Durham News

July 25, 2014

Suspect in UNC-CH professor’s murder was in between drug rehab programs

A suspect was in between drug rehab programs and scheduled to meet with his pretrial-release manager when police say he and another man fatally attacked UNC-Chapel Hill professor Feng Liu.

One of two men accused of killing UNC-Chapel Hill professor Feng Liu was in between drug rehab programs and was scheduled to meet with his pretrial-release manager the day of the fatal attack.

The other had just been released from a roughly three-week stay in the Wake County Detention Center.

Troy Arrington, 27, of Chapel Hill, is one of two men charged with murder in Liu’s death. The 59-year-old research professor was hit in the head with a rock and robbed during a midday walk Wednesday near campus. He died the next day at UNC Hospitals.

In addition to first-degree murder, Arrington and Derick Davis II, 23, of Durham, also are charged with armed robbery, assault and common-law robbery. Both are being held without bail in the Orange County jail.

Davis, who also is charged with possession of stolen goods, has multiple convictions for felony breaking and entering and larceny, dating to 2007, in Durham County, according to state Department of Public Safety records. He was released from supervised probation on June 30, records show.

At the time, Davis was serving a short sentence in Wake County for shoplifting. He was released from the Wake County Detention Center on July 22.

Arrington has convictions on drug, assault and firearm-related charges. He was on pretrial release, pending an August court date in Durham on breaking and entering, larceny and other charges. Along with those charges he was accused of being a habitual felon – someone who has been found guilty of at least three separate felony crimes. The designation can mean tougher prison sentences for future convictions.

Arrington spent 10 months in jail awaiting trial on those charges before his attorney asked Judge Howard Manning, a Wake County judge presiding in Durham, for a bail reduction. The attorney argued that Arrington could live with his family in Durham while awaiting trial and that he had been accepted into the two-year TROSA – Triangle Residential Options for Substance Abusers – rehabilitation program.

According to court documents, Arrington was in Durham’s STARR program and was supposed to graduate in February. The STARR program works with Durham County jail inmates who have drug addiction problems. His STARR case manager had asked the court to order him into TROSA, which accepted him pending the resolution of his existing charges.

Manning agreed to lower the bail to $5,000 secured and $5,000 unsecured, meaning Arrington had to post at least $750 through a bondsman to get out of jail. Manning also ordered that Arrington be screened by Durham’s pretrial release program, undergo a mental health assessment and wear an electronic ankle monitor.

He also was under a curfew that required him to be home from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m., and he had to report to a pretrial administrator every Wednesday. Arrington had kept previously scheduled appointments and had not violated curfew rules, according to program administrators. Efforts to find out if he met with his administrator this week were unsuccessful.

Durham pretrial services supervisor Christie Long was out Friday and not available to answer questions. Arrington’s pretrial services case manager, Tamika Gilmer, said she could not answer questions related to his case. The office referred all questions to Durham County Manager Wendell Davis.

Chuck Johnson, Wake County’s program director for pretrial services, said someone being prosecuted as a habitual felon in Wake County normally wouldn’t get pretrial release.

However, every county runs its program under different rules, he said. Wake County, for instance, has a separate program for defendants on house arrest, he said.

Durham’s program

Durham County established its pretrial release program in 2006. It’s among roughly a third of North Carolina’s counties with such programs, which help relieve crowded jails and make sure defendants show up for their trials. The independently operated programs are funded with local tax dollars.

Pretrial services largely serves defendants who aren’t considered a danger to the community, according to an annual report from Durham’s Criminal Justice Resource Center. Higher-risk suspects are assigned to electronic monitoring by a judge and can continue to be tracked until the case is resolved or the court decides the suspect doesn’t pose a risk to the community anymore.

The office helps provide judges with information to use when trying to decide whether to release defendants before trial. Pretrial services staff prepares criminal histories and conducts risk assessments that include details about the defendant’s community ties, school attendance, mental health, substance abuse and medical problems. They work directly with suspects to make sure they meet the individual conditions of their pretrial release.

The Durham report shows the pretrial services office handled 1,275 defendants from July 2012 to June 2013 – the latest numbers available. Of those, roughly 7 percent got charged with a new crime before their scheduled court date, and 5 percent failed to show up for court, the report said.

At least 78 percent made their court date and were not charged with new crimes, the report said.

Criminal justice officials estimated the pretrial services program saved Durham County roughly $2.8 million that year.

Carson comparisons

The community continues to wrestle with the news of Liu’s death. The internationally known scientist had been a research professor at UNC’s Eshelman School of Pharmacy since 2005, and colleagues said he often took walks in the residential neighborhood near campus.

The case drew comparisons to the 2008 kidnapping, robbery and murder of Eve Carson, a popular UNC-CH student body president. Two Durham men who were supposed to be under the watch of the state probation office were convicted of her murder.

Laurence Lovette, one of those men, is on trial this week in Durham, accused of robbing and killing Abhijit Mahato, a Duke University graduate student found shot to death inside his apartment in January 2008.

Chapel Hill Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt spoke with UNC-CH Chancellor Carol Folt on Thursday and said they will meet “early next week.”

“We talked a lot about the need for us to work closely together,” he said. “I honestly don’t know what that answer is, but whatever the answer is, it’s going to require the town and university working together.”

Chapel Hill police have been doing outreach in the Cameron-McCauley and Westwood neighborhoods area, Kleinschmidt said. With suspects in custody, the mayor said he wants to see what the town, police and perhaps the schools can do to help the community now.

“It’s that randomness that makes it so unsettling,” Kleinschmidt said. “For example, how do we talk to kids about this? I’ve talked to our staff about how can we tap our expertise. Those are the kinds of things we need to be focusing on now.”

Chapel Hill Police Chief Chris Blue said it’s important for the community to grieve and for neighbors to continue looking out for each other. While no police chief would turn down more officers, he said, Chapel Hill has a “reasonable number of police officers out there and a higher ratio than most communities have.”

The department schedules officers according to the need. In general, it has three supervisors and just over a dozen officers on duty, he said.

“This particular case is so tragic and so senseless,” Blue said. “But I think what we know at this point is Professor Liu could have been doing the right thing, as far as his surroundings, and this still would have happened.”

Blue said that doesn’t mean the department isn’t evaluating what could be done differently. Officers at Friday morning’s briefing were “collectively shaking our heads at how senseless it was,” he said.

Staff writers Anne Blythe and Mark Schultz contributed to this report.

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