Response to ‘Families awaiting justice’ article

Published 12:15 am Sunday, September 13, 2015

In response to “Families Awaiting Justice:  Fifteen people in county jail charged with murder, waiting on trials”:

Since being elected District Attorney for Rowan County, I have never taken my responsibility to our community lightly, especially when it involves victims of violent crimes.  Our office continues to work closely with families of homicide victims who are significantly affected by the loss of their loved ones.

In an article published in the Salisbury Post on September 7, 2015, the reporter stated “there’s been no significant activity” or “little to no activity” on certain cases, when in fact, there are scheduled trial dates in some of these cases.  In addition, three murder defendants pled guilty to first degree murder and received life in prison without the possibility of parole in December 2014, February 2015 and March 2015.  One of those cases had been scheduled for trial this month.  All three of the murder cases were the result of domestic violence, which is an issue that continues to plague our community.

One of the main reasons for the delay in the disposition of criminal cases continues to be the NCSBI Crime Lab backlog, an issue widely known throughout the state.  The Crime Lab backlog can be attributed to a 2009 U.S. Supreme Court case that ruled defendants have the right to cross-examine crime lab analysts at trial.  Other reasons for the backlog at the Crime Lab include the volume of evidence that must be tested, along with employee attrition.

Our office’s ability to move cases through the criminal justice system is greatly affected because evidence from lab results at the Crime Lab can take up to 3 years to receive.  Murder cases, rape and sexual assault cases, drug cases, and DWI cases are often dependent upon testing completed by the NCSBI Crime Lab.

In 2014, I, along with other prosecutors, judges, NCSBI Crime Lab staff, and a lawyer with Indigent Defense Services, in conjunction with the UNC-Chapel Hill School of Government, met and recommended administrative solutions that may help to alleviate some of the Crime Lab backlog.  On September 8, 2015, a groundbreaking ceremony took place for the new Western Regional Crime Laboratory that is expected to open in 2017.

I have always made it my practice to return telephone calls and emails in a timely manner.  It is my hope that for future articles, The Salisbury Post will allow my office a reasonable opportunity to respond to an inquiry, especially for an article of this magnitude.  I know that The Post will continue to strive to publish fair, balanced, and accurate articles for the benefit of our community.

Brandy L. Cook

Rowan County District Attorney