Meck DA Spencer Merriweather wins 2nd four-year term; says he’ll work for a safer county

·5 min read
Top Charlotte prosecutor said he won’t pursue abortion cases. What’s his promise worth?

Mecklenburg County District Attorney Spencer Merriweather earned a second four-year term Tuesday night with a landslide win in the Democratic primary over Charlotte attorney Tim Emry, a former public defender and community activist who ran far to the left of the incumbent on most criminal-justice issues.

With all 195 precincts reporting, Merriweather had 70.5% of the total to Emry’s 29.5%.

The winner’s lead — which eventually reached more than 28,000 votes — ballooned throughout the night, leading Emry to concede shortly before 9:30 p.m. with more than two-thirds of the precincts still to be counted.

There are no Republicans in the race, meaning Merriweather remains the top prosecutor in the state’s largest local criminal-justice system. He was appointed to the post in 2017 and won his first four-year term a year later.

He returns to an office facing challenging times. The two-year pandemic shut down the courts for nine months and led to an only-partial reopening while also depleting Merriweather’s prosecutorial staff.

The widespread outbreak of COVID-19 across Charlotte-Mecklenburg also coincided with a surge in violent crime. Some 350 defendants in Mecklenburg have been charged in pending murder cases alone, and the wait for a trial is averaging about five years.

Merriweather, 44, has been a moderate, career prosecutor who also has been involved in several of the county’s major criminal-justice reforms. He interpreted his victory as an endorsement by voters of his dual plans to help reform the courts while protecting public safety.

“I take this as a renewal of my contract,” Merriweather said, shortly after he had taken Emry’s phoned concession.

“I feel very gratified to get another four years to meet the community’s expectations. I’m proud of the way our campaign could articulate our vision, and now it’s about getting back to work.”

Emry, though expressing disappointment in his showing among voters, said he was proud of his campaign.

“I think we had really important ideas and policy positions and we tried to elevate the conversation throughout,” he said. “I’ll wake up tomorrow and still be talking about these same issues. This campaign has never been about me. It’s about the marginal people in this community who are over-policed and over-prosecuted in ways that don’t make us safe. They make us less safe.”

During his campaign, Merriweather pledged to continue emphasizing the handling of violent crimes while promising to build on “a career of experience serving victims.”

In contrast to Emry, Merriweather refused to rule out seeking the death penalty, saying he owes it to every parent who loses a child to a killer to consider all legal options, including capital punishment. The county, at least for now, no longer has any death penalty cases scheduled.

Merriweather also created a so-called “special victims” team in his office to prosecute sex crimes and other offenses against women and children, as well as a violent-crime unit to focus on felonies involving firearms.

He pledges to work with other government partners toward a “school system that is free of guns” as well as a continuation of bond-reform policies in which custody is based on “dangerousness not debt.” He also says he will lobby the state legislature to do more to support the courts, which Merriweather said are understaffed and under-financed statewide.

Merriweather, the son of Alabama public educators, is the the county’s first African-American DA. He says he became a prosecutor in part “because I knew what it felt like to be treated inequitably by the government because of my race.”

He’s also been a visible partner to ongoing efforts by the Mecklenburg courts to address racial and economic biases in the courtroom and the first D.A. in the state to create a “Diversity and Inclusion” team to examine the treatment of defendants and crime victims alike.

Yet Emry, who is white, repeatedly attempted to paint his opponent as a tool of a corrupt and racist system geared more toward mass incarceration of minority defendants rather than achieving justice.

The 45-year-old criminal defense attorney pledged never to call for capital punishment, describing the death penalty as “the most visible symbol of white supremacy in North Carolina.”

He also accused Merriweather and his office of being soft on what he described as police crimes — from controversial shootings to withholding evidence and giving false testimony at trials — and he promised to put together a special team of prosecutors to put cops in jail if they break the law.

Emry said he will continue advocating with groups around the county on reforming the criminal-justice system, including the D.A.’s office.

“I think Spencer is an honorable and noble person. My issues with him have never been personal. They’ve been policies,” Emry said.

“We both want what’s best for Charlotte. We just have vastly different ideas on how to get there.”

Mecklenburg judicial races

Mecklenburg County had four competitive court races on the ballot Tuesday. With complete but unofficial votes reporting:

Superior Court

District 26D, Seat 1: David Strickland defeated Roy Wiggins 64.1% to 35.9%

The winner of the Democratic primary replaces Superior Court Judge Lisa Bell, who is retiring Dec. 31.

District Court

Seat 18: Cecilia Oseguera defeated Keith Smith 50% to 49.96%, a margin of 59 votes in a race in which more than 67,000 ballots were cast.

Seat 19: Samantha Mobley defeated Belal Elrahal 58.3% to 41.7%

Seat 1: Shante’ Burke-Hayer defeated Christopher Bazzle 53.9% to 46.1%

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting