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North Carolinian Left in Jail Awaiting Trial for 11 Years

On December 14, 2023, over a decade of pre-trial detention finally came to an end for a Charlotte murder suspect. Devalos Perkins, 37, pleaded guilty in Mecklenburg County District Court to voluntary manslaughter in the 2005 slaying of Justin Ervin—almost 11 years after his 2012 arrest for the crime.

It wasn’t until October 31, 2023, that Perkins was finally deemed fit for trial by Judge Carla Archie, after she heard expert testimony that he was “competent to proceed” from forensic psychiatrist Dr. Sharif Soliman. Perkins’ lawyer also said, “I believe in my heart of hearts Mr. Perkins is competent.” Yet Perkins was unable to tell the court what day it was or how long he’d been in jail.

In the long years before that hearing, Perkins ricocheted on and off jail suicide watch. One lawyer withdrew from the case, fearing too much for his personal safety to sit near Perkins in court. A string of psychiatrists found him incapable to stand trial. Judges then returned him to jail, where he was left in solitary confinement or a restraint chair.

For 4,090 days, while “neither convicted nor cleared of the crime,” Perkins also battled schizophrenia. He tore sprinkler heads from the ceiling, racking up fines for destroying jail property. He repeatedly threw urine and feces at guards, who then filled his cell with pepper spray. On numerous hunger strikes, he described for doctors a global cabal of imaginary enemies listening to his thoughts.

Accepting his plea, Judge Karen Eady-Williams noted the maximum sentence Perkins could receive—135 months—roughly matched the time he had spent in jail and mental hospitals while trapped in legal limbo, so she ordered him released. Meanwhile two other suspects in Ervin’s slaying had long ago been set free, thanks to a lack of evidence—which Perkins’ trial might have provided.

When he was arrested, North Carolina law allowed—but didn’t require—judges to dismiss charges after lengthy waits for trial. Since 2013, the law now mandates dismissal of untried charges after 10 years. That’s still a long time, so criminal justice reform advocates are urging lawmakers to set timeframes for evaluation, treatment and hospitalization of mentally ill suspects. Citing lack of healthcare resources in jails they advocate for community-based programs instead.   


Sources: Charlotte Observer, WSOC

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