Editorial Roundup: North Carolina

Recent editorials from North Carolina newspapers:

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Feb. 17

The Fayetteville Observer on a local “true crime" case:

What makes a murder case catch national attention?

Reasons can vary. But one thing that captivates the public is when the crime contains unbelievable violence, and the person accused seems an unlikely perpetrator. An ex-football star and beloved TV spokesman being charged in the gruesome murders of his ex-wife and a friend is one prominent example.

But a generation before the O.J. Simpson trial, Fayetteville became the center of the true crime universe. Capt. Jeffrey MacDonald, a doctor assigned to a Green Beret unit at Fort Bragg, stood accused of stabbing to death his pregnant wife, Colette, who was 26, and the couple’s two young daughters, Kimberley, age 5, and Kristen, age 2.

Feb. 17 marked the 50th anniversary of the crime.

The MacDonalds lived in military housing at Corregidor Courts — the home has since been razed, replaced in 2008 by a community recreation center.

MacDonald called in the emergency that fateful night. Military Police found him, with a stab injury and other wounds, in the home’s master bedroom, lying next to his murdered wife. The couple’s dead children lay in their bedrooms.

The doctor would later tell investigators that four drug-crazed hippies did the crime; the word “pig” had been scrawled in blood on a bed headboard.

But lawmen focused on MacDonald, and the Army charged him in May. After an Article 32 hearing, the Army dropped charges. Among problems with the prosecution’s case: A contaminated crime scene and a potential witness, Helena Stoeckley, whose account pointed away from MacDonald as the killer.

Among people who thought MacDonald had initially gotten away with murder were his wife’s parents. “We don’t ask that you prejudge, only that a trial should and must take place,” Alfred and Mildred Kassab of Stony Brook, New York wrote in a newspaper advertisement in The Fayetteville Observer.

Civilian authorities filed charges in 1979, and a trial jury deliberated just six hours before finding MacDonald guilty of first-degree murder of his wife and second-degree murder of his children.

MacDonald has proclaimed his innocence ever since. His appeal of the verdict went the farthest — and in fact freed him from prison for a little less than two years in the early 1980s — based on what most of the public would see as a technicality. The 4th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled he had not had a speedy trial. But the U.S. Supreme Court overturned that decision.

The MacDonald case has inspired multiple books and TV productions, including a new five-part documentary planned for FX, as well as a number of true crime websites. It is not the only case from Cumberland County that has ensnared the public imagination; another one is the case and multiple trials of Timothy Hennis, a soldier accused in the murder of an airman’s wife and two of the couple’s children. He was sentenced in a 2010 court martial at Bragg.

But the MacDonald case occupies its own space in how it affected our city. Coming just six months after the Charles Manson murders — in which the word “pig” was also written — it caused many area residents to worry a similar crime spree could happen here.

Thankfully, the city, with its size and proximity to Fort Bragg, is too broad to be known nationally only or primarily for its most-infamous instances of violence, as has happened with Columbine, Colorado, and Waco, Texas.

But the MacDonald case continues to live on in the public consciousness.

Online: https://www.fayobserver.com

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Feb. 15

The Wilmington StarNews on the rollback of a federal rule that limits dumping in wetlands:

While everyone was distracted by the impeachment drama, the Trump administration quietly muddied the nation’s waters.

Trump and his Environmental Protection Agency gutted an Obama-era rule that limited dumping in wetlands and what are considered “non-navigable” rivers and streams. These limits are now imposed only on rivers that can be navigated.

That includes the Cape Fear River, which technically can support boat and barge traffic as far as Fayetteville, and the Neuse River. Lots of non-navigable rivers and streams flow into the Cape Fear and Neuse, though, so the exception is pretty much meaningless.

Further, the EPA will no longer require landowners to seek permits from the EPA for dumping. That means if there’s any pollution we’ll only find out about it long after the fact. Just as we find out that horrendous quantities of potential toxic “forever” chemicals are winding up in the streams we depend on for our water supply. That’s not very reassuring.

As is often the case, these rules changes are being couched as a boon to that beloved and dwindling class, the Small Family Farmer. Farmers were supposedly being vexed by bureaucrats about their irrigation ponds.

The giveaway, however, was that Trump’s EPA chief unveiled the new changes at a meeting of the National Association of Home Builders in Las Vegas. Some developers love to bulldoze muck and waste from construction sites into the nearest stream, out of the way, instead of wasting money to cart it off.

Some also love to fill in wetlands when they need land for new subdivisions. That’s not a good idea.

We used to think of wetlands as malarial swamps, wasteland. Now, scientists see wetlands as nature’s natural filter, sucking up waste water from elsewhere and cleansing it. Wetlands also act as the ecosystem’s sponges, soaking up excess water -- say from a major hurricane. (A lot of wetlands have vanished in Southeastern North Carolina. See what’s happened since.)

In coastal areas, wetlands also support a huge population of useful wildlife, including seafood in its immature stage. We don’t need to be getting rid of more wetlands, but it looks like that’s what’s going to happen.

In three years, the Trump administration has weakened or repealed more than 100 environmental laws and regulations, and has opened thousands of acres of former national forests and monuments to mining and logging.

This marks a radical departure from previous Republican policies. Teddy Roosevelt expanded the national parks system. Richard Nixon, for all his faults, founded the EPA.

Unlike tweets and feuds, these moves will have permanent impact on our landscape, our lifestyle and even our health. Voters will need to weigh this record come November. It’s not inconsequential, especially for folks who get their drinking water from some of the waters affected.

Online: https://www.starnewsonline.com

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Feb. 13

The Charlotte Observer/ The Raleigh News & Observer on a judge's decision to reject the University of North Carolina's “Silent Sam" settlement:

Silent Sam is not going quietly. In fact, he’s coming back.

That’s the result of a judge’s ruling that nullified an outrageous legal settlement regarding Silent Sam, the UNC-CH campus statue that honors UNC students who fought for the Confederacy. Under the settlement, the University of North Carolina System Board of Governors agreed to give the statue to the Sons of the Confederacy (SCV) along with $2.5 million to display it elsewhere.

Protesters toppled the statue at the entrance to UNC’s Chapel Hill campus in August of 2018. It’s now in the possession of the SCV, but likely will be returned following the ruling by Orange County Superior Court Judge Allen Baddour. He approved the settlement in November and reversed himself on Feb. 12.

The ruling is a welcome one and marks a temporary return to sanity regarding the fate of the rifle-toting bronze figure that evolved from a campus landmark to a symbol of racism. The Board of Governors had no business giving a Confederate group $2.5 million to display Silent Sam elsewhere. The statue could easily be moved to a Civil War battlefield or a Confederate cemetery at a modest cost.

And such locations are where it should go. But that will require that the sanity of Baddour’s reversal extend to a dysfunctional Board of Governors and Republican legislative leaders who started the mess by pandering to supporters of Confederate monuments. A law, passed in 2105 and signed by former Gov. Pat McCrory, prevents removing, relocating or altering monuments, memorials, plaques and other markers that are on public property without permission from the N.C. Historical Commission. The law was passed after a white supremacist’s fatal shooting of nine people a black church in Charleston, S.C. brought a push to take down Confederate monuments.

McCrory said at the time that he supported the law’s aim to protect “the complete story of North Carolina,” but he was concerned that it prevents local governments from moving or removing monuments on their own property, a restriction Democrats were unable to strip from the bill.

Those concerns proved prophetic. The restriction on local action regarding monuments effectively tied the hands of UNC-CH leaders who wanted to take down Silent Sam. That left the statue at the center of a growing protest that eventually led protesters to act on their own.

The UNC System Board of Governors likewise felt compelled by the law to either put the statue back up or display it elsewhere. Some of the board’s 24 voting members, who are elected by the General Assembly, also were eager to please supporters of Confederate monuments in the legislature. That led to the quiet, convoluted and fraudulent settlement that aimed to get the divisive statue off campus, but accord it high honor in the hands of the SCV.

The settlement almost held up. Fortunately, a group of UNC students and a faculty member sought to legally challenge the settlement. Their effort caused Judge Baddour to review his earlier approval and find that the SCV had no valid ownership claim on Silent Sam and therefor no standing to enter into a settlement with the Board of Governors.

Now Silent Sam is down, but not quite out. It ought to go back into storage at the university. In meantime, the Board of Governors can seek an exemption from the monument law under a provision that allows for the removal of monuments that present a public safety concern. Better yet, legislators can amend the law to let local officials do what they think is best regarding local monuments.

Online: https://www.charlotteobserver.com

Online: https://www.newsobserver.com