Court of Appeals reverses Hudson in ‘bones’ case
The North Carolina Court of Appeals has ruled Senior Resident Superior Court Judge Orlando Hudson erred when he dismissed a murder charge against Michael Dorman.
In the “bag of bones” case, Hudson dismissed a murder charge against Dorman after a hearing in which it was revealed the remains of a woman that Dorman was charged with killing had been released to the victim’s sister, who cremated them.
Dorman’s attorney objected, saying the bones and skull should have been preserved because they were evidence.
Dorman, an Orange County resident, was charged with killing Lakeia Boxley of Durham. Boxley’s mother reported her missing in 2008. In mid-July 2010, a friend of Dorman’s called the Orange County Sheriff’s Office to report that Dorman claimed to have some human bones.
The friend told Orange County investigator Tony White that Dorman “confided in him that approximately two years earlier he had met a young woman in Durham who helped him obtain crack cocaine on a few occasions,” according to the appeals court document.
Dorman allegedly told the friend he asked the woman to have sex with him, and when she refused, he put a sawed-off shotgun to the woman’s head and it accidentally went off. Dorman told the friend he had hidden her bones at his father’s house.
The friend arranged to accept the bones from Dorman. While White watched, Dorman handed over a book bag that contained part of a skull and several other bones, according to the facts of the case in the appeals court ruling.
After confirming the bones were human, the sheriff’s office arrested Dorman and charged him with failure to report a death. The Orange County investigators transported the bones to the N.C. Medical Examiner’s Office in Chapel Hill, and turned the case over to the Durham Police Department because they believed the victim had been killed in Durham.
Durham police began investigating the case as the medical examiner’s office began examining the remains. The medical examiner identified the victim as Boxley and ruled the death was a homicide.
Meanwhile, police had informed Boxley’s relatives her remains had been recovered. The medical examiner’s office released the remains to a Durham mortuary on Sept. 21, 2010. The mortuary cremated them at the request of Boxley’s sister, Latifah White, and gave them to White.
Earlier on Sept. 16, 2010, Durham County Public Defender Lawrence Campbell filed a motion to preserve evidence. Campbell told a judge the human remains were critical evidence in determining the identity of the deceased as well as determining how the person died. Campbell wanted the remains to be preserved for independent testing, but then learned that they had been returned to the family.
Tracey Cline, who was the Durham County District Attorney at the time, told the judge she learned the medical examiner had preserved a portion of the skull that was damaged and was consistent with being shot with a shotgun. At that time, Cline said she believed the family had buried the rest of the remains.
Eventually, it was discovered that the remains had been cremated.
In hearings in May and June 2010, Campbell expressed his concern about the remains, saying he learned that that the identification was made based on dental records and the jaw bone with the teeth had been destroyed.
Campbell filed a motion to dismiss because of destruction of evidence. Hudson granted the motion to dismiss in August 2011, finding that the State or its agents had destroyed evidence and violated Dorman’s rights had been violated because the State failed to provide the defense with access to the bones used to identify the victim. Among other findings, he said the State failed to disclose itss role in assisting, facilitating and paying for the destruction of evidence; failed to provide the defense with access to email exchanges between the medical examiner’s office and the detective; failed to correct misrepresentations of fact by Cline, the medical examiner and the detective during the proceedings; and failed to disclose information in the State’s possession.
Hudson concluded the violations caused “such irreparable prejudice” to Dorman that the only remedy was dismissal.
The Court of Appeals found that Hudson was premature in his conclusions because Dorman’s lawyers had not demonstrated his defense had been irreparably harmed.
“There has been no trial,” the Court of Appeals stated. “The defense has yet to engage any expert, and has failed to attempt to conduct any tests, whether for DNA or to attempt to replicate the photographic identification of the decedent using the radiographs of her teeth.”
“Until it can be established that the partial remains are untestable or that the identification of the deceased is somehow flawed or incapable of repetition, we fail to see how the defense has been irreparably prejudiced,” the Court of Appeals stated.
The appeals court noted that Hudson contemplated lesser remedies, and “it is Judge Hudson’s diligence and persistence that has largely prevented irreparable prejudice to defendant up to this point.”
Judge Robert N. Hunter wrote the opinion and judges Sam Ervin IV and J. Douglas McCullough concurred.