Majority of local cases in national criminal database not flagged for extradition.
Authorities say extraditing suspects for many crimes is simply too expensive.
WILMINGTON, NC (WECT) -
Fraud, sex offenses, violent assaults: all crimes that allegedly happened here - yet in many cases, no one is answering for them.
In an eye opening investigation this year - USA Today reporters uncovered thousands of cases where all a criminal suspect had to do to evade prosecution was cross state lines. Some of those fugitives are accused of crimes right here in Wilmington.
It's something many of us assume about the criminal justice system. If there's a warrant out for your arrest, and you're caught, you'll have to answer for your crimes. But USA Today's peek into the NCIC system found that jurisdictions across the country - including New Hanover County - are declining to extradite suspects from other states.
In Wilmington, 93% of the cases entered into the national criminal database were not flagged for extradition. We asked District Attorney Ben David why.
He said it's a matter of money.
"If it's going to cost more to bring them back than is owed, we really have to consider whether that is judicially efficient," David explained.
Most of the local cases highlighted by USA today involved fraud. And while victims lost money, New Hanover County tax payers would be the ones paying to extradite criminal suspects from other states, and David wants to make sure the crime was significant enough to justify that.
"We will extradite from anywhere at any time if the crime is serious enough," he said.
David says for violent crimes and sex crimes, his policy is to extradite, but the USA Today article indicates even that is not always the case here. The DA's office says each case is different, but declined to provide examples of cases where they chose not to extradite.
The information obtained by USA Today is not available to the public in normal circumstances, so we can't confirm whether their data for Wilmington is accurate.
But we do know of one case where the DA won't extradite. We have been following Kelly Butler's story for over a year. She married Army Sgt. Timothy Pennock on Wrightsville Beach in May of 2012, only to find out a few months later that he was already married to another woman.
Wrightsville Beach police took out felony warrants for Pennock's arrest for bigamy after Butler showed detectives paperwork indicating he was married to multiple women at the same time. But by then, Pennock had moved to California, and District Attorney Ben David has declined to extradite him because of the expense.
Butler says the decision not to pursue the case has left her in legal limbo, unable to get an annulment. She also says it sends a bad message to would-be criminals everywhere: "Hey, do whatever you want. Just leave the state. We don't care."
Butler says her inability to get justice in this case goes against everything in her experience with law enforcement.
"I am the daughter of a police captain and a 911 dispatcher. I expect that if a crime is committed and I show them the evidence and everything, I expect justice to be done," she said.
Because the cost was a factor, Butler offered to pay all the extradition expenses so she could see justice, but David wouldn't allow it. He says it sets a bad precedent for those who can pay for justice, but Butler says we should be more concerned about the precedent of letting someone get away with a felony by simply crossing the state line.
While some think New Hanover County's extradition policy is too lax, it's much more aggressive than many other jurisdictions. For example, authorities in Philadelphia sometimes don't extradite for sexual assaults and homicides, even if the suspect is in custody just over the state line.