SHELBY Bill Young retired from his job as district attorney for Cleveland and Lincoln counties in 2007 but stayed on as a prosecutor.
Once the boss, he reported to a former assistant who’d become DA.
The turnaround caused no problems. And Young got to do what he’d missed as an administrator: try cases.
Now, at 68, he’s closing out a career of nearly 30 years.
“I woke up one morning and just decided to get out from the pressure-packed world of trying cases,” he said. “But it’s been very satisfying.”
Young began practicing law in his hometown of Shelby in 1975.
Eight years later, Gov. Jim Hunt, a Democrat, appointed Young acting district attorney. Someone else got the job when Republican Jim Martin became governor.
Young went into office as the elected district attorney for Judicial District 27-B in 1986. Rick Shaffer joined Young’s staff as an assistant in 1987. On Jan. 1, 2007, Shaffer took over as DA, hiring Young as an assistant prosecutor on a contract basis.
“Preparing for and trying cases was really my passion,” Young said. “Rick and I had a good relationship. We had a mutual respect for each other.”
Many cases came Young’s way, but one that stands out involved a Shelby couple charged with first-degree murder and felony child abuse in the 2009 death of 2-year-old Jeremiah Swafford. The mother, Kathy Lynn Swafford, and her husband, Dwight Stacy Justice, were to be tried separately. In February 2012, a Cleveland County jury found Justice guilty of felony child abuse, but before sentencing he died in jail.
Swafford had been scheduled to go on trial in Lincolnton but pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and felony child abuse. She told the judge she was innocent. In an interview with the Observer in June, Swafford said she pleaded guilty only because she feared she’d get a life sentence. Young said the case was “especially difficult because I had a dead child and two adults who each said they didn’t do it.”
With courtroom pressures behind him, Young is considering what he’ll do next. Teaching might be a possibility if the right offer came along, he said.
Meanwhile, he takes satisfaction looking back on a career of community service. “Bill cared about what he did,” Shaffer said. “He was very meticulous when preparing cases.”
When they switched positions of boss and employee “both of us had a little trepidation,” Shaffer said. “But it ended up a good working relationship. Egos didn’t get in the way. I don’t recall ever having a harsh word with him.”
While Shaffer said he paid Young “reasonably well” as a prosecutor, the deal was still a bargain.
“I was getting him at $20,000 to $30,000 cheaper than a similar prosecutor at that experience level,” Shaffer said. “That freed up money to pay other prosecutors more.”
Shelby Police Chief Jeff Ledford said Young was highly regarded in law enforcement circles.
“He had a hand in all our careers,” Ledford said. “I’ve known him for 20 years. I remember him from back when I was a young officer on patrol working crime scenes. He not only helped you, but when you worked with Bill, it was a team effort. He made you feel at that moment you were the most important person in the world.”
Ledford said Young also made witnesses, families and crime victims feel the same way.
“That’s a great attribute of a district attorney,” Ledford said. “If you’re a victim, you want to know someone is fighting for you. And Bill was that person. He served the county and state very well. He put his heart into everything he touched.”
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