Editorial: Frustrating end to case

Published 12:00 am Thursday, January 17, 2008

Charging Reginald Weeks Jr. with first-degree murder and rape in the death of his stepdaughter was easy compared to the job District Attorney Bill Kenerly faced in this case: proving Weeks’ guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.
He probably is as frustrated with the results as the victim’s family.
In an arrangement being debated all over the county, Kenerly accepted an Alford plea from Weeks ó a plea that lets Weeks avoid pleading guilty while still accepting a prison term. After spending most of the past two years in jail, he faces seven to eight more years behind bars.
It hardly seems fair, considering the brutal stabbing death 18-year-old Brittany Loritts suffered ó and all the unknown circumstances that led up to it. Brittany’s mother hired her own lawyer and never made a statement to the district attorney, despite requests to do so. A lot of unanswered questions linger over this case.
In an ideal world, Kenerly would have pushed for first-degree murder anyway. But the legal system does not operate in such a world, and Kenerly knows that better than anyone. Unpredictable jurors, inconsistent witnesses and other factors can thwart the prosecution. With the mother’s lack of cooperation and an absence of physical evidence ó and plenty of experience with Rowan County juries ó Kenerly agreed to the plea rather than risk a possible verdict of not guilty.
Brittany’s father and other relatives are upset, as they should be. They were hoping for an eye for an eye, or at least a life sentence. Murder and compromise don’t go together. The family can be mad at Kenerly all they want, but they should also be angry about the circumstances that painted the district attorney into this uncomfortable corner ó a meticulous murderer who left no DNA behind and the lack of witnesses.
Often cases that look like a slam dunks to the public after reading a few details in the newspaper are not. Case in point: Billy Cleveland, the man who admitted shooting his wife three times as she lay in a bathtub. It looked like a clear-cut case of first-degree murder. Kenerly sought the death penalty, initially, but had to drop that after potential jurors debated the possible sentence in the jury assembly room. Ultimately, the jury found Cleveland guilty of only second-degree murder. The judge gave that killer the stiffest sentence possible, 20 to 25 years.
Under this deal, Weeks gets 109 to 140 months, with some two years already served. That’s similar to the second-degree murder sentence given last week to Christopher Crocker who, at age 15, caused a fatal accident that killed a Rowan County woman. These crimes don’t seem on par with each other, but such is the world of justice.