Wednesday, May 22, 2024

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Case postponed one week; judge admonishes lawyer who was 45 minutes late to court

The latest trial in the 2020 protest cases – and one of the last for nearly five dozen defendants charged at protests in downtown Graham during the second half of 2020 – was over within minutes in Alamance County district court Wednesday morning.

Retired visiting district court judge Lunsford Long, III of Orange County, who has presided over all of the 2020 protest trials in Alamance County district court, agreed this week to postpone one of the last remaining trials, after admonishing the defense attorney in the case for repeatedly showing up to court late – including Wednesday morning.

Samuel Pierre, 22, black male, of 202 West Walnut Street in Pink Hill, was scheduled for trial in district court on Wednesday. He is charged with misdemeanor failure to disperse on command, resisting an officer, and public disturbance during the “I Am Change Legacy March to the Polls” in Graham on October 31, 2020.

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Pierre’s attorney, Jason Keith of Greensboro, arrived 45 minutes late for court Wednesday morning before asking the judge to move the case to next week.

Attorney Jason Keith during an earlier press conference with Rev. Gregory Drumwright (right) and Lumberton attorney Benjamin Crump (left).

“I have been commissioned by [the state’s Administrative Office of the Courts] to deal with the business of the court,” Long told Keith Wednesday morning. “Now I’ve wasted a day of court time, when I could be somewhere else doing something constructive.”

Some judges “would view that as contempt of court,” Long continued. “I’ve been here for 19 or 20 days, and I can’t keep coming back.”

Long said he’d received an email confirming that the trial was set for Wednesday. Keith acknowledged that he’d also received an email confirmation but inadvertently disregarded it, thinking the case had already been resolved. “A mistake was made,” Keith said, offering his assurance that Pierre’s trial, as well as those for two other defendants he is representing, can be resolved next Wednesday.

Keith also confirmed for Long that his client was not present in the courtroom Wednesday morning.

“Success has destroyed more people than failure,” Long warned, adding, “It looks like you’re spreading yourself too thin.”

The defense attorney told the judge that he has represented “seven or eight” defendants charged at protests in Graham last year for their trials.

Alamance County assistant district attorney Kevin Harrison subsequently agreed to continue Pierre’s trial.

In addition to Pierre’s case, trials will be held in district court next Wednesday for two other defendants charged during the October 31 protest in downtown Graham. Those defendants include: Devante Esters Cromartie, 24, black male, of 1745 West Parkton Tobermory Road in Parkton, who is charged with misdemeanor failure to disperse on command; and Stephen Morris Walker, 37, black male, of 702 East Lindsey Street in Greensboro, also charged with failure to disperse on October 31.

Next week’s trials will be the last in the 2020 protest cases, Harrison confirmed Wednesday morning for an Alamance News reporter.

However, appeals remain pending in superior court for several defendants who were charged at protests in Graham last year and later convicted at trial. The appeals are tentatively scheduled for trial later this year, Harrison said Wednesday.


One out-of-town man pleads guilty

Meanwhile, Justin Nathaniel Verton, 34, white male, of 3074 Soapstone Mountain Road, Staley, voluntarily pled guilty Wednesday morning to misdemeanor possession of a weapon during a demonstration in downtown Graham on August 17, 2020.

Verton’s attorney, Brad Buchanan of Graham, told Long that his client had come to Graham that night for an assessment at Life Changes, a DWI counseling center along West Elm Street. Verton had parked near the county office building – where Alamance County’s commissioners were meeting – and was returning to his vehicle when he found himself in the midst of a “kind of flash protest,” Buchanan said, adding, “He was genuinely curious about what was going on.”

A Graham police officer spotted the gun on Verton’s hip and told him couldn’t have it at the demonstration. The next day, Verton was charged with possession of a .38-caliber revolver handgun, as a spectator at a demonstration, according to a copy of the citation that the Graham police department furnished to the newspaper last fall in response to a public records request.

Verton works as an electrician and carries a weapon in case he had to defend himself, Buchanan told Long Wednesday morning. “Sometimes, if you’re carrying copper, things like that, you’ll carry a weapon,” the attorney said.

Long agreed to enter a prayer for judgment and ordered Verton to pay court costs within 40 days.

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