The position of the Durham County District Attorney is not one that’s new to the spotlight. After the Duke Lacrosse case involving former D.A. Mike Nifong, the office gained national notoriety. Now, the local News & Observer is bringing actions of the new D.A. to light. According to them, District Attorney Tracey Cline may be more concerned with winning than with doing what’s right.
The News & Observer has a three part series on the office of the Durham District Attorney. Part 1 begins by looking at the case of Frankie Washington.
Washington was arrested one night in Durham as he walked home from getting high with his girlfriend. He was immediately implicated in a home invasion that had happened in the area, something he says he played absolutely no role in.
A man described as being 6 feet tall, black, in a blue shirt, hat, and with a possible receding hair line, broke into a home in West Durham on that night in 2002. While he was there, he took the wife into another room, began to assault her, took her money, and fled. Washington, 42 years old and measuring 5’6” would be charged with burglary, kidnapping, assault, robbery, and attempted sexual assault.
At trial, which didn’t happen until February 2007, Cline was put on the stand and questioned about the physical evidence, including DNA on a hat found near the crime scene and fingerprints on the victim’s purse. Cline repeatedly said it took more than 3 years to get the test results back because the crime lab was behind. In fact, the evidence wasn’t submitted to the lab until August 2005.
Despite the DNA and fingerprints not matching Washington, he was convicted, assumingly because the victim identified him. (Mistaken eyewitness identification plays a role in most cases of wrongful convictions in the United States.)
An appeals court would later overturn the conviction based on Washington’s absence of a speedy trial, with the statement, “Assistant District Attorney Cline testified that it can take ‘years’ for the SBI to fully test an item. This assertion, however, is simply unsupported by the evidence of record.”
Interestingly, there is a man who spent time in the North Carolina Department of Corrections after having been found guilty of raping two Duke University students in the 1980s, Lawrence Hawes. He was released in 2001, right before a string of home invasions and sexual assaults occurred in the West Durham area. These break-ins, robberies, and sexual assaults continued while Washington was incarcerated. When Hawes was arrested again in late 2002 the police found bandanas and caps like those used in the Washington invasion case.
Though a judge denied an official motion to have the fingerprints and DNA in the Washington case tested against Hawes, he did direct Cline to have them tested. That testing has still never happened. In the appeals court case file of Frankie Washington is a photo of Lawrence Hawes.
Though Cline says everyone makes mistakes, the carriage of justice depends on a prosecutor whose attention to detail and adherence to constitutional law minimizes these mistakes.
When you are accused of a crime, you want to know that you will be treated fairly within the courts. A criminal defense attorney is there to be your advocate and to ensure you get the best results possible.