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Suspect in 1971 homicide makes first court appearance

There was an emotional first court appearance for a man arrested in connection with a 1971 cold case murder.
Tuesday, July 22, 2014
There was an emotional first court appearance for a man arrested in connection with a 1971 cold case murder. Family members for both the suspect and the victim sat in court as Sinatra Dunn faced a judge.

Ralph Smith's family waited 42 years for justice in his murder and demonstrated love covers a multitude of sins.

Dunn, 70, of Carrboro, made a first court appearance Monday afternoon where a Wake County judge told him he could receive the death penalty or life in prison without the possibility of parole for the 1971 murder of Ralph Smith, 51, of Raleigh.

"We want justice, but we just want him to be saved," Smith's grandson, Michael Smith, told ABC11 about Dunn. "If he's saved and he's accepted Christ and he's a believer that's all we want. That's all I want."

Police found Smith shot to death, on Bragg Street in Raleigh, outside a taxi cab he was driving.

At that time, Smith's family learned it was a robbery, but it wasn't until last Friday, four decades later, that police would arrest Dunn -- that's when Smith's daughter, Carolyn Williams, said a detective came to their home.

"He wanted to know if he could come in and talk to us and she (Williams' mother) said, 'Yes,' and he came in and started telling us what happened," Williams explained.

It's a stark difference from how the family first learned about Smith's death.

"We had went to the fair and when we came back from the fair someone at the house came out running telling us that my father was dead and we started crying," said Williams. "Then we ran around to my mama's house and it was true that someone had killed him."

Dunn's wife, who was at his court hearing, didn't comment, but his sister, Dorothy Williams, says her brother has turned his life around during the years, and that she can't believe he was ever capable of murder.

"Tears; I started crying. I've had two people come and tell me they didn't believe he did nothing like that," said Williams. "Ain't nothing I can do about it, but pray for him. That's all. It's in God's hands."

The judge ordered Dunn held without bond until his next court appearance Aug. 11.

Afterward, Dunn's and Smith's relatives embraced, and said they'd forgiven one another and would pray for the outcome.

"We pray that peace come out of this. We pray that their family and our family can be friends, be family -- you know so that's all we're looking for," said Smith's grandson.

His daughter added, "That's what Christian folks do. We suppose to show our love. We can't hold grudges. I mean we got to let bygones be bygones. You know that's what Christ would want us to do."

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