District Attorney working through backlog of 82 homicide cases pending trial

District Attorney working through backlog of 82 homicide cases pending trial
Published: Aug. 22, 2022 at 12:26 PM EDT
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NEW HANOVER & PENDER COUNTIES, N.C. (WECT) - It’s a busy job under the best of circumstances. But two-and-a-half years of disruptions to jury trials in North Carolina thanks to the pandemic created a backlog of homicide cases that District Attorney Ben David is doing his best to work through. At last count, between Pender and New Hanover Counties, there are 82 cases waiting to be tried involving people charged with killing someone else, be it though murder, involuntary manslaughter or vehicular homicide.

Remarkably under the circumstances, the cases aren’t particularly old. A jury finally got to hear the 2015 murder case against Antonio Beatty this month that had been ready to go to trial for years, but the defendant kept firing his attorneys. Then, COVID-19 created further delays. Beatty won a rare not guilty verdict from a New Hanover County jury, and the prosecution blamed the delays in part for losing the case.

“We say that cases are the opposite of a fine wine. They don’t get better with time. And so we would love to try some of these cases sooner and we’re putting resources in place to make sure that [happens],” David said. He noted that when a case takes too long to go trial, witnesses sometimes move away or their memories of the crime fades over time.

There are two cases waiting to be tried from 2018, the oldest of the remaining backlog. One of the 2018 cases, where Brett Matthews is facing felony death by motor vehicle charges, is set to go to trial this week. Matthews was arrested after allegedly hitting a man riding his bicycle near Mayfaire. William Batson, a 34-year-old from Wilmington, died in the collision.

The other 2018 case involves Jonathan Southers, who is charged with second degree murder in the April 2018 stabbing death of Yolanda Bentley. That case is scheduled to go to trial in November.

“During the pandemic, this district out of 42 [judicial districts] was number one in the state for the number of jury trials at the felony level, and we’re talking about more trials than Charlotte, more than Raleigh, more than Greensboro. And I’m not talking about per capita, I’m talking about total. So this there was a can do attitude in this district. And I give credit to the clerks, the judges, the defense bar, and yes, the men and women of this office, in addition to law enforcement to keep the courts running. So our backlog numbers are much, much better,” District Attorney Ben David said of the relative efficiency of court proceedings in this area.

“You will see that we have a very robust trial schedule over this next six to nine months that we’re projecting out in terms of murder, rape and armed robbery and serious violent criminals being tried. We’ve called for extra sessions,” David added. “What we’re prioritizing right now. I mean, I have 22 prosecutors, every single one of them has at least one murder trial assigned.”

Andrew Boyton is set to go to trial next month. He’s charged with first degree murder in the brutal stabbing of his roommate, Kim Bland, in 2019 at Mill Creek Apartments.

In Pender County, which is also part of David’s judicial district, Daniel Kempton is the next murder suspect scheduled for trial. He’s facing second degree murder charges for the July 2021 stabbing death of Edward Hicks in Burgaw.

“The Administrative Office of the Courts has authorized backlog positions in my office and we have hired into those positions. We have two prosecutors starting next month. New Hanover County actually gave us an extra position just to combat the gang violence. That has just gone up and running,” David said of his efforts to clear these cases.

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