Legal officials respond

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, August 15, 2007

AHOSKIE – The State of North Carolina vs. Terry Britton, that single line written across the top of a court document has generated more opinion that even the staunchest presidential debate.

The child abuse charges against Britton were dropped just prior to the case going to court last month in Northampton County, thus backing the defendant’s repeated proclamations of his innocence throughout the four-year ordeal.

Now with that legal freedom in hand, Britton lashed out against those he felt led him to experience the worst time in his life (see Britton’s story, page 1A).

But, as they say, there are two sides to every story. With that in mind, the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald, in all fairness, decided to give those to which Britton made allegations against a chance to respond.

In his story, Britton said he was upset with the way District 6B Attorney Valerie Asbell handled the case from the outset. Even though Asbell, citing a conflict of interest, eventually handed off the case to another prosecutor, she was the target of several allegations.

One of the more notable allegations was Britton’s claim that Asbell did not share all of her case files with his legal council, particularly a 2003 report from the Tedi-Bear Child Advocacy Center in Greenville that questioned the legitimacy of sexual abuse by Britton on his then three-year-old daughter.

“All of the discovery materials in this case, including the 2003 report from Dr. Reichel at the Tedi-Bear Center, were given by my office to every attorney of record representing Mr. Britton from the beginning of this case,” Asbell said. “The specific report to which Mr. Britton refers is a report by Dr. Reichel dated June 13, 2003 and this report was turned over to Attorney Sam Barnes and Attorney Thomas Manning (both men represented Britton at one time or the other over the four years) by my office.

As with every felony case in my office, I provide discovery to the defendants or their attorneys and I also have an open file discovery policy where I allow all attorneys representing defendants to make a copy of my files at my office if they choose to do so.”

Manning, who became Britton’s lawyer in the fall/winter of 2004, confirmed he had a copy of the Tedi-Bear report.

“We had that report from the beginning,” Manning said. “Sam had it and I had it. As a matter of fact it was through that report that I noticed a weakness in the state’s case on the forensic end and I was prepared to use that information to help my client if this case did wind-up in front of a jury.”

Britton said he was also upset that the legal proceedings drug out over four years. He claimed Asbell would not set a court date.

“Mr. Britton’s attorney, Thomas Manning, and I met numerous times after Mr. Manning was employed in this case,” Asbell countered. “During these meetings, the State was ready to set a trial date and discussed possible trial dates with Mr. Manning.”

Asbell went on to say that a portion of the delay was attributed to several motions filed by Manning.

“Attorney Manning filed numerous motions for documents he felt were necessary to his defense which were to be released under seal to the Clerk of Superior Court in Northampton County,” Asbell said. “Yes, there was a delay in setting a trial date after these motions were filed by Mr. Manning because of the length of time it took for the documents to be turned over to the Clerk of Court and the court’s review of the documents.”

Asbell said after that process was completed, both sides busied themselves on preparing for a trial date.

Manning also said there were significant delays in setting a trial date, particularly in the wait associated with the documentation which first had to be approved by the court.

“In cases involving child abuse, whether that abuse is physical, emotional or sexual in nature, we have to get our hands on every scrap of paper from numerous agencies involved in child welfare,” Manning said. “The law requires us to show a need for those documents and then make an application to obtain that documentation. In this case it took the court a long time, 8-10 months, to rule on the disclosure of those records.”

Manning said on several instances, Asbell would set the Britton case on the court calendar, but he would ask for continuances while waiting for court approval of the documents he needed.

Additionally during this time, Manning took on a high-profile case involving Kevin Geddings, a state lottery official later found guilty of fraud. Manning said that case, in which he was involved between May-October of last year, took away from the time he needed to spend on the Britton case.

In regards to Asbell stepping aside to allow Laura Parker from the North Carolina Conference of District Attorneys to prosecute to case, the local DA said that move was not made because of Britton’s allegations of “the community was against her.”

“After discussions with the victim’s mother and after conferring with the Attorney General’s Office, it was determined that my office had a conflict prosecuting this case,” Asbell said. “Based on that information and at the request of the victim’s family, I made the decision that it was in the best interest of this case and the victim’s family to request that a special prosecutor be assigned to this case from outside this district.

The decision to allow someone from outside my office to prosecute this case was not based on the community’s response to this case.”

Asbell also answered Britton’s allegation that she refused to meet with him.

“While my office was handling this case, none of Mr. Britton’s attorneys ever requested a meeting with me or my assistant District Attorneys and Mr. Britton; therefore, I or my staff never met with or talked to Mr. Britton,” she said.

Asbell did confirm she met with Manning on several occasions as well as speaking with him numerous times on the phone.

“At no time during any of these conversations with Mr. Manning did he ever request for Mr. Britton to be present or participate in these meetings,” Asbell noted. “Not just in this case, but in all criminal cases, when a person is represented by an attorney, the District Attorney or assistant District Attorney cannot meet with or speak to a defendant unless requested to do so by the defendant’s attorney of record. No such request was ever made in this case.”

Dr. Al Wentzy, Director of Northampton County Department of Social Services, said he could not comment on any case according to law.

“I can’t even assert I know about the case,” he said.

The Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald contacted Sheriff Wardie Vincent with Britton’s claims. Vincent stated he was not familiar with the case and would like time to talk it over with his detectives.

Meanwhile, Manning said he was glad the case was over before it went to trial.

“I’m happy for Terry,” Manning concluded. “He’s been through hell and back on this. I thought Laura Parker did the right thing by dismissing the charges before a jury was seated, although I felt comfortable about our chances of winning this case if it went to trial.”