Inside the Courts

Mecklenburg DA explains why he carries a gun

Mecklenburg DA Andrew Murray says a prosecutor’s job has gotten more dangerous and wants his people paid better. He started carrying a gun shortly after being elected.
Mecklenburg DA Andrew Murray says a prosecutor’s job has gotten more dangerous and wants his people paid better. He started carrying a gun shortly after being elected. John D. Simmons

On Wednesday, Andrew Murray and his wife went to the sheriff’s department to renew their permits to carry concealed weapons.

The next day, the Mecklenburg district attorney drove to Raleigh to ask any legislator who would talk to him to approve better pay for his prosecutors.

The two trips were connected.

Murray says he’s ashamed that the salaries for his assistant district attorneys start at $45,000 when “I put them in harm’s way every day to do justice for this community.”

The job has changed, he says. Threats and violence against judges, prosecutors and public defenders continue to rise.

Murray says he didn’t start carrying a gun until he was elected five years ago, and began receiving threats against him and his family.

Retired Judge Richard Boner says he bought a Smith & Wesson 9 mm semi-automatic after his photograph and those of other court officials turned up in the jail cell of a reputed Charlotte gang member.

That same alleged United Blood Nation leader was later accused of using that same cell to plot the murders of a Charlotte-area couple.

The threat to Boner and the others was considered serious enough that Charlotte-Mecklenburg police and U.S. Marshals were posted at their homes. By that time, Boner had armed himself.

“I don’t take this stuff lightly anymore,” he said this week. “I told the cops out in front of my house back then that if any of those SOBs came out here, ‘You’ll be calling Harry & Bryant (funeral home).’ 

The tone around state and federal courthouses in Charlotte has certainly changed. In 2014, a witness in the murder trial of a UBN member in Charlotte said the defendant ordered the deaths of those testifying against him and had arranged for gang members to fill up the courtroom. Boner was the judge.

A few months later, the FBI says an imprisoned UBN leader ordered the kidnapping of the father of the Wake County prosecutor who had convicted him two years before.

In October 2014, prosecutors say Doug and Debbie London of Lake Wylie, S.C., were gunned down in their home by a UBN hitman to keep Doug London from testifying against the alleged gang members accused of robbing the couple’s mattress store.

Those and other episodes of violence – including the shooting of a Texas judge last year – appear to have changed the way some court personnel look at their jobs. Two years ago, Assistant District Attorney David Kelly, a Mecklenburg homicide prosecutor, refused to talk about his family during his judge’s race out of fear for their safety.

Presiding U.S. District Judge Frank Whitney, whose photograph also was found in the raid on the alleged gang members cell, says law enforcement jobs have always carried risk. He started carrying a weapon more than a decade ago after a purported Ku Klux Klan member threatened him while Whitney was a U.S. attorney in Raleigh.

Regardless, Charlotte gun shop owner Larry Hyatt says more and more judges – including females – have joined his clientele.

“These cases are all becoming a little more dangerous,” he said Friday. “With the Internet, you can get their addresses, you can get to their families. There’s a lot more vulnerable information out there.”

If the jobs of prosecutors and public defenders indeed carry more peril, Murray wants them paid at least a little bit better.

“My prosecutors are putting hardened criminals behind bars, and there is certainly a concern of retribution for the job they do every day,” he says.

“The pay is not commensurate with the risk.”