News Roundup

Next door in South Carolina, disgraced personal injury attorney and part-time prosecutor Alex Murdaugh has been convicted of the murders of his wife and son. The case has been in the news partly because of what some see as the exotic lifestyle of the Murdaugh family, with the murders taking place on the family’s 1700 acre lowcountry hunting estate. (The property has recently been put up for sale and is under contract – you can see the listing here.) Murdaugh testified in his own defense, admitting that he regularly stole money from his clients and that he lied to police during the investigation of the crimes. Closing arguments took place on Wednesday and Thursday, with deliberations lasting under three hours on Thursday afternoon. The Associated Press covers the verdict here. NPR has a story here that addresses some of the major revelations of the trial. Keep reading for more news.

Murdaugh claimed that some of his behavior was the result of paranoia induced by opioid addiction. Whatever the merits of Murdaugh’s contention, this week brought a lot of news about our ongoing, and so far unsuccessful, state and national struggle against the opioid epidemic.

North Carolina overdose deaths continue to rise. Despite numerous attempts to combat the dangers of fentanyl, overdose deaths in North Carolina keep rising, year after year. The Daily Tar Heel reports here that “North Carolina saw a 22 percent increase in overdose deaths in 2021,” with official data confirming that “4,041 people died from an overdose, the highest-ever number of state overdose deaths in a single year.”

Attorney General seeking to form fentanyl unit. WLOS has this story about one possible new response to the crisis. Attorney General Josh Stein hopes to create a fentanyl unit within the Special Prosecutions and Law Enforcement Section of the Department of Justice. He would like the General Assembly to fund two to four prosecutors who will help District Attorneys handle large-scale fentanyl prosecutions, including wiretap investigations.

General Assembly considering new fentanyl penalties and other legal changes. As the General Assembly considers the Attorney General’s request, it is also evaluating other legislative initiatives to address overdose deaths. SB 189 would make second-degree murder by drug distribution a Class B1 felony rather than a Class B2; revise the death by distribution statute to streamline the elements and increase the penalty; and increase fines for certain drug trafficking offenses, among other things. HB 250 appears to contain a subset of the provisions in SB 189.

What happens to seized fentanyl? Continuing with the fentanyl theme, a reader (or viewer) asked WRAL what happens to seized fentanyl. The answer, detailed here, is that after any evidentiary use is complete, the substance is burned in an incinerator.

Medical marijuana coming to North Carolina? Moving from opioids to another controlled substance with potential medical uses, a medical marijuana bill has been introduced again this legislative session. As WRAL notes here, it has passed the Senate. Of course, medical marijuana passed the Senate last year too, but couldn’t clear the House. Proponents believe that the outcome this year may be different.

The movie Cocaine Bear has its roots in a real North Carolina story. Finally, the movie Cocaine Bear, currently in theaters with a 70% Tomatometer score, is very loosely based on real events that took place partly in our state in 1985. WRAL reports here that a man skydived to his death while carrying 77 pounds of cocaine, and that police investigating the matter encountered “a 175-lb. black bear dead near a duffel bag and some $2 million worth of cocaine that had been opened and scattered over a hillside.” It’s a sad, odd, and interesting story, perhaps more so than the Hollywood version now on the big screen.