Longtime prosecutor, Currin, retiring at end of term

Dec. 11, 2013 @ 09:53 PM

Sam Currin, a prosecutor in the Ninth Prosecutorial District for more than three decades, has announced his retirement as district attorney effective with the end of his term in 2014.

Currin said he’s seen how the changes in society, and local crime dynamics, have impacted the work of his office since being hired by David Waters, his predecessor as DA, in June 1979.

“I’ve been doing this for 34 years,” Currin said. “In the 1970s, there were very little drugs. Then came cocaine and crack, then heroin use rose up.”

Currin said violent gangs and more organized illegal smuggling of drugs have had the greatest impacts on the district, which includes Vance, Granville, Warren and Franklin counties. Added to the equation are more criminals with guns and a criminal-element culture that hides its own.

There are gangs with local affiliation names, but Currin believes those local names are under general or possibly intentional affiliation with national gang organizations such as the well-known Crips and Bloods.

“This has led to a rise in violent crimes, not only here, but just about anywhere,” Currin said.

Currin earned his undergraduate degree in 1969 and his law degree in 1971, each from Wake Forest University. He worked with the law firm of Hollowell and Ragsdale in Raleigh, Watkins and Edmundson in Oxford, as well as in private practice individually.

Currin was appointed by Judge Hamilton Hobgood to be special prosecutor with the John Umstead Hospital before being hired by Waters in 1979. Former Gov. Mike Easley appointed him DA in 2001 when Waters stepped down to return to private practice.

He can recall outcomes of memorable cases. And he has experienced frustration.

Currin said one of the biggest challenges is dealing with a justice system that returns criminals to the streets. Another is seeing criminality handed down through generations.

“It is a revolving door,” he said. “There is so much recidivism. You also prosecute some of the children, and some of the grandchildren, of those you prosecuted before. It is frustrating. It is also sad.”

Currin said while he does not agree with gun control, he has to admit that more guns are on the scene than ever. Criminal possession of firearms is predominantly illegal already, by convicted felons or because of altered or stolen guns, according to Currin.

“There was not a great deal of guns on the streets in 1979,” he said. “People just didn’t have things like that. They had some rifles or guns for hunting and there were smaller-caliber handguns, but nothing like today.”

An evolved phenomenon today is the vanishing gun as a factor at almost every serious crime scene. The murder weapons used are seldom found.

“It’s just a routine to get rid of them, throw them in the lake or give them away — far away,” Currin said. “They seldom find guns from a serious crime anymore.”

The gang scene — the criminal element culture — “is not conducive to helping law enforcement agencies,” Currin added.

There are encouraging signs of more good guys joining the struggle, though, and crime rates are actually nudging down in recent years, according to Currin.

“I wouldn’t take any credit for it, but crime has gone down in the last few years,” Currin said. “We have tried to prosecute more of the career criminals, and that has had some impact.”

Currin pointed to the buildup of serious cases in Vance County as a primary focus that captures his attention in his final year at the helm.

“I am not happy with the number of murder cases in Vance County, but I feel like we have made a dent in it,” Currin said. “I believe in 2014 we will clear more than half of the cases now pending.”

The biggest case Currin remembers from his 34 years as a prosecutor was actually tried in Person County. The strangulation murder case against Ricky Price resulted in the death penalty. Price was also convicted of killing a woman in Danville, Va., and accused in attempts against several others, always with a shoestring for strangling.

“He had five former girlfriends he wanted to kill all in one weekend,” Currin said. “He wanted to simplify his life, get rid of them. You’d have to be somewhat psycho to do something like that, but he was never found to be to the point of incompetent to stand trial. He knew right from wrong.”

Price ran through his appeals against being executed, then as his date neared he died of a heart attack, according to Currin.

A case that hit closer to home was the trials against three involved with the Aug. 29, 2008, botched robbery and violent shooting death of Sadeq Ali Muhammad Alashmali, a store clerk at the family-owned Williamsboro Grocery in Vance County.

Currin indicated he would agree with Sharon McKnight, mother of convicted murderer Demarius Antoine Benson, who said there was no sense behind what her son and the other convicted murderer, Saadi Theodore Williams, did that day.

“They got absolutely nothing,” Currin said. “In some of these crimes, they’re not only killing to get drugs, but they’re on drugs when they do it.”

A third man, Orrie Kurtell Williams, pleaded guilty to a conspiracy charge in the case and is scheduled for release in May.

Currin said he hopes to continue practicing law, preferably in an ongoing prosecutorial role. North Carolina law allows retired prosecutors to take cases on a contractual basis, keeping hours and compensation within perimeters while receiving retirement pension benefits.

“That’s what I would prefer to do,” Currin said. “I look forward to traveling across the country with my wife Bettye, visiting our five grandchildren. Bettye, I am thankful for her support of the time I have put in here. She has helped me a great deal.”

Currin said he plans in the meantime, as his final year progresses, to express his great thanks to what he characterized as a stellar staff of supportive individuals working the cause of prosecuting offenders together.

“And I will be looking forward to working with them in the future,” he said.

He added that his support for Cindy Bostic, an assistant district attorney based in Oxford, in the 2014 election is in part a matter of concern for seeing the office continue under the management and organization structure that stems from Waters’ legacy of leadership before.

“I am hoping everyone employed here will keep their jobs, and I am sure Cindy will see to that,” Currin said.

Bostic sent out a notice this week that, with Currin’s retirement imminent, she would seek the office.

“She has close to 19 years of experience,” Currin said. “She is a good lawyer and she will do a good job, make the right calls on cases. There is more than just trying cases, there’s administrative work. Our job is also to make sure justice is done, not just to try all cases to the hilt.”

Contact the writer at mfisher@hendersondispatch.com.