Police: Gang Threats Postpone Murder Trial

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Durham officials have postponed a murder trial amid alleged gang-related threats of violence.

The first-degree murder trial of 17-year old Calvin Nicholson is on hold. He is accused of gunning down an 18-year-old Hillside High School student on Bacon Street in 2005. Police say it was gang-related.

Tuesday's courthouse melee erupted on the fifth-floor, after key witnesses backed out of the Nicholson trial. They said they were being threatened.

"An incident occurred when information came up that caused people from one courtroom and gang to come to the other courtroom, where members of a rival gang were involved," said Durham District Attorney Mike Nifong.

Durham police are investigating the threats, which are a major challenge in prosecuting gang-related trials.

"You can't really conduct trials in an atmosphere, where there is intimidation of witnesses, or where there is fear that something might happen," Nifong said. "The District Attorney's Office is not equipped to protect witnesses in any situation. There aren't any local witness protection programs, or anything of that nature. The fact is people are to some extent on their own, in terms of their protection."

Stormy Ellis is Durham's gang prosecutor.

"When it comes to trial, everybody's kind of scrambling and coming up with excuses and that's when the intimidation tends to start," she said.

Ellis says the threats may slow down prosecution, but not justice.

"It's not going to keep us from prosecuting cases," she said. "We will work with victims, we will work with the facts, and we will bring people to justice."

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