trial because his trial transcript had been improperly destroyed.  Last week Sturdivant seemingly entered into a plea agreement to serve 7 years in prison and, according to his attorney, “wants to go back . . . to finish his treatment.”

Transgender Inmate Moved.  WRAL reports that the Department of Public Safety recently moved a transgender inmate from an all-male prison to an all-female facility.  According to the report, Kanautica Zayre-Brown began a series of sex reassignment surgeries to transition from male to female in 2012.  In 2017, she was sentenced to prison for insurance fraud and other crimes.  She initially was held at Harnett Correctional Institution where she slept in an open dormitory with 37 men and shared community bathroom facilities.  Zayre-Brown now is at Anson Correctional Institution and released a statement thanking “her community for their support and DPS for coming through with their promise.”

Jail Suicide.  Following increased public attention towards jail supervision in the wake of Jeffrey Epstein’s suicide in a Manhattan jail last week, WLOS reports that an inmate at the Haywood County Detention Center committed suicide this week.  Zachary Nathaniel Lambright was found unresponsive at the detention center on Monday afternoon, just minutes after an officer had completed an observation round.

BOP Head Out.  In continuing fallout from Epstein’s suicide, on Monday Attorney General William Barr removed the acting director of the federal Bureau of Prisons.  Barr reassigned Hugh Hurwitz to be an assistant director in charge of the bureau’s reentry programs.  In that position he apparently will assist Barr in implementing the First Step Act.  Barr named Kathleen Hawk Sawyer as the new acting head of the Bureau of Prisons.

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