News Roundup

Published for NC Criminal Law on November 19, 2021.

Last September, Henderson County Sheriff’s Deputy Ryan Hendrix was killed in the line of duty after being shot while responding to the scene of a car break-in that had escalated to a gun fight.  Earlier this year, the Henderson County Law Enforcement Center was renamed in his honor as the Deputy Ryan P. Hendrix Law Enforcement Center.  WLOS reports that during a ceremony at a Henderson County Commissioner’s meeting on Wednesday, the county presented Hendrix’s parents with his service weapon, an American flag that flew during his funeral, and the Fraternal Order of Police Supreme Sacrifice Medal of Honor.  Keep reading for more news.

Courtroom Shooting.  In an interview this week District Court Judge Caroline Burnette told WRAL that she believes that a bailiff and a Roxboro police officer testifying in a criminal trial saved her life and the lives of others in the courtroom when the defendant, Christopher Thomas Vaughn, attempted to attack Burnette and gained control of bailiff J.R. Ray’s pistol as Ray fought with Vaughn.  When Vaughn got Ray’s pistol, the testifying officer, Trey Wright, fatally shot Vaughn.  Judge Burnette credited Ray with saving her life and Wright with saving the lives of the other people who were in the courtroom at the time.  The SBI is investigating the incident.

Barn Burnings.  The News Roundup previously noted a series of barn fires in Buncombe County that were suspected to have been intentionally set and had prompted Farm Bureau to offer a $5,000 reward for information.  WLOS reported this week that three people have been charged with various burning offenses in connection with the fires.

APD.  Another report from WLOS says that the Asheville Police Department has requested proposals from professional recruitment firms about developing a plan to help the department attract new officers.  An APD captain told WLOS that the department’s rate of loss of officers is among the highest in the nation.  The department said earlier this year that it would not immediately respond to certain lower-level crimes so that it could focus limited staffing on more serious offenses.

Jones.  As The Oklahoman reports, supporters of Julius Jones celebrated this week when Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt commuted Jones’s death sentence to life in prison without parole hours before Jones was scheduled to be executed.  Jones was convicted of murdering Paul Howell in 2002 but has maintained his innocence and was the subject of a 2018 documentary on ABC.  A parole board had recommended that Stitt commute Jones’s sentence by a 3-1 vote.

Malcolm X Exonerations.  The New York Times reports that two men convicted of murdering Malcolm X in 1965, Muhammad A. Aziz and Khalil Islam, were exonerated on Thursday in a court hearing in New York.  Aziz and Islam had been convicted without any physical evidence connecting them to the murder.  Speaking at the hearing, Aziz said that the convictions were a result of a corrupt process and the presiding judge characterized them as serious miscarriages of justice.

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Topics - Courts and Judicial Administration