Nancy Lorrin Freeman cruised to an easy victory in the race for Wake County district attorney Tuesday, bringing a new face to an office that has long gone without a contested election.
With all precincts reporting, Freeman carried 56 percent of the vote. John Walter Bryant had 44 percent.
Freeman, 43, a Democrat, brought her experience as Wake County’s clerk of court to the campaign.
She argued that her administrative skills made her the best-equipped candidate to manage more than 100,000 criminal cases filed each year.
She also benefited from a deep background in party politics and Wake legal circles as her father, Franklin Freeman, served as both an N.C. Supreme Court justice and chief of staff to Gov. Mike Easley.
“I just thank the people of Wake County very much,” she said Tuesday.
“This shows that experience counts as a prosecutor. Working in the courts makes a difference.”
As winner, she takes the top prosecutor job from Colon Willoughby, who entered private law practice after 30 years in office. He had not faced an opponent on the ballot since 1996.
But she faced an aggressive challenge from Bryant, 60 and a Republican, who is an attorney in private practice.
Bryant touted his work outside the courtroom as a plus.
Before becoming a lawyer, he spent a year as an hourly dock worker and truck driver, then six years in the medical manufacturing business.
He and Freeman agreed that the district attorney’s office should focus on true verdicts rather than high conviction rates.
But Bryant pledged to spend more time prosecuting cases himself, saying the practice would set an example for assistant district attorneys.
While Willoughby prosecuted some cases, he left most of the front-line prosecuting to a staff of lawyers who are in the courtroom daily.
Bryant also pledged to increase the amount of assistance available to the court system from mental health and substance abuse professionals.
She praised her opponent for running a clean and hard-fought campaign. Bryant could not be immediately reached Tuesday.
“I’m very excited to start this new role,” Freeman said, “and I promise to work hard for the people of Wake County.”
Along with trying all cases in the 10th judicial district, the Wake district attorney also handles criminal and corruption cases that arise in state and county governments.
During his tenure, Willoughby was responsible for a number of such actions.