Judge finds no ethical violations by DA

Tracey Cline

June 2, 2011 4:39:24 PM PDT
A special hearing in Durham wrapped up Thursday and a judge determined District Attorney Tracey Cline did not commit any ethical violations .

The hearing was looking at the Cline's private life and allegations made against her.

Defense attorneys raised questions about the way evidence was handled in a fatal stabbing case and whether Cline is romantically linked to the lead investigator.

The judge did not consider the issue of a possible romantic relationship relevant and repeatedly sustained the prosecution's multiple objections.

Defense attorneys for Robert Lyons, a suspect in a fatal stabbing case, raised the issue after alleging Antonio Gill, the lead investigator, may have mishandled evidence.

While on the stand Thursday, Gill denied the claim and defended his decision to switch Lyons from victim to murder suspect. But the line of racy questions about Cline and Gill sparked more objections from prosecutors, including Deputy Attorney General Jim Coman.

There was one question about Gill and Cline the judge would allow.

"Do you at any point consult with District Attorney Tracey Cline about this case?" Assistant District Attorney Theresa Pressley asked.

Gill responded, "No."

Durham Police Chief Jose Lopez was subpoenaed to testify.

The case in question involves an alleged knife fight last July that left 23-year-old Tony Burns dead, his sister badly injured, and Lyons near death.

ABC11 got vastly different versions of what happened from the surviving participants.

"She cut me across the chest and I tried to defend myself," said Lyons.

"You tried to cut my face off. You slit my throat. I don't understand self-defense," said Kateshia Burns.

Investigators say it was an argument over a lost cell phone that turned violent. All three were taken to the hospital, but Lyons says he was initially considered the victim by police.

"I don't know how I become the victim and then turn around and become the suspect, but that's what happened, and I've been locked up here ever since," he said.

Police notes from the defense team's motion show Lyons' status was changed from victim to suspect - something the district attorney's office says was a correction of a paperwork error. The defense team also alleges the lead investigator improperly authorized the release of Burns' pickup truck to his family instead of holding it in evidence.

It's because of that allegation that defense attorney Lisa Williams has raised questions about the DA Cline's private life. In a letter to the North Carolina Department of Justice, Williams claims Cline "refuses to disclose whether she has had or currently has a sexual relationship with the arresting officer" - who is also the lead investigator.

"If they were going together and stuff, then he shouldn't be on the case," said Lyons. "Legally, I think that's an injustice."

It's such a touchy subject that Senior Resident Judge Orlando Hudson recused himself and requested an outside judge determine if there's a relationship and if it's relevant.

Cline told ABC11 that she blames a paperwork error for the change in Lyon's status and said there's no misconduct, but she decided to allow the Attorney General Special Prosecutions Division to handle the situation to avoid any suggestions the state is being biased or unfair.

Cline is not prosecuting the case personally. An assistant is handling it.

Durham's police department says there's no current policy for officers and prosecutors involved in a relationship. Cline has not confirmed or denied a relationship with the investigator in Lyon's case.

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