State Politics

Domestic violence history is now grounds for first-degree murder charges

Soon after his 22-year-old daughter was shot to death by her boyfriend in their Fuquay-Varina apartment in 2014, Britny Puryear’s father poured his grief into helping other victims of domestic violence.

That effort led to the passage of legislation this year toughening the punishment for defendants in some domestic violence homicides. On Tuesday, Gov. Roy Cooper signed “Britny’s Law.”

“One thing Britny has done is brought Republicans and Democrats together in North Carolina — 158 to 2 — on an issue that affects so many different people: domestic violence,” Stephen Puryear said at a bill-signing ceremony, referring to the General Assembly vote on Senate Bill 600. “If Britny’s law helps one family not lose a loved one, make sure that the murderer never gets out, then all of our time and efforts are working.”

Prosecutors often charge second-degree murder because defendants can argue they killed their partner in the heat of the moment, rather than in a premeditated act required for first-degree murder. Now prosecutors will be able to allege premeditation if there is a history of domestic violence offenses committed against the same person.

Those offenses include domestic violence, violating a protective order, making threats, stalking, cyberstalking and criminal trespassing.

First-degree murder can carry a sentence of life in prison or the death penalty. Penalties for second-degree murder range from 12 years in prison to life.

“Prosecutors struggle to convince jurors that the defendant’s crimes meet the definition of first-degree murder under current law,” Cooper said at the ceremony at the Executive Mansion in Raleigh. “Britny’s family watched her killer plead guilty to second-degree murder, escaping a first-degree murder conviction. They decided to use their tragic and painful experience to ensure better justice for future victims and their families.”

The young woman had been in an abusive relationship with Logan McLean for four years; the couple had a child together. McLean pleaded guilty to second-degree murder last year and is serving a 32-year sentence.

Craig Jarvis: 919-829-4576, @CraigJ_NandO