Repeat burglary offenders worry some Durham residents

DURHAM (WTVD) -- From the Duke Park community on Knox Street to the Forest Hills neighborhood near downtown Durham, a rash of home break-ins has left some people feeling uneasy about the repeat offenders behind the crime.

"The neighbors are terrified," said Mindy Solie, a Forest Hills resident. "It's a horrible thing to know this is our system. We're all innocent until proven guilty. But, it's more horrible to think your house may be next. So we have to balance what our laws are with our system."

Solie, a court watch advocate for Partners Against Crime, keeps a binder with court records and the criminal histories of nearly a dozen burglary suspects that she tracks in the court system. She attends their court hearings and reports back to concerned neighbors.

One such offender is Donnyell Lofton. He's charged with seven burglaries in recent weeks near University Drive. His criminal history includes breaking and entering charges dating back several years.

From last November to December, Durham investigators say Lofton stole property valued at $78,747. Police say he burglarized a home on Summit Street twice. The victim was too afraid to speak on camera with ABC11.

"It is a frightening thing to have somebody ransack your home, steal your things you worked hard for. You pay taxes. You work every day and for that to be acceptable, in my mind, is outrageous," Solie added.

In an email response, a Durham police spokesperson told ABC11 that its investigators are aware of people who are repeat burglary offenders, adding that the department encourages residents to call 911 if they see any suspicious people or activity in their neighborhoods.

The challenge may be the law itself, according to Durham County District Attorney Roger Echols.

He says breaking and entering is considered a Class H felony, the second lowest felony in North Carolina.

"So punishment levels for breaking and entering cases are relatively low regardless of whether a case is resolved by trial or plea," said Echols in a written statement, adding that his office often seeks tougher penalties under felony law for habitual breaking and entering.
Echols said prosecutors also seek a more aggressive bond amount for repeat offenders.

Solie points out that was not the case for Lofton, who is out on bond despite his lengthy history.

"This is the revolving door I think people speak of mainly," she said, expressing frustration with state funding for the judicial system. "I absolutely believe tougher penalties for breaking into your home, my home."

After corresponding with ABC11 about Lofton's case, the Durham DA made Solie and her neighbors a promise.

"I will specifically look into Lofton's case to make sure we make the right decisions and that there are no oversights," wrote Echols in an email.

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