Defendant skips out while jury deliberating

Published 9:41 am Wednesday, July 15, 2015

A Hiddenite man accused of larceny decided not to stick around to hear the jury’s verdict in Davie Superior Court last week.

Now, there is an order for his arrest.

Douglas Eugene Curlee, 51, represented himself on the felonies of larceny from a merchant and habitual felon, in front of Judge Julia Gullett. He was accused of stealing a knife from Lowes Home Improvement on Feb. 6, 2013. Although the knife was valued at about $20, because he cut open the clamshell packaging, disabling the anti-theft device, the charge became a felony, rather than a misdemeanor.

Chris Holbrook, now a pastor at a local church, was the loss prevention associate at Lowes. He said that day, on closed circuit television, he saw Curlee approach the knife case, holding something in front of him that resembled a binder. Curlee selected a knife from the case and went down another aisle, where Holbrook said he watched him take another knife from his pocket and cut the clamshell packaging on the Lowes knife. He discarded the packaging onto a shelf, put the knife in his right pocket and exited the store.

Holbrook and another employee confronted Curlee outside on the sidewalk. He said Curlee “tried to flee” and they struggled. Holbrook demanded the knife, and Curlee pulled one out of his left pocket but it wasn’t the one he stole. Holbrook told him to empty his right pocket, but Curlee continued to deny he’d taken anything, and a woman approached, telling Holbrook to leave Curlee alone. Holbrook said Curlee then removed the knife from his right pocket, dropping it on the ground, and the woman picked it up and handed it to Holbrook. Curlee took off running through the parking lot and toward Goodwill.

Officer Daniel Matthews, with the Mocksville Police Department, said he saw Curlee running from Lowes to Goodwill. Matthews went into Goodwill and said people in there pointed toward the back of the store. He and Officer Ronald Armstrong searched Goodwill. Cpl. Cody Stephens was in the area when he heard on his radio a suspect was on the run and thinking officers might need K9 assistance, he said, he joined them in Goodwill, but Curlee was nowhere to be found.

Stephens went to Shiki, beside Goodwill and asked workers if someone had run in there and they indicated a man did and was in the bathroom. Stephens found him there.

“He was in the stall and I had him come out. He was breathing hard and sweating,” Stephens testified.

The jury of six men and six women watched the video taken in the store that day. Curlee shook his head repeatedly while watching the video, and said, during his motion to dismiss the charges, that the movement Holbrook said he made to cut the packaging and take the knife out wasn’t visible on the video.

He also said while Holbrook said the packaging had been cut, by looking at a picture of it, it didn’t look like it had.

Curlee’s common-law wife, Shephanie Roark, said the only knife Curlee had in his pocket was a Spiderman knife her son had given Curlee years ago. While they were on the sidewalk, she said, “A long-haired skinny guy walked out of Lowes and said, ‘Here’s your knife.’ They let him (Curlee) go and he went jogging, not running, to Shiki.”

She said Curlee had an appointment at Shiki with someone he was going to do work for.

Assistant DA Wendy Terry asked Roark, “So you say Pastor Holbrook said you were the one who gave the knife to him and said ‘Here’s your knife, leave him alone’ but you said that’s not true, so Pastor Holbrook is deceiving the jury?”

Roark said, “No, he’s mistaken.”

She said she and Curlee were at Lowes that day to price air filters.

Curlee made another motion to dismiss, saying Holbrook should have produced video taken from outside the store that day that “would’ve shown everything.”

Holbrook previously testified there were no cameras outside the store, but Curlee said there are.

Gullett denied the motion.

In his closing statement, Curlee said the officers roughed him up and Holbrook “choked him a little bit” outside the store and that the only knife he had on him was the Spiderman knife. The packaging was not cut as far as he could see, he said, and when he left Lowes, he “jogged” to Shiki to meet with someone whose house he was going to roof.

“I know I’m innocent. I’ve got three children. I wouldn’t steal a $20 knife,” he said.

Terry told the jury to use their common sense in considering what they’d heard in testimony and seen on the video.

“There’s an expression, ‘If it looks like a duck and it walks like a duck and it quacks like a duck, then it’s a duck.’”

She said Curlee could clearly be seen on the video going past the tools and straight to the knives.

“How many other men in America do you know who wouldn’t stop to look at the tools?” she asked the jury.

She said the bubble part of the packaging was where Curlee made the cut to remove the knife, not the edge of the packaging where Curlee pointed to make his argument to the jury about the packaging not being cut.

“Everything Mr. Holbrook told you is consistent with the evidence. Mr. Holbrook has no incentive to not be completely honest, but the defendant is certainly interested in the outcome of this case and so is his common-law wife. And consider this. The defendant ran. If someone is beating you up and roughing you up and you hear sirens, you wouldn’t run, and you sure wouldn’t hide in a bathroom. Ms. Roark said he had a business meeting in Shiki, but she couldn’t explain why he ran through Goodwill. And if you have a business meeting, you aren’t going to hide in a bathroom” Terry said.

At the close of her argument, the jury left to deliberate. Curlee and Roark left the courtroom, and when the jury returned less than 15 minutes later, the bailiff went to find them to tell them there was a verdict. He saw Curlee outside the courthouse at a car, but by the time he could get down there, Curlee was gone.

Roark went back into the courtroom, sobbing, and told Gullett Curlee had her phone with him, so the bailiff called it, but it went right to voicemail. Deputies searched for Curlee for 25 minutes but could not find him, so Gullett said the jury could return to the courtroom and deliver their verdict, which was guilty.

The second phase of the trial dealt with Curlee’s status of habitual felon.

Terry told them Curlee had been convicted of uttering a forged instrument, escape from prison, and larceny, all felonies, and the jury deliberated about three minutes before returning a guilty verdict.

Gullett issued an order for Curlee’s arrest, setting no bond, and said once he is found, he is to remain in jail until the next session of Superior Court, Sept. 14. She was unable to sentence Curlee in his absence, so he received a prayer for judgment continued.