RUTHERFORD COUNTY, N.C. — In June of 2017, the case of The State vs. Brooke Covington ended in a mistrial due to jury misconduct. Perry Shade, the jury foreman, was held in criminal contempt for improperly introducing documents into the jury deliberation process that were not admitted into evidence at trial and were not proper for the jury’s consideration. Questions immediately arose about this issue, including whether Shade acted alone or whether someone else may have been involved.
At the conclusion of the Covington trial, presiding Judge Gary Gavenus issued a “gag order” which prohibited any witnesses listed on either the State’s or the Defendant’s witness list from speaking with anyone about the case, including law enforcement officers or the lawyers involved in the case. This Order also included the members of the jury who, at the conclusion of the trial, would otherwise have been free to discuss any aspect of the case if they chose to do so.
Recognizing that the Judge’s Order prevented the State from conducting a thorough investigation of the jury misconduct issue, Assistant District Attorney Garland F. Byers, Jr., filed a written motion asking Judge Gavenus to allow criminal investigators to interview the members of the jury who were present for Shade’s presentation and discussion of improper documents and materials. Byers said that he believed the State had an obligation to follow-up on the issue to determine whether others were involved and to determine whether criminal charges should be brought in addition to the criminal contempt Order issued by the Court.
Garland F. Byers, Jr., had represented the State in the Covington case at trial and in all other related cases in all prior proceedings.
Judge Gavenus ruled on Byers’ motion by Ordering the State Bureau of Investigation to investigate the juror misconduct on the part of jury foreman Perry Shade and to determine whether he acted alone or whether others were involved. This was 10 months ago.
RC Catalyst spoke with the Public Information Officer of the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation
earlier today regarding the investigation of juror misconduct. The SBI informed RC Catalyst that no
investigation had been done.
RC Catalyst spoke with former Assistant District Attorney Garland F. Byers, Jr., who is now a candidate for District Attorney in this District, about this matter and he stated:
“Mr. Bell dealt with the SBI after I filed and served the motion to lift the gag order to allow a criminal investigation into the juror misconduct issue. I was not allowed to know anything about Mr. Bell’s dealings with the SBI on this issue and it was never something I had authority to do. I saw the need for a follow-up investigation and I did everything that I had the authority to do to make sure that it happened. It is unfortunate that it did not. As to why Mr. Bell didn’t follow-up on the status of this investigation and make sure that it got done, that’s a good question for Mr. Bell.”
RC Catalyst has inquired earlier about the status of the juror SBI investigation. Mr. Bell said, “That case was finished long ago.” When I asked Mr. Bell if I might see it, he replied there were no findings and he wasn’t sure he still had the report. The truth is that there is no report from the SBI on the Fenner/Covington case, nor will there be.
In a brief communication with Mr. Bell, he stated that he missed the “SBI” in my question about a report and referred to the brief interrogation sheriff detective Marc Duncan had conducted when Shade was jailed for contempt of court.
Mr. Bell has, throughout his campaign for re-election, fashioned himself as an “administrator” and has publicly said that he would “do everything he could to see that crimes get investigated and prosecuted.” Yet, here is probably the most highly-publicized trial and case in the past 30 years in this district and he does not follow-up and make sure that a court-ordered investigation gets done.
One simple phone call to the SBI, by him, could have resolved this entire issue. Had he made one single call to the SBI, then he would have learned that the SBI was not investigating the jury misconduct – as ordered by the Court – and he could have taken the appropriate steps to make sure that it got done. Instead, he did nothing.
What is apparent from this revelation is one of two possibilities:
(1) Either Ted Bell doesn’t care about whether the issue of juror misconduct gets investigated or not and so he didn’t make a single call to find out the status of this investigation; or
(2) Ted Bell is ineffective as an administrator as shown by the fact that this very important criminal investigation (in the most high profile case in this district in at least the last 30 years) was not managed by him in his capacity as the elected D.A. and was allowed to go un-investigated despite a court Order.
Either one of these possibilities is unacceptable.