What Happens when a judicial system disintegrates


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Waitone
January 14, 2006, 04:58 PM
http://www.charlotte.com/mld/charlotte/13624661.htm
<Highlighting is the poster's comments>

N.C. leaders seek millions for courtsCity, county officials say funds could help clear case backlogs
MELISSA MANWAREmmanware@charlotteobserver.com

Leaders from North Carolina's largest cities and counties said Friday they will work together to persuade lawmakers to spend millions more on the state's courts.
Across the state, jails are packed. Prosecutors are swamped. Court staffers spend hours doing work by hand that a computer could do in minutes.
And frustrated police officers end up arresting the same people again and again.
"This is a life and death matter," Mayor Pat McCrory told more than 50 mayors, county commissioners, police chiefs and prosecutors who met in Charlotte.
"We are arresting the same people over and over again for committing the same very serious crimes," he said. "This is unacceptable. If there is no deterrent (to crime) we are in deep trouble."
McCrory and other leaders said it's not clear what it will cost to fix the system. But automating just one more aspect of prosecutors' work would cost $3.5 million, according to an N.C. district attorneys' group that participated.
"We need to be funding the court system as if this is 2006, not 1975," Fayetteville Police Chief Tom McCarthy said.
Even before Friday's conference, Mecklenburg's elected leaders had pledged to make court funding a top priority this year. County commissioners plan to talk about it during a retreat this month.
Police in Mecklenburg made 38,980 arrests in the year ended June 30 but just 1,045 cases went to trial, according to data city officials released Friday. Thousands of others were dismissed or settled with plea agreements.
If every case in Mecklenburg District Court had gone to trial in that 12-month period, each would have gotten just 2.3 minutes of court time, the city statistics showed.
Charlotte-Mecklenburg police have said they are frustrated by repeat offenders:
ē Derrick Lamar Sturdivant, for instance, has been arrested 40 times dating to 1981. While on probation in June, he was arrested for breaking and entering. Police said they believe he is responsible for about 200 commercial burglaries. He is in jail awaiting sentencing.
ē And Michael Welburn has been arrested 25 times in Mecklenburg County since 1991. He was charged with armed robbery of a gas station in 1999, convicted of a lesser offense and released in less than three months. Then he was charged with bank robbery -- and released after serving four years. Next, he was charged with five hotel robberies, and convicted and released in October. Police said they believe he committed 21 armed robberies in the two months following his release. He is in jail awaiting trial.
"I can't blame all that on staffing issues and be completely honest," Deputy Assistant District Attorney Bart Menser told the Observer. Lack of evidence, prosecutorial decisions, and sometimes mistakes by prosecutors play into what happens, he said.
Mecklenburg District Attorney Peter Gilchrist has said his office is understaffed but has not said how many more prosecutors he needs.<Poster's note--in a previous article Gilchrist said he would need $15 million and he would increae the DA's office by 50%.>
For years, city and county officials across the state have individually lobbied the legislature for court funding. Now they're aiming for a united front. Together, they expect to have more political influence.
The group that sponsored Friday's conference, the N.C. Metropolitan Coalition, expects to start by working with the Administrative Office of the Courts to lobby lawmakers when they return to the statehouse in May.
Since 1995, pending caseloads have increased 67 percent across the state, according to the N.C. Conference of District Attorneys. In the same period, the median time it takes a case to make its way through the system increased by nearly a month.
N.C. Chief Justice I. Beverly Lake Jr., a Republican who oversees the state courts, has argued for years that Democratic Gov. Mike Easley and lawmakers have given too little funding to the courts. The governor's office has said the court budget was protected from cuts when state funding was tight a few years ago and that overall court funding has increased during the past five years.
Lake retires this month, and Justice Sarah Parker, a Charlotte Democrat, could be appointed to his post before budget negotiations begin in May.
House Speaker Jim Black, D-Mecklenburg, acknowledges that courts have been underfunded and told the Observer he's "fully on board" with efforts to get them more money.
"We had to scramble at the end of the summer to find money to keep our drug court going. That's not good," said Black, who added $300,000 for Mecklenburg's court at the end of last year's legislative session. He said his House budget writers need to come up with a consistent funding source for the courts.
"It seems we're going to have a little more money" this year, said Black. He said a push for gas tax cuts by Republicans and a few Democrats could reduce the extra funding.

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beerslurpy
January 14, 2006, 07:30 PM
When the judicial system disintegrates, people administer justice without going through the middleman. Depending on the natives, this can be great or it can be absolutely terrible.

The less able police are to deal with captured and convicted criminals, the less inclined the public will be to depend on them for public safety. If individuals actually began strapping weapons on as a daily routine, they might find that the wild west wasnt actually that wild.

longeyes
January 14, 2006, 09:11 PM
How about three strikes and you're soylent lex?

Standing Wolf
January 14, 2006, 10:07 PM
Yeah. Right. If government only had more dollars...!

agricola
January 14, 2006, 10:58 PM
The same thing is happening over here - repeat offenders are breaking the system to the extent that people are getting tickets for minor offences (for which there is no reliable data on non-payment) and very short prison time, which of course makes sure they are out earlier, which of course makes sure they can commit more offences, which puts them back before the Court etc etc

The only tried and true answer is to hammer people with long terms of imprisonment who come before the Courts - for a start, they are put in places from which its that much more difficult to commit crimes in polite society. Secondly pour encourager les autres, while almost all criminals are cowards they are also lazy, and while at the moment robbing someone of a phone or wallet is quick and even if you are caught unlikely to result in any length prison time if that was changed to a minimum of five to ten years fewer and fewer people would be brave enough to do it after the first few got sent down.

Finally its what criminals deserve in the first place. The liberalization of justice in the 1960s was based on a false premise - of making sure each sentence is "fair" and "balanced", which in effect results in progressively lower sentences for like offences and the steady fall in respect for justice, across all levels of British society. This is best seen in murder trials, which even comparatively recently treated the murder of a beggar the same as the murder of a Lord - the same sentence was given (life imprisonment, and even if you were released the conditions of the licence were that you could be recalled to prison for any reason at all). Now, thanks to the European Convention on Human Rights and lawyers, life rarely means life and people are freed as early as ten years (less if they were below 18 when the offence was committed).

One of the best pieces in the (irrc) Guardian last year was a reporter who went to a Youth Court in South London for a week. After his experiences with the people who went through that system, the chaos and farce of the trials and the overwhelmed nature of the CPS he pointed out that one of the reasons that elements of the youth have no respect for society is that the youth criminal justice system is unworthy of respect.

Of course, all this is worth bearing in mind when Lott releases his next gun ban = crime rise in UK piece.

Pilgrim
January 15, 2006, 03:05 AM
After his experiences with the people who went through that system, the chaos and farce of the trials and the overwhelmed nature of the CPS he pointed out that one of the reasons that elements of the youth have no respect for society is that the youth criminal justice system is unworthy of respect.
Just my two cents, but I find it rare that a young person today is conditioned to address his elders and his parents with, "Yes, sir, and Yes, ma'am."

Pilgrim

RomanKnight
January 15, 2006, 11:33 AM
How many of those "criminals" are there for victim-less crimes, like smoking pot, spiting on a public sidewalk, or not having "proper" licenses and permits, and how many are real criminals? Let's not forget that everything today is some felony or misdemeanor of one kind or another. How many thousands of laws have been passed in the last say 30 years? I know that every 2(two) years, about 700 -that is seven hundred- new laws are on the books in Texas. How many do Texans know, and abide by? Not all of them, of course; we all break some law every day. All need to justify their paychecks: politicians by criminalizing more and more, to pass more and more laws, cops by enforcing those laws, lawyers and judges, jailers, and so on. Ayn Rand was right: .gov rules over criminals, so, it creates more and more. "Land of the Free"?

redneck2
January 15, 2006, 11:49 AM
Yeah...or like when I lived in Detroit. Judge ruled prisons were overcrowed. Anything other than crimes that involved violence against a person were let off with a fine.

The Detroil Free Press interviewed a car thief that got caught. Asked him what he was going to do. "Go out and steal enough cars to pay the fine"

I don't think you're going to stroll thru the prisons and find people doing time for spitting on the sidewalk.

Average time spent in jail for killing a child in the US is 7 1/2 years

We've bred a society where virtually nothing is immoral anymore. We're just reaping what we've sown. Welfare states, pornography, drugs. Drive thru an inner city and see what our "Great Society" is today. No wonder they hate us.

We throw money at "problems" so fast it makes your head spin. Watch one news segment that doesn't talk about some section of the government needing more money. The deficit has increased more in the past 8 years than all of history before that.

The day of reckoning is very, very close

Baba Louie
January 15, 2006, 01:15 PM
...that one of the reasons that elements of the youth have no respect for society...
Something about poor parenting also comes to mind... but maybe that's a simpleton's response (mine) to a complex problem. I know that when I was a yout', if I screwed up I'd have to face my parent's AFTER I got whatever punishment I deserved from the system, be it at school or local Po-Po.

But that was then, this is now.

Of course it could always be the opposite of the old axiom "Crime doesn't pay"... 'cause it does :(

longeyes
January 15, 2006, 01:24 PM
Too many laws.

Too many punks.

"All is permissible."
~Ivan, BROTHERS KARAMAZOV

CAnnoneer
January 15, 2006, 05:06 PM
It seems much of the load is due to repeated offenders. NC should perhaps consider adopting CA's three-strikes law. Prisons are expensive, but they seem to work. Also, we should compare the cost of annual prisoner maintenance to the cost of processing him repeatedly through the system by the "catch and release" approach in vogue today.

Jeff White
January 15, 2006, 07:37 PM
In order to fight crime, we increased the number of police officers and built more prisons, but we neglected to expand the courts. We now have more police officers arresting more people, but we have essentially the same number of judges, prosecutors, public defensers and courtrooms as we had 30 years ago. It's not just North Carolina, it's here in the rural county where I work, it's in the big city, it's nationwide. There simply are not enough court facilities to to process everyone who is arrested. Here in Illinois you are entitled to go to trial in 120 days. There is no way you could do that with everyone we arrest if you hired enough judges, prosecutors, public defenders and court house staff to operate the court house 24/7. There simply aren't enough court rooms.

So what happens is that those cases that are too serious to just file 13 and do nothing with are almost always reduced to a charge the offender will plead guilty to, the though being there will be at least some punishment.

It's not the repeat offenders, it's the fact we don't have enough courthouse capacity to handle the volume of cases we generate.

Jeff

coma
January 15, 2006, 08:49 PM
If you want to stop crime....in its tracks. Make every convict WORK 10 hours a day every day of the week the entire time they are locked up. At some thing like the old license plate press, or shoveling out ditches, swamps, and sewers. Also they could have a few types of assembly business (electronic, toys, ECT) that could use the "cheap" labor. The convict would never see any of the money, 50% of it would go back to the VICTIMS or the victims families, and the rest to pay for the convicts stay. There should be steep production quotas just like the real world, but if you donít make that quota it ads a day to your sentence, loose more than 5 days in a month it adds a month to your sentence. So be a bum and stay for ever. Donít want to work, go to solitary confinement until you change your mind. Then you get to fulfill the rest of your sentence when you do change your mind. The convicts debt must be paid in full before they leave.

Sound harsh? Bet most of the lazy bums would stay straight after one trip through.

fourays2
January 15, 2006, 10:19 PM
If you want to stop crime....in its tracks. Make every convict WORK 10 hours a day every day of the week the entire time they are locked up. At some thing like the old license plate press, or shoveling out ditches, swamps, and sewers. Also they could have a few types of assembly business (electronic, toys, ECT) that could use the "cheap" labor. The convict would never see any of the money, 50% of it would go back to the VICTIMS or the victims families, and the rest to pay for the convicts stay. There should be steep production quotas just like the real world, but if you donít make that quota it ads a day to your sentence, loose more than 5 days in a month it adds a month to your sentence. So be a bum and stay for ever. Donít want to work, go to solitary confinement until you change your mind. Then you get to fulfill the rest of your sentence when you do change your mind. The convicts debt must be paid in full before they leave.

Sound harsh? Bet most of the lazy bums would stay straight after one trip through.

OK that's the stick, how about the carrot of full rights restoration upon release? a large part of re-offenders is because it's too easy to get busted for something minor if you're on parole.

coma
January 15, 2006, 10:51 PM
OK that's the stick, how about the carrot of full rights restoration upon release? A large part of re-offenders is because it's too easy to get busted for something minor if you're on parole.

I don’t believe it should be granted right away but the convict should not be out on "parole" they severed their time they are done with that part.

But lets say the person who committed a lesser crime stays clean for 1 to 5 years after his / her release, depending on the crime. Then they get their rights re-instated, but people who commit larger crimes must wait longer 10 years, maybe more. As far as a capital crime goes, the felon is done for ever. Nothing back-nothing resorted. There are still some crimes money and time will never make right, so the perpetrators should not be able to become "whole" again.

Repeat customers they get to work 12 hours per day for the whole sentence and they get to have the “boot camp” type corrections officers to deal with all day every day. They also suffer by getting nothing back as far as rights they lost as a prisoner once they get out.

Art Eatman
January 16, 2006, 01:05 AM
Just to add a point to this: About twenty years back I read an article about plea-bargaining. Sure, most folks are against it.

But: In the Borough of Queens, NYC, some 4,800 felony indictments were brought down each year. There were court/judge/staff capability for some 450 trials per year. Ergo, plea-bargain down and avoid a trial that couldn't be held within the "speedy justice" laws...

Art

Waitone
January 16, 2006, 01:52 AM
Little more history of criminal prosecution in Charlotte-Mecklenburg.

Below is an article detailing some of the problems. I can't find it on the website www.creativeloafing.com so I copy with proper attribution as story and investigative reporting. Highlighting is the responsibility of the poster.

"Life Is Cheap Here"
Where's the justice for Zachary Montognese?
By Tara Servatius
Published September 14, 2005


This family will not be quiet about injustice in the court system: (L-R) Anthony, Julia, Melanie, mother Jane (holding photo of Zach), Natalie and father Tony Montognese.

The bullet that killed 20-year-old Zachary Montognese entered his body through the lower left side of his back, tearing a path through at least three major organs before it came to a rest in the upper right side of his chest. Zach's parents had long known the anatomical details of how their son died. They had read the autopsy reports and talked with the doctor. But last month in court, they heard for the first time, in vivid detail, how their son desperately attempted to crawl out of the car as William Allen Matthews pumped medium-caliber bullets into Zach's back with a .38 handgun.

Zach could have survived another 20 minutes after that fatal shot, they were told, but in all likelihood, he went faster than that. With the massive internal injuries he had, he probably fell into a sleep-like state from the shock before he choked on his own blood. At least that's the way they hope it went. The way they pray it went.

The morning after the shooting, when police found Zachary's body in the parking lot of Matthews Moving Systems on Tipton Drive, his hands were still behind his head, fingers locked together. His black sweat pants were down around his ankles, where Matthews left them after he robbed Zachary. Blood was caked all over the back of his head and neck where he was beaten.

Sixteen months later, on August 11, the Montognese family - Zach's parents, sisters, aunts and uncles - went to court clutching their favorite pictures of Zach, prepared to beg the judge to give Matthews more than 12 years in prison, more than the second-degree murder charge qualified him for. But the gory blow-by-blow of Zach's death, read aloud in court for the first time, caught them off guard. The women's shoulders shook as they cried quietly. One family member sobbed aloud.

Zach's sister Julia Montognese held it together enough to read the statement she'd prepared for the judge.

"It is the most horrible thing to witness your mother on the ground sobbing and yelling for her son, seeing your dad barely able to breathe, calling out for Zach," Julia told the judge. "Please send this murderer away for as long as possible."

In the end, the family got what they came for - three more years in prison for Matthews. He would have a 15-year minimum, the judge decided.

"What was the original charge in this case?" Superior Court Judge Bob Bell asked the prosecutor.

"First-degree murder, your honor."

Although it may not seem like it, the Montognese family beat the system that day. According to data from the NC Admistrative Office of the Courts, 42 percent of the murder cases in Mecklenburg County were pleaded down to a lesser charge last year and another 33 percent were dismissed, almost twice the state average. A study by Creative Loafing showed that this county's court system very rarely sends anyone to prison on first-degree murder charges. Virtually everyone who is arrested for killing someone here pleads guilty to second-degree murder or voluntary or involuntary manslaughter, saving the courts the time and cost of a trial. Of the 152 cases we looked at between 2001 and 2003 in which a defendant was sentenced, only three were sent to prison on first-degree murder charges. In all three cases, the defendants - two of whom were in their teens - opted for trials, pleaded not guilty and got life sentences.

If the Mecklenburg County court system had the resources to try murder cases, the circumstances surrounding the murder could have qualified Matthews for life in prison or the death penalty, say those familiar with the system.

Both before and after the murder, Matthews, the cousin of a longtime friend of Zachary's, made it abundantly clear what he intended to do.

Matthews' lawyer, Jean Lawson, told the judge that Matthews believed Zach was secretly seeing Matthews' girlfriend. In the weeks before the murder, Matthews told others that he planned to kill Zach. On the night of the murder, Matthews, who admitted in court to having a drug addiction, repeatedly called Zach on his cell phone, pleading with him to come out with him.

"Will needs money again," Zach told his co-workers. He had previously lent Matthews money, Zach's family said.

Zach left the house that night with his motorcycle helmet. His family believes he was going to buy Matthews' motorcycle because Matthews needed the cash and Zach had talked about purchasing it for weeks.

If there were any doubt left about what Matthews set out to do that night, a tape-recorded conversation he had with his father from the Mecklenburg County Jail made his intentions crystal clear.

In the conversation, Matthews' dad asked him if he killed Montognese in self-defense.

"I took the gun to kill him," he said.

The whole thing seemed simple enough to the Montognese family. They expected a trial, life in prison, the full judicial fireworks display. In short, they expected justice.

It hadn't dawned on them that meaningful justice might not be possible in our county court system. The first sign something was wrong, they said, was the odd, apologetic things police and others kept saying to them about what was going to happen with their case.

"The first time was from a detective," said Tony Montognese, Zach's father. "He said, 'We got this case stacked up to here, we've got everything on this guy, but we're sorry for what's going to happen to you in court.'"

The second time, the couple said, was at a Mothers of Murdered Offspring meeting they attended at which a police captain spoke.

"All these people were complaining about their cases not being this or that and he stood up and he blew our minds," said Tony. "He said, 'Folks you've gotta understand that your case is going to be pled down and you're not going to get representation. They are not even going to go to trial. There are no trials in Charlotte."

It appears this may not be far from the truth. CL looked at the years 2001-2003 and found only six murder cases that went to trial. Excluding the handful of life sentences the courts handed out, defendants were sentenced to between 5 and 40 years in prison, with most sentences totaling less than 20 years.

The dismissals and light sentences appear to be taking their toll as well. Twelve percent of those charged with murder in 2004 had previous arrests for murder, according to statistics provided to the city's homicide task force.

"Life is cheap here," said one Charlotte-Mecklenburg homicide detective. "If your prior record isn't too bad, you'll be out in less than 10 years."

NC Conference of District Attorneys Director Peg Dorer said the problem is pretty simple. The courts across the state, and in Mecklenburg County in particular, are so underfunded they no longer have the resources to try cases. When CL called her last week, she'd just finished crunching trial percentages and found they'd slipped once again. Two years ago, the courts statewide managed to try 2.2 percent of all felony cases. Last year, that number slipped to 1.89 percent.

While trying every case would be an inefficient burden on the court system, the ability to try more cases if necessary would give prosecutors more leverage. Defense attorneys know the courts can't afford to try cases and that prosecutors must plea bargain to clear them, so they seek, and usually get, plea deals that drastically reduce a defendant's potential sentence.

"As a citizen, I know it sounds awful," said Dorer.



Last year, at $4.2 million, the budget for the city animal shelter was bigger than the $3.4 million budget for the prosecutor's office.

"Prosecutors want to try them, but a capital case or a first-degree murder case sucks the resources out of the (district attorney's) office," said Dorer.

Things aren't going to get better anytime soon. Dorer spent months this year lobbying the state legislature for more money for the courts, but in the end, not one extra penny was added to the courts' budget, she said.

Compared to other cities and counties, prosecutors are also seriously outgunned. Mecklenburg needs an additional 25 district attorneys and more staff to make it comparable to other similar-sized metropolitan areas around the country, said Dorer.

A recent study by UNC-Charlotte professor Paul Friday of similar-sized areas' justice systems found that Mecklenburg County has 51 prosecutors while Portland has 86 and Austin, 76. The county lags even farther behind in support staff, with Mecklenburg at 38, Portland at 132 and Austin at 108. Mecklenburg employs only four judicial assistants, while Portland's court system has 38 and Austin's system, 36.

In recent years, the county has taken over some of the state's responsibility for funding the system. Fifteen of the county's 51 prosecutors are now paid for by the county. But the city and county have been traditionally reluctant to do too much more for the court system financially, for fear that state legislators will take it to mean Mecklenburg is willing to fund its own system and doesn't need any more funding from the state. At that point, taxpayers here would be paying twice to fund a court system that is financially insufficient as it is.

State legislators shouldn't take all the blame for the courts' current financial struggles, though. The county's legislative request, put together each year by the city, county and Charlotte Chamber, didn't mention a word about more funding for the courts. And though Charlotte Mayor Pat McCrory likes to talk tough on crime, he hasn't pushed for more funding.



Meanwhile, no one has shown much interest in the findings of a $40,000 county study by Friday, the UNCC professor. The study found that understaffing and inefficiencies in the court system are costing taxpayers money, as inmates who can't afford bail languish in the county jail for months awaiting hearings on charges that wouldn't qualify them for jail time. The way Friday sees it, funding for the criminal justice system is only part of the problem. The system itself needs to be overhauled and modernized as well, he says.

The way some higher-ups in the police department see it, says the homicide detective, as long as the courts don't have enough resources to try murder cases, defendants will continue getting relatively short sentences. They see no reason to keep putting resources into big investigations if prosecutors have no need for most of the evidence they collect due to their plea bargains and dismissals.

"That's one of the reasons why they won't pay us overtime," he said.

All of this was news to the Montogneses when they walked into prosecutor David Wallace's office seven months after Zachary's April 2004 murder and got the second-biggest shock of their lives. Wallace wanted to charge Matthews not with first- or second-degree murder, they were told, but with voluntary manslaughter.

"Wallace said, 'If we can get William to admit he murdered Zachary, he'll get five years and that will be closure for y'all," said Jane Montognese, Zach's mother. It was the best the prosecutor's office could do, they were told.

The Montogneses were shell-shocked.

"That's when I got up and said no," said Jane. "I said this is not going to happen. Then we went to work on making sure that they didn't sweep Zach under the rug."

Nearly all of the members of the Montognese family fled the meeting in shock before it ended.

"Everybody ran out," said Julia. "I was the last one there."

When contacted for comment, Mecklenburg County District Attorney Peter Gilchrist didn't confirm or deny that Wallace told the Montogneses that Matthews should or would be charged with voluntary manslaugther, only that the charge was mentioned at the meeting.

"David Wallace told them what the investigative file contained, he recalls giving his opinion as to how this evidence would likely be interpreted and contended by the defense at a trial and that it was his opinion that voluntary manslaughter would necessarily be a charge that the judge would be required to give to the jury as one of the possible verdicts if the case were to go to trial," Gilchrist said.

Members of the Montognese family agree with that assessment, but say that Wallace also offered to get them closure by offering to let Matthews plea to voluntary manslaughter.

The Montogneses are a tight clan. Since Zach was 16, he had worked in his father's paint business, doing faux and intricate paint designs in the homes of some of the city's most prominent people. Both Tony and Zach considered their work to be an art form. Before Zach died, they spent nine months doing just three rooms in former Bank of America CEO Hugh McColl's house. Zach eventually wanted to take over the business from his father.

Zach lived at home, and Tony and his son spent most of their time together.

"I woke him up in the morning," said Tony. "He didn't have a car or anything, so we drove home together after work. And then we had the basement. I had a music studio down there, so we were always together in the basement."

Zach and his sister Julia, 26, had been tight since they were kids, and either talked to or saw each other nearly every day. Natalie, who was three years older than Zach, had had her own life for a while, and was rebuilding her relationship with her brother.

"It's funny because what I wanted to do was to get to know him again," said Natalie. "That was my whole thing. I'd ask him what he'd do for fun and we would talk. We started to talk about two months before he was killed. I just had this urge and I gave him a Valentine's Day card and gave him some money and he was like, 'What's this for?' and I was like, 'Because I love you.' I'm just really glad that I did that. You get to that point where you're both kind of doing your own thing and that's understandable. You take it for granted. You think your brother's going to be with you for the rest of your life."

After Zach was murdered, the kids and extended family helped Tony and Jane hold things together. Julia moved in and began to run the household, paying her parents' bills and taking care of day-to-day tasks. Natalie developed a knack for talking her parents out of particularly bad fits of grief, which she did on an almost daily basis, and she was pretty much on call 24 hours a day. Older sister Melanie pitched in, too.

That freed Tony and Jane to pursue their new obsession - justice for Zach.

They hounded Gilchrist and city, county and state officials. Tony took a petition with him everywhere he went, collecting signatures from friends and strangers. He even learned to type, staying up until early in the morning sending e-mails and letters to whomever would listen to his story.

Jane got plugged into national victims' networks, made contacts and learned how to get attention for her son's case. Mayor Pat McCrory appointed her to the city's homicide task force. The family even managed to get on television news.

And they began to ask questions. Why hadn't Matthews also been charged with robbery? Wouldn't that make it easier for prosecutors to get a tougher sentence?

Eventually, their efforts paid off. Nearly a year after the original murder charge, police and prosecutors added an additional robbery with a dangerous weapon charge to Matthews' record. Matthews pleaded guilty to second-degree murder, which carries a tougher sentence than he would have gotten had they only charged him with voluntary manslaughter.

"That's the only reason that he is in for 15 years," said Jane. "That's the only reason they charged him. Because we raised hell."

When compared with the crime, the punishment the family won for Matthews wasn't exactly a victory. That's why they're still fighting, they said. For them, the ultimate victory will come only when the system is changed from top to bottom.

Their first goal is to get more funding for the court system, and to help new victims navigate it and stand up for loved ones. During an interview with CL last week, Jane wandered off to talk to a new victim that had called her. When you talk to her now, it's not just Zach's story she wants to tell you about. A roster of victims is growing in Jane's Rolodex, and as she learns she's helping them, too.

"I want protection for this city my daughters live in," Jane said. "This has been our curse for too long. It should stop. I don't want another family to have to go through this."

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