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Morning Roundup: A N.C. company touted by President Obama closes abrubtly

A North Carolina furniture company closed abruptly Thursday just one year after it was hailed by President Barack Obama as an example of the recovering U.S. economy. Lincolnton Furniture Company operations stopped indefinitely and only a few people will remain employed moving forward, company financial officer Ben Causey said. Full story here.

More political headlines:

--North Carolina's congressional delegation is now firmly Republican after GOP redistricting redrew the political favor. Here's a look at Raleigh Republican George Holding's outlook as a freshman. He has one priority: cutting spending.

--For Raleigh-based state government workers who endured four years without a pay raise, the free bus pass was a nice benefit while it lasted. The state ended its funding.

DA's want to halt executions in cases that used SBI

STOP THE NEEDLE: The president of the N.C. Conference of District Attorneys said Monday that he supported a moratorium on the execution of any death-row inmates whose cases include evidence from the State Bureau of Investigations crime labs. (N&O)

SWEEPSTAKES AGAIN?: A new group representing programmers and owners of video poker-style games set to become illegal in North Carolina says it is working to tweak their games so the owners can stay in business. (AP)

INSTANT RUNOFF: North Carolina voters will get to use a rare method for choosing an elected official in the November election. Eight candidates have filed to run for a Court of Appeals seat vacated recently by Judge Jim Wynn. Voters must use instant runoff voting when so many candidates run for a vacancy close to Election Day. The voters rank their top three candidates in order of preference. (AP)

Bill would boost murder penalty

Ed jonesState Sen. Ed Jones has filed a bill that would bump up the penalty for second-degree murder.

The legislation was filed Thursday, a day after a Winston-Salem murder that became the impetus for the bill reached an apparent resolution in state court, Dan Kane reports.

According to the Winston-Salem Journal, Aaron Jarrett Jr., 40, was sentenced to a minimum of 31 years in prison for killing Philnando O'Neal.

Jarrett pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and armed robbery. He had originally been charged with first-degree murder, which could have resulted in life behind bars or a death sentence.

O'Neal's mother, Mary Lyons of Elizabeth City, had protested the plea deal after learning that a second-degree murder conviction could bring as little as just under eight years in prison. She spoke to Jones, a Halifax County Democrat, who agreed to boost the penalty for a conviction to a minimum of 12 years.

The N.C. Conference of District Attorneys supports the legislation, which representatives say could lead to fewer first-degree murder cases. A recent state Office of Indigent Defense Services report found that the cost of providing legal help to poor defendants has risen steeply in the last several years because prosecutors are leaving many murder cases open to the death penalty, despite the fact that few result in a death sentence.

Advocates: Don't execute mentally ill

A coalition of advocates for the mentally ill and a state Superior Court judge spoke in favor today of legislation that would exclude the severely mentally ill from the death penalty.

Draft legislation introduced at a joint legislative committee today would allow a judge to determine that a defendant suffered from severe mental illness at the time of the killing. The defendant would still face a murder trial, but the worst punishment would be life without parole, Dan Kane reports.

Advocates of the legislation say it would only apply to those with severe mental illnesses such as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder, or from severe brain injuries. Those whose criminal acts were the result of drug or alcohol abuse would not be eligible.

"We're talking about individuals whose distortion of thinking is so severe that it's difficult for us to imagine," said James Ellis, a University of New Mexico law professor who successfully argued to the U.S. Supreme Court several years ago that the mentally retarded should not be executed.

More after the jump.

Seven of 43 elected DAs are women

Only a handful of women are elected prosecutors in North Carolina.

According to the N.C. Conference of District Attorneys, seven out of 43 elected district attorneys in the state will be women next year, or a little over 16 percent.

Director Peg Dorer said the state didn't have a female elected prosecutor until Jean Powell won a campaign in the late 1980s, shortly before Dorer took her job.

"This is a high point," she said. "When I came on board in 1992, there was one female D.A. in the state and it remained that way for a while. We've just grown little by little over the years."

The female D.A.s next year will be Tracey Cline in Durham's District 14, Valerie Asbell in District 6B, Susan Doyle in District 11, Kristy Newton in District 16A, Roxann Vaneekhoven in 19A, Maureen Krueger in 19D and Sarah Kirkman in 22A.

The small number of district attorneys could be one reason why no women have served as state attorney general or secretaries of Crime Control, Correction or Juvenile Justice.

Local prosecutors are often a steppingstone for those jobs. 

D.A.'s pay

Mike Nifong is now taking heat for costing other prosecutors funding.

At a press conference today, district attorneys from around the state said their needs are being disregarded in part because of the Durham D.A.'s handling of the Duke lacrosse case, Sarah Ovaska reports.

"There's 42 of us and it's unfair to tag us all," said Garry Frank, president of the N.C. Conference of District Attorneys.

The Senate budget would pay for 60 new assistant district attorneys, 80 legal assistants and 15 investigators. That could help with the 33 percent increase in felonies over the past decade, advocates said.

Nifong will go before the State Bar on ethics charges next month.

Open files

A Senate Judiciary committee agreed to make minor changes to a 2004 law that requires prosecutors to open case files to defendants.

The proposal represents a compromise between the N.C. Conference of District Attorneys, which sought greater leeway to withhold details of some witness interviews from defense attorneys, and the N.C. Academy of Trial Lawyers, Lynn Bonner reports.

Under the compromise, prosecutors would not have to make notes of witness interviews for disclosure unless the information is new or significantly different from previous witness statements. The state would not have to disclose the identity of confidential informants.

The initial proposal gained resonance coming in the fallout of the Duke lacrosse case, in which Durham District Attorney Mike Nifong withheld DNA evidence.

Brad Bannon, incoming chairman of the N.C. Academy of Trial Lawyer's criminal defense section, said the proposal makes "narrow exceptions to the open file rule."

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