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No bond -- this time

Durhamites breathed a sigh of putative relief last night with the announcement that a suspect was in custody for a number of armed robberies, including the murder of Duke graduate student Abhijit Mahato last Friday.

Of course, any such discussion of suspects in the criminal justice system must include the reminder that individuals are presumed innocent until proven guilty. Still, if the D.P.D. got the right individual, this apprehension is a sobering reminder of the challenges Durham faces in solving the Courthouse's "revolving door" problem.

The suspect, Stephen Oates, has been charged with a staggering seventeen robberies -- three of which happened on the day of Mahato's murder last Friday, as the N&O notes.

That is to say, Oates is accused of committing almost one out of every four robberies that have occurred in Durham since January 1.

The N&O reports that the suspect has a bond of $1 million on the robbery charges and was denied bond for the murder charge, so this person won't be free on the streets ahead of trial.

The kicker here? At the time of the alleged crimes, Oates was out on bail for -- wait for it -- armed robbery charges stemming from a purported stick-up in West Durham back in November.

We can debate the root causes of crime until the cows come home, and we can talk about the need to find productive outlets, including employment, for young, at-risk men tempted by a lifestyle with far more immediate gratification than your average work-a-day existence.

Still, the salient issue here remains: when a youth strays from the path and is accused of committing a violent crime -- a crime that by its nature is endangering the health and welfare of others -- a system that allows those individuals back on the streets on the cheap is a system that needs changing, as Mayor Bell argued on Tuesday night.

The Durham Roundtable does a great job of tracking repeat offenders on their web site, enumerating the staggering number of individuals with prior arrest records who've been re-arrested for new charges after January 1.

Oates, at 19 years of age, doesn't make that list. Instead, if the D.P.D.'s allegations are on the mark, he's become a repeat offender between Thanksgiving and the middle of January. Not exactly an uplifting holiday season.

Durham's a great community and a great place to live; I know nowhere else in the Triangle I'd want to move. But its history and character constantly remind us that there are more challenges to be solved here.

If we can't find a way to prevent senseless, incomprehensible crime sprees -- something a three-week spate of seventeen robberies and one homicide must certainly definite in anyone's book -- all the positive reinvestment and revitalization of the Bull City are, at the end of the day, secondary.

The problems start with the culture of violence so prevalent in troubled youth; sometimes, these problems unfortunately end, on a case-by-case basis, with our criminal justice system. Here's to making the system a solution of last resort -- but, in any event, never part of the problem.

Comments

mike

Anyone who commits an armed robbery has essentially made the decision that they are willing to kill somone during that robbery if need be. I do not believe in locking up non-violent drug users, but thugs who use guns should have no 2nd chances. This murder could have been easily avoided. What an outrage.

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