Criminal Justice

Wendy Terry, attorney, ada, lexington, davidson county, NC, assistant district attorney, felony, buying election, false pretense, obstruction of justice

The Indictment of Wendy Terry: Davidson County District Attorneys’ Secrets

Wendy Terry may have kept many secrets about her professional conduct for more than a decade. But one, once hinted at, appears to have lasted less than a day. On Tuesday afternoon, an indictment was returned alleging that, in late July, Terry, an assistant district attorney in Davidson County, sent a text message to a district judge, offering $20,000 for a superior court judicial seat, the Winston Salem Journal reports.

The offer was allegedly made on a Thursday. And come Monday, the SBI was involved, and Terry was placed on administrative leave, the county’s district attorney, Garry Frank, told WXII12.

Quid pro quo indictment

The six-count indictment alleges that Terry promised to contribute $20,000 to Davidson County District Court Judge April Wood’s campaign, with strings attached: Wood would need to persuade her husband, Jeffrey Berg, to bow out of the race for a superior court seat that Terry wanted to fill. (Judge Theodore “Ted” Royster’s Davidson County Superior Court seat is up for grabs in 2016.) The indictment also alleges that Terry offered to front Berg’s filing fee if he would run for a district court seat instead, according to WXII12’s report.

Judge Wood announced through Facebook on July 22 that her husband would be running for the District 22B superior court seat, the Lexington Dispatch reported. Terry allegedly propositioned Wood by text message the next day.

Terry was indicted by the Davidson Count Grand Jury on the following counts:

  • two counts of felony buying and selling offices;
  • felony obstructing justice;
  • misdemeanor primary/election violation;
  • attempt to violate campaign contribution limits; and
  • attempt to obtain property by false pretenses.

Under North Carolina law, permissible campaign contributions are capped at $5,100.

Lack of integrity in Davidson County District Attorney’s office

“Former Assistant District Attorney Accused of Corruption,” WFMY News 2 reported, summing up the scoop in a single sentence: “The word ‘unlawful’ is being associated with someone trusted with upholding the law.”

But allegations of corruption in the Davidson County DA’s office, while newsworthy, are not new. We just recently covered several stories on Jamie Gentry LaPrad, North Carolina’s “Candy Cane Prosecutor” who was fired from her Davidson County post last year after word got out that LaPrad’s colleague had obtained a restraining order against her.

And while LaPrad never faced criminal charges, an added irony for Terry is she likely sought indictments as a prosecutor from the very grand jury that ultimately indicted her. (It’s also worth mentioning that Terry is married to Davidson County District Court Judge Carlton Terry, who was publicly reprimanded in 2008 by the Judicial Standards Commission for ex parte communications on Facebook.)

Both LaPrad and Terry appear to have considered themselves above the law.

An editorial in the Lexington Dispatch touched on this, commenting on the lack of integrity in the Davidson County DA’s office:

For the second time in a year, a prosecutor has left the Davidson County District Attorney’s Office under dubious circumstances.
. . . [T]he personnel issues are troubling in an office charged with prosecuting those who violate the law.

But calling them “troubling” stops short of the issues’ actual import. With the integrity of our criminal justice system depending, as it does, on the integrity of the actors involved, the latest news out of North Carolina’s District 22B again poses serious questions about the caliber of justice that district is doling out.

Moreover, that LaPrad and Terry both worked as prosecutors in the district for so many years before having their character revealed to the public only accentuates these concerns.

According to the Center for Prosecutor Integrity, over two-fifths (42.8%) of Americans consider prosecutorial misconduct widespread, a strong majority (71.4%) thinks most cases of prosecutorial misconduct are kept hidden from the public, and a similarly strong majority (73.5%) believes prosecutors who commit misconduct are almost never punished. So, even though it certainly took far too long in both instances for LaPrad and Terry to be exposed, the public can perhaps take some solace in knowing that it did finally happen.

Potential consequences for Terry

Wendy Terry resigned this week from the Davidson County District Attorney’s office, where she worked as an assistant district attorney for over ten years. But losing her job is likely the least of Terry’s worries. If convicted, she could face jail time.

Felony common law obstruction of justice is a Class H felony under section 14-3(b) of the North Carolina General Statutes. North Carolina law requires that Class H felons be sentenced to between four and twenty-five months, depending on their prior convictions. And while no prior convictions can mean community or intermediate punishment, anyone convicted of a Class H felony can be sentenced to active jail time.

The charges for buying and selling offices are Class I felonies. Each carries a presumptive sentence of four to six months community punishment.

Last but certainly not least, the attempted obtaining property by false pretenses charge also is a Class I H felony,* if the value is less than $100,000. But if the value is $100,000 or more, it becomes a Class D C felony,* which carries a mandatory minimum sentence of thirty-eight forty-four months active jail time.

Terry’s annual salary was $62,000, the Winston-Salem Journal reports. And with the average salary for superior court judges—who all serve eight-year terms—currently hovering around $135,000, it appears the superior court seat was worth well over $100,000 to Terry, which means this could end up being her most serious offense.

Think Terry can make friends behind bars with the criminals she put there?

The former prosecutor turned criminal defendant has an October 5, 2015 court date in Davidson County Superior Court.

*CORRECTION: Post edited December 13, 2015 to correct errors in the classification of the attempted obtaining property by false pretenses felony offense. Because N.C. Gen. Stat. § 14-100(a)

  1. includes attempt as part of the substantive offense (“obtain or attempt to obtain”), and
  2. expressly states that a commission of the offense is either a Class C or a Class H felony (depending on “the value of the money, goods, property, services, chose in action, or other things of value”),

N.C. Gen. Stat. § 14-2.5 should not apply.

Other sources:

Interesting note: The Master Calendar of Superior Courts shows Judge Ted Royster (who Terry sought to unseat) and Judge Julia Lynn Gullett presiding in Davidson County Superior Court on October 5, 2015. If the case goes before Judge Royster, he will presumably recuse himself based on the conflict of interest.

Encougaging Misconduct: Prosecutor shields Sumter deputies in shooting

How in the H-E-double-hockey-stick did two Sumter County sheriff’s deputies who opened fire on an unarmed man “act properly”? Oh, that’s right, later they justified their conduct by concocting a tale straight out of Alice in Wonderland. And in the eyes of Third Circuit Solicitor Ernest A. “Chip” Finney III, that apparently made everything proper.

Sumter County deputies cleared in July shooting

Sumter County Sheriff Anthony Dennis announced yesterday that his two deputies involved in the July shooting, Cpl. Symeon Graham and Senior Deputy Desmond Sabb, were cleared of wrongdoing in an investigation by the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division, according to WBTV News.

The State newspaper reported that Solicitor Finney reviewed the SLED report and opted not to seek criminal charges against the deputies. “We find that both Sumter County Deputies involved with the shooting acted reasonably when faced with violent and unprovoked action by the subject,” Finney wrote in a letter to SLED investigators.

A spokesman for the sheriff’s office reported that both officers have returned to normal duty.

Numbskulls believing other numbskulls

The SLED investigation stems from events that unfolded on July 18 when Graham and Sabb responded to a domestic dispute near Dalzell, South Carolina. It was a Saturday morning. Upon arriving at the suspect’s home, the deputies claim 39-year-old Michael Deshawn Dinkins “became physically aggressive” with them.

The deputies reacted by trying to subdue Dinkins with their Tasers. (And that’s no typo—both deputies deployed their Tasers.) But, according to their tale of events, Dinkins was unfazed.

In fact, the deputies say that Dinkins—despite having two separate currents running through his body—still had enough wits about him to reach for one of their guns. (It’s worth mentioning that Tasers’ critics “have implicated [them] in hundreds of deaths nationwide,” according to The New York Times. Amnesty International reported in 2012 that more than 500 people have been killed in the U.S. by stun gun shocks.)

And because Dinkins reached for “one of their guns,” that of course justified what came next, when both deputies opened fire on him. Again, not one, but both. Neither officer was injured.

Luckily, Dinkins survived the onslaught. For Finney, that means he can move forward with the resisting arrest and assaulting a law enforcement officer charges the deputies brought against him.

This comes on the heels of a March 21, 2015 report by The State that South Carolina police “have fired their weapons at 209 suspects in the past five years, and a handful of officers have been accused of pulling the trigger illegally – but none has being [sic] convicted.” This is our criminal justice system.

The Bail Trap

“Criminal justice,” President Obama remarked at the NAACP’s national conference last month, “is not as fair as it should be.”

As a precursor to a post we are developing, which highlights bail practices across the country as one of the foremost failings of our modern criminal justice system, we wanted to share The Bail Trap,” an illuminating piece published by the New York Times this week. “Every year, thousands of innocent people are sent to jail only because they can’t afford to post bail,” Journalist Nick Pinto writes, “putting them at risk of losing their jobs, custody of their children — even their lives.”

The issue of America’s bail system was also discussed in the Undisclosed Podcasts’s “Making Bail in Baltimore” episode aired last month, for those who follow the State v. Adnan Syed case.

But this is not just an in vogue topic. In 1964, then-Attorney General Robert Kennedy said in a speech to a conference on pretrial justice:

What has been demonstrated here is that usually only one factor determines whether a defendant stays in jail before he comes to trial. That factor is not guilt or innocence. It is not the nature of the crime. It is not the character of the defendant. That factor is, simply, money. How much money does the defendant have?

Fifty-one years later—with little to no progress having been made to reform this injustice—we look forward to joining the constructive discourse, and the continued push for change. Stay tuned.