Dorman pleads guilty to voluntary manslaughter
Michael Dorman, who handed over a backpack full of human bones to a friend three years ago, pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter in the death of Lakeia Boxley on Friday in Durham County Court.
Superior Court Judge Orlando Hudson, who once dismissed a first-degree murder charge against Dorman saying that the state engaged in a conspiracy to destroy evidence, sentenced Dorman to five years and one month to six years and 11 months in prison, with credit for just over three years he has spent in custody since his arrest in 2010.
The case became famous because the decision in that case and other cases by Hudson led then-District Attorney Tracey Cline to write motions accusing Hudson of being biased and corrupt. During a special proceeding, Cline was removed from her position as district attorney because of the public accusations she made against Hudson.
The N.C. Court of Appeals overturned Hudson's decision on Dorman's case and sent it back to Durham County. The district attorney and public defender's office reached a plea agreement that called for Dorman to plead guilty, but not admit his guilt, to voluntary manslaughter in the death of Boxley in 2008.
Dorman read a short statement during Friday's hearing to say why he was pleading guilty instead of taking the case to trial.
"I am pleading guilty out of fear I will not get a biased- and prejudiced-free trial," he said. "It is in my best interest to accept this plea."
Assistant District Attorney Roger Echols told Hudson that in July 2010 Dorman handed over a backpack with human remains in it to a friend and asked the friend to get rid of them so no one would ever find them.
The friend told law enforcement officers that Dorman told him that when he was living in a rough area of Durham, he knew a woman whom he gave $20 to buy crack but then she refused to have sex with him, Echols said.
The informant told police that Dorman said he put a shotgun to the woman's head and it accidentally went off, Echols said. The shotgun blast did not immediately kill her, so he choked her, the informant said, according to Echols.
As Echols told the story in the courtroom, Boxley's sister, Latifah White, sobbed and got up and left the courtroom, leaving behind an urn that apparently held the ashes of her sister.
The Durham Police Department began investigating the case and used X-rays and dental records to identify the remains as Boxley's, Echols said.
Dorman was arrested and interviewed, and he admitted to a number of things that the informant told police about paying a woman $20 for sex and her refusal to have sex with him, but he denied killing her, Echols said.
Durham County Public Defender Lawrence Campbell said initially Dorman was charged with concealment of human remains, which was the appropriate charge, but later police charged him with first-degree murder.
That caused the case to "crash and burn," Campbell said.
Campbell then went through a series of facts related to his case that he said showed the state did not have evidence that Dorman committed a murder.
The state allowed and assisted in the destruction of the remains before the defense was able to conduct any tests on them, Campbell said.
That destruction occurred when the Medical Examiner's Office released the bones to White, who had them cremated.
The state lost a tape-recorded conversation between the informant and Dorman for two years, Campbell said. Since it was located, the state has not performed any tests on it to determine if it was the original recording, plus the tape was completely unintelligible, he said.
The state never investigated the alleged crime scene, and two of its key witnesses were not credible, he said.
"The state cannot prove who this woman was, where the body was found, where the person was murdered ...," Campbell said.
Echols then read letters from the sister and nephew of Boxley.
Kenyon Boxley wrote that he missed his aunt who gave him everlasting love.
"She wasn't perfect, but she was perfect to me," he said in the letter.
White's letter said she believed Dorman should be sentenced to life in prison. The letter called Dorman cowardly and asked Dorman if he gave Boxley time to pray before he killed her.
"What hurts the worst is you kept her in a book bag while we were looking for her," the letter said. "I hope you see her in your sleep. I hope she haunts you for the rest of your life."
Both attorneys and Hudson agreed that mental health evaluations showed that Dorman had substantial mental health issues and needed to be treated for them while he is in prison.
When he sentenced Dorman, Hudson ordered that he receive mental health treatment while he is incarcerated.