Grand Jury to decide if 3 men are responsible for the death of a Wilm. officer

Reported by Laura Sinacori - bio|email
Posted by Debra Worley - email

WILMINGTON, NC (WECT) - Investigating officers presented their case about whether or not to indict three men involved in a chase when Officer Rich Matthews crashed his patrol car last month.

The Grand Jury did not make a decision Monday so they will meet again Tuesday.

According to District Attorney Ben David, it is not often these types of hearings take more than one day, but in this particular case there are several issues the panel must take into consideration.

On the morning of Feb. 18, Wilmington Police Officer Matthews died on duty while he was trying to assist another officer stop three men who are accused of throwing drugs out of an SUV.

40-year-old Anthony Pierce was driving the car and is charged with felony to elude arrest and possession with intent to sell and deliver marijuana.

Passengers Matthew Hendy, 26, and Eric Grant Smith, 25, are both charged with possession with marijuana

A Grand Jury is now deciding whether the three men should be charged for the officer's death.

"No one disputes a tragedy occurred," said David.  "The legal and factual issue is whether criminal charges are warranted in the facts of this case."

According to the district attorney, there are several issues for the Grand Jury to consider.

North Carolina law says: "reckless use of an automobile may establish malice for second degree murder", but Thom Goolsby says that's a grey area.

"Clearly there was reckless conduct," said Goolsby.  "When it comes to an officer responding in a whole other place not involved directly in the chase that's when it becomes a slippery slope."

A similar case happened in Bladen County in 2001 when a deputy was involved in a high speed chase and died after being thrown from the car.

The man who caused the chase was charged with second degree murder.  In that case, the deputy was directly behind the vehicle he was chasing.

"If you are in direct pursuit of course, but the further you get away from direct pursuit, the less of a nexus you have between the reasonable forseeability of the conduct and the relationship between of the conduct to the death," said Goolsby.

It's expected the Grand Jury will make a decision when they meet again Tuesday.  When a decision is reached, a 25-paged detailed briefing will also be released.

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