WILMINGTON — George Brauchler, the Colorado district attorney who convicted the Aurora theater mass shooter James Holmes, delivered a presentation at a recent North Carolina conference that impressed local prosecutors in attendance.
Titled “Contemporary Opening and Closing: for Impact and Victory,” Brauchler provided techniques for prosecutors, using the Aurora trial as an example.
“The conventional popular wisdom was that the mass murderer was ‘severely mentally ill’ and even ‘insane.’ That theory was crushed in opening statements and never regained its footing. A little after one day after closing arguments, the jury convicted the shooter of 166 counts,” according to literature provided by the North Carolina Conference of District Attorneys, the organization hosting the conference.
“That was an incredible class,” said Mark Miller, an assistant district attorney for Surry County who attended the conference.
“It was fascinating,” said Peg Dorer, director of the conference. “We have never had evaluations like we had for this guy. He’s just gifted.”
The presentation was a highlight of the annual fall association meeting which was held here Oct. 21-23, one of two annual events through which assistant district attorneys throughout the state can meet required Continuing Legal Education hours.
While the assistant DAs were busy at this event, elected district attorneys met at a mandatory conference held Oct. 21-22.
Surry County District Attorney Richard Bowman was in attendance, Dorer said.
Much of the content of the two meetings overlapped, pointing to important contemporary challenges prosecutors face in and out of the courtroom.
John Byrd, director of the State Crime Lab, provided updates about the lab’s backlog at both meetings.
“That’s a number one priority for district attorneys,” Dorer said, noting that Byrd spoke of recent funding increases that are expected to facilitate faster processing of samples through outsourcing to private labs, higher salaries for technicians and the opening of a new lab.
“They are making headway, that’s the really exciting thing,” Dorer said. “It was a very positive report.”
Also discussed at both meetings were issues involved with Motions for Appropriate Relief, which is a method for getting a case reviewed post-conviction.
“It’s become a cottage industry,” Dorer said. “We’re looking for some reforms.”
At the conference for the elected district attorneys a “DA App” was introduced, and other high-profile topics such as appropriate use of force cases were discussed.
The assistant district attorneys also attended sessions examining the impact of social media on the criminal justice system in general and on the ethical obligations of prosecutors in particular, prosecuting internet crimes against children and combating the effect of fictional law enforcement television.
Updates on case law changes were provided by Jeff Welty, assistant professor, UNC School of Government.
The conference gave prosecutors a chance to meet with others from around the state who face the same daily challenges.
“It’s a great relief,” said Quentin Harris, assistant district attorney in Surry County, noting that those unfamiliar with the job don’t always understand it.
“Sometimes we’re the only ones we can talk to.”
Reach Terri Flagg at 415-4734.