Murder charge dropped in Durham girl's death

Apr. 01, 2014 @ 05:29 PM

Prosecutors have dropped a murder charge against one of two men accused of killing a 13-year-old Durham girl during a drive-by shooting.

Durham County District Attorney Leon Stanback said his office dismissed the charge against Brandon Shamar Townsend, 21, because he hadn’t received DNA lab results from the State Bureau of Investigation, and for other reasons he didn’t specify.

“We had many problems with that case,” Stanback said. “And in all fairness to the crime lab, I have an excellent relationship with Judge [Joseph] John [the lab’s director]. He always tries to comply with our requests and has done so as promptly as he could with the resources he’s given by the Legislature.”

Stanback said charges against Townsend could be reinstated if the DNA lab results incriminate him.

“If DNA evidence comes back and it implicates him in any way, we’d have to reconsider our position and may in fact refile the charges,” Stanback said.

Townsend had been held in the Durham County Jail for almost two years in the death of 13-year-old Shakanah China. He was released Monday after the murder charge was dropped.

Shakanah was shot May 10, 2011, in what Durham police said was crossfire in gang warfare near her home at Atka Court Apartments in East Durham. The teen was playing with her younger brother and sister and texting on her new cell phone when a green van sped by on an adjacent street. Shots fired.

She fell to the ground after a bullet struck her chest. Her mother held Shakanah in her arms as they waited for an ambulance.

She was pronounced dead at Duke University Medical Center.

Police arrested Townsend about a year later.

Another man, Levette Lipscomb, also was charged with first-degree murder in the girl’s death. He has been in the Durham County Jail under a $450,000 bond since police arrested him May 18, 2012.

A hearing for Lipscomb is set for next week in Durham County Superior Court.

Meanwhile, Durham attorney Scott Holmes, who represented Townsend, faulted authorities for how they handled the case.

“It’s really disappointing that they would make [Townsend] sit in jail for two years and dismiss the charges for lack of evidence,” Holmes said Tuesday. “It’s not fair to him and his family – or to the family of the young woman who was killed.”

Holmes said he gave Durham police and prosecutors information about an alibi “that shows [Townsend] is innocent, and they chose to ignore it. This appears to be part of a pattern where they bring charges with little or no evidence and then innocent people sit in jail while they’re not investigating the people who really did it.”

But Durham Police Chief Jose Lopez pushed back Tuesday, saying his officers had reason to arrest Townsend.

“The Police Department arrests on probable cause,” Lopez said.

The chief called the district attorney’s decision to drop charges against Townsend prudent under the circumstances.

“I believe what they’re doing is what they believe to be in the best interest of the case at this time,” Lopez said. “They’re waiting on the lab evidence, and want to make sure they bring forth a good case.”