Man appeals larceny conviction – again

Published 9:06 am Thursday, August 3, 2017

Four years after he allegedly stole a knife from a local business, a Hiddenite man has once again appealed the decision of a Davie Superior Court jury.

Douglas Eugene Curlee, 53, was arrested Feb. 6, 2013, after he was observed on surveillance video at Lowes Home Improvement in Mocksville taking a knife from a display rack. When confronted outside the store, Curlee fled on foot and was found in a restroom at Shiki restaurant. He was charged with felony larceny because he allegedly disabled the anti-theft device when he cut open the clamshell packaging.

At his trial, July 7, 2015, Curlee represented himself, and when the jury went to deliberate, Curlee, who had gone outside with his common-law wife, disappeared. In his absence, the jury found him guilty of felony larceny, but because he was not in the courtroom, he was not able to be sentenced. The judge issued an order for his arrest, and he turned himself in six months later.

He appeared in court again Feb. 29, 2016, and was sentenced to 103 to 136 months, but appealed.

In their decision, the NC Court of Appeals ruled during one of his hearings, Curlee was not informed that if he was unable to hire counsel, he would be forced to proceed without an attorney, which he did during the trial when he disappeared. His conviction was reversed, allowing him a new trial, and he was placed under a $30,000 secured bond earlier this year, but has remained in jail until his appearance July 18.

At his trial, represented by his court-appointed attorney, Wade Leonard, Curlee listened as Chris Holbrook, a pastor who was a loss prevention associate the day Curlee appeared in the store, recounted seeing Curlee enter the store and choose a knife from a display near the tools. Holbrook said he watched on camera as Curlee walked down an aisle and appeared to take another knife from his left pocket that he used to cut the clamshell packaging containing the Lowes knife, before putting the empty packaging on a shelf and placing the stolen knife into his right pocket.

Outside the store, Holbrook and another employee confronted Curlee, who initially denied having the stolen knife, but eventually produced it from his pocket and dropped it onto the sidewalk before running away. Holbrook said Lowes was able to repackage and sell the knife.

Over an objection by Leonard, the jury of nine men and three women watched the video from that day. They then heard testimony from two Mocksville officers who responded to the call, Daniel Matthews and Ronald Armstrong. They saw Curlee run and followed him to Goodwill, where it was believed he ran into one door and out another.

Det. John “Cody” Stephens, who was a K-9 handler at the time, testified he was in the area with his canine officer and heard on the radio a suspect had fled. Believing his services would be needed, he responded. Leonard objected to Stephens’ testimony, saying “he wasn’t a duly qualified officer at the time of the arrest” and called Stephens a “dog chaser, dog officer.” Judge Jeffery Carpenter ruled Stephens was a sworn officer at the time and had jurisdiction.

Stephens believed Curlee could have run into Shiki, due to its proximity to Goodwill, and when he entered the restaurant, he said, people pointed to the bathroom. Stephens found Curlee there in a stall and took him outside where he turned him over to the Mocksville officers.

Leonard argued for dismissal, saying the “evidence doesn’t exist anymore,” because the knife had been sold. Carpenter denied the request, saying the state had presented more than enough evidence and Leonard could argue his points during closing statements.

Curlee, wearing an electronic ankle monitor, chose not to testify.

In her closing statement, Marissa Kuzbyt, assistant DA, called Holbrook a credible witness, noting he has nothing to gain by his testimony. She said everything he said was corroborated by the video, and the jury should use their common sense in remembering Curlee was seen taking the stolen knife from his pocket and running.

Leonard said the video was “fuzzy and jerky.” “I still don’t know what I’m looking at. And I still have a question as to why we are here 4.5 years later. Lowes took this real seriously, didn’t they? They could have cared less. They got their knife back, they didn’t lose anything. They repackaged it and sold it. The worst-case scenario is he may have tried to take that knife, but he’s not charged with attempted larceny. He’s charged with larceny. But Lowes didn’t lose that knife, and Mr. Curlee didn’t larcin anything. He’s not charged with trying; he’s charged with succeeding.”

Before deliberations could begin and just after Carpenter released the alternate juror (who remained seated in the courtroom), one juror said she was experiencing a drop in her blood sugar and asked for a soft drink and a pack of crackers. Carpenter had her moved to another room, where she was given the snacks and some time to recover. He then asked her if she could proceed and she said she could.

The jury deliberated less than 10 minutes before finding Curlee guilty of felony larceny.

On a charge of being a habitual felon, Curlee pled guilty and was found guilty. His record included another felony larceny charge, uttering a forged instrument, and escape from a state prison.

Before sentencing, Leonard argued Curlee had “stayed out of trouble until 1997 at which time this fancy knife caught his fancy.” He asked Carpenter to consider Curlee’s non-violent nature, that he hadn’t been in trouble for 20 years, and that he’d already been in jail over 16 months.

Carpenter sentenced Curlee to 115-150 months, with credit for the time served. He was ordered to pay court costs and an attorney fee. Curlee appealed the larceny verdict.