Demarcus Ivey goes back on trial in a year, but this time it won’t be for his life.
Prosecutors announced Thursday that next February, Ivey again will be tried for the 2009 shooting death of Adrian Youngblood during the robbery of a west Charlotte strip club.
One big change: The district attorney’s office won’t be seeking the death penalty, and it won’t say why.
After a brief hearing Thursday in the Mecklenburg County Courthouse, Assistant District Attorney Bill Stetzer declined to comment on why prosecutors won’t try Ivey as a capital case.
Stetzer, head of his office’s homicide team and a co-prosecutor in Ivey’s trial last fall, cited professional rules that block prosecutors from commenting on ongoing cases.
Ivey’s first trial lasted 11 weeks. It ended in a mistrial when one juror, Jacqueline McCain, refused to convict.
Norman Butler, Ivey’s defense attorney, called the decision to drop the death penalty a significant step for his client.
“When you’re defending someone for their life, and anytime that’s removed, it’s a big relief,” Butler said. “But it does not remove the challenge of a life sentence.”
Members of Youngblood’s family could not be reached Thursday.
If Ivey is found guilty of first-degree murder, he’d receive a mandatory life sentence without parole.
In capital cases, jurors first decide guilt or innocence. They then hold a sentencing trial before choosing between life without parole and death.
Death penalty cases are decreasing across the country as well as in Charlotte and North Carolina. The trials are lengthy, expensive and predictably lead to years of appeals.
The state has been under a veritable moratorium on capital cases since a series of 2006 lawsuits challenged the fairness and humaneness of state-sponsored executions. North Carolina put one person on death row in 2013. Last year, it added three more.
Mecklenburg District Attorney Andrew Murray says his office handles dozens of first-degree murder cases annually but reserves the death penalty for crimes “that shock the community.”
Mecklenburg, the state’s largest county, now has one capital case on its 2015 calendar. That’s the trial of Linny Barcliff, accused of the 2011 slayings of a 4-year-old girl and her parents.
The county’s prosecutors held one death penalty trial in 2013 and two last year. Two of those three cases led to convictions, with juries in both opting for life sentences rather than death row.
Eleven jurors were willing to convict Ivey last year. McCain blocked them during several days of deliberations, leading to the mistrial being declared Dec. 2.
“Ms. McCain’s decision was based on reasonable doubt,” Butler said. “She clearly would not and could not convict him.”
New trial, new jurors
The Sept. 10, 2009, afternoon robbery of Club Nikki’s was caught on camera.
Surveillance videos show two gunmen in sweatshirts – police identified them as Ivey and Kevin Bishop – ordering the club’s staff, patrons and dancers to get on the floor.
The video also shows that one of the gunmen, wearing a dark sweatshirt, stepped back into the club on his way out the door to shoot Youngblood from close range. In his closing arguments to Ivey’s first jury, Stetzer described the shooting as a “sport killing.”
After a chase both in a car and on foot, Bishop and Ivey were captured a few miles away, police say. Loot from the club was found in their truck, as was a dark sweatshirt.
During the first trial, prosecutors offered DNA evidence, which they said indisputably linked Ivey to the crime.
Butler and co-counsel Grady Jessup, though, argued that police botched the DNA testing and never produced witnesses or a weapon that proved Ivey’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.
During deliberations, McCain sent a note to the judge. She said she believed that Ivey, a habitual felon with a long history of violent crime, was innocent.
Eleven months from now, prosecutors will choose a new jury and try again. Researcher Maria David contributed.