Judge: Man Charged in Sex Case Denied Speedy Trial
A Moore County man’s years fighting a child rape charge ended Thursday morning in Superior Court when a judge ruled the state violated his right to a speedy trial.
The case against Melvin King had wound its way through various courts and from desk to desk for years.
On July 25, 2005, a family member of King’s reported to the Department of Social Services that she had been raped on March 10, 1996, when she was 7 years old, according to court documents. King was indicted Sept. 12, 2005, for first-degree rape.
The Pilot has a policy in which it does not identify the victims of sexual assault.
King hired the Pinehurst firm Van Camp, Meacham and Newman, and Eddie Meacham made his first appearance to represent him in court that October, nearly seven years to the day before this hearing.
“For the following three years, the state failed to act in any way on the case,” Meacham said in a motion to dismiss based on the state violating King’s right to a speedy trial. Sherrie Lawrence, a lawyer from the office of Attorney General Roy Cooper, came down from Raleigh to oppose the motion.
Following two days of hearing evidence — and another morning of argument from both sides — Senior Resident Superior Court Judge James M. Webb ruled for King.
A lot happened over the course of the seven intervening years. Moore County got its own prosecutorial district, splitting off from a previous three-county district under District Attorney Garland Yates. Maureen Krueger became Moore County’s first DA. Because King’s daughter-in-law Millie King works in Krueger’s office, the case was considered a “conflict” that Krueger’s office could not prosecute. State Attorney General Roy Cooper’s office took over the case.
The case turned on an odd axis. The victim’s statements came after she said she had “recovered” her “memory” of the alleged rape following a counseling session. Previous state case law said courts “may not proceed with evidence of her alleged repressed memories of childhood sexual abuse without accompanying expert testimony on the phenomenon of memory repression.”
In April 2010, Superior Court Judge John O. Craig III, after hearing testimony on “repressed memory” from two Harvard psychiatrists, barred the testimony as more prejudicial than probative.
Prosecutor Laura Parker appealed, and it went all the way to the state Supreme Court. Justices there affirmed Craig, but overturned part of the earlier case law. They said the alleged victim could tell her story in court as long as the question of “repressed memory” did not come up.
Meacham, assisted by Patrick Mincey, who’d argued before the Supreme Court, argued that King had been denied his right to “a speedy and public trial” as guaranteed by the Sixth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution of North Carolina.
Webb asked defense attorneys why this was a “conflict” case at all, citing a number of districts, all with many cases and many office workers whose relatives and in-laws might someday be charged.
Meacham said he’d never thought it was a conflict case. That meant delay, finding a prosecutor, setting a court date, supplying discovery materials. Then there was the Craig hearing, the prosecution appealing it and losing in the state Court of Appeals, and later in the state Supreme Court.
Webb had had enough.
“From the passing of 16 years, six months and three days from the date of the alleged offense, and the passing of seven years and one day from the return of the first true bill of indictment, and four years, nine days pre-indictment delay of the three additional indictments, as well as additional findings of fact to be found by this court,” the judge said, “the defendant’s constitutional and statutory rights to a speedy trial have been violated.”
Webb dismissed all charges against King effective immediately.
Contact John Chappell at (910) 783-5841 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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