Case continued for theft suspect

Published 9:28 am Thursday, February 23, 2017

A Hiddenite man who allegedly stole a knife from a local business in 2013 was back in Davie Superior Court Feb. 13 after the NC Court of Appeals reversed his conviction, allowing him the opportunity of a new trial.

Douglas Eugene Curlee, 53, was arrested in February, 2013, after he was accused of stealing a $20 knife from Lowes Home Improvement in Mocksville. He was charged with a felony because he disabled the anti-theft device when he cut open the clamshell packaging. Because of his record, he was also charged with being a habitual felon.

On Feb. 7, Curlee requested court-appointed counsel, and Lori Hamilton was given his case. On May 19, 2014, Curlee was indicted on the habitual felon charge, and later that month, in court, Curlee said he wanted to waive court-appointed counsel to hire Michael Parker.

The case was continued three times and on May 11, 2015, Michael Parker told Judge Kevin Bridges Curlee had not hired him and if the case couldn’t be continued, he would have to withdraw as counsel. Bridges agreed to continue the case for two more months to give Curlee time to pay Parker.

When Curlee still had not hired Parker, Parker filed a motion on June 29, 2015 to withdraw as counsel.

Appearing before Judge Julia Gullett on July 6, Curlee asked for counsel to be appointed. Because he had previously signed a waiver for court-appointed counsel, Curlee was not given an attorney, and instead, represented himself at his trial, which began the next day, July 7. At the close of evidence on the larceny charge, the jury left to deliberate, and Curlee and his common-law wife left the courtroom.

When the jury returned with a verdict less than 15 minutes later, it was determined Curlee had fled. In his absence, the jury deliberated on the second phase of his trial, the habitual felon charge, returning a guilty verdict. Gullett was unable to sentence Curlee due to his absence, and an order for his arrest was issued.

Curlee turned himself in and was arrested six months later. He appeared before Judge Bridges on Feb. 29, 2016, where he was sentenced to 103 to 136 months. He appealed, so the case went to the NC Court of Appeals.

The court, according to their report, found that at the May 11, 2015 hearing, the issue of whether Curlee might not be able to hire Parker even with a continuance was not addressed, and further, Curlee was not informed that if he was unable to hire Parker, he would be forced to proceed with no counsel. He was simply told to be ready for trial on July 6, and was not informed of the consequences of self-representation.

Curlee has been in prison since his arrest over a year ago, and attorney Wade Leonard was appointed on Jan. 13 to represent him. Both appeared before Judge Richard B. Gottlieb Feb. 13, on a bond motion. Assistant DA Marissa Kuzbyt told Gottlieb that Curlee “has a bad record, is a danger to the community, and is likely to re-offend,” asking Gottlieb for a high bond.

Leonard said Curlee regretted leaving court during his trial in 2015 and told Gottlieb Curlee isn’t a flight risk. “You see how old and decrepit he is,” Leonard said.

Gottlieb placed Curlee under a $30,000 secured bond. His next court date is April 3.