THE CHARLOTTE OBSERVER | www.charlotte.com ••• SUNDAY, MAY 15, 2005 9A
Wheatly Jr. (left)
was convicted of
driving under the
following a wreck
Strauch (far left).
PHOTOS COURTESY OF CARTERET
JEFF SINER – STAFF PHOTO
Morehead City police Officer Trent Johnson, who charged Hamilton Nobles with
DWI, says the courts need to be more proactive in punishing impaired drivers.
The 4th time the grandson of a notable lawyer
3 arrests, 0 convictions was charged with DWI, a passenger was killed
he went off a Carteret County highway and hit a
By Ames Alexander
Staff Writer tree. The passenger side of his truck was
Hamilton Nobles, a lawyer’s son, says he’s sober George Edward Wheatly Jr., the grandson of a crushed.
prominent Carteret County trial lawyer, had “Had there been someone riding with him,
now: ‘I was going to either end up in jail or dead.’ been celebrating the end of the 2003 school year
when the Jeep he was driving flipped in the surf.
the passenger would have been killed,” reads a
motion filed by the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
Passenger Juliane Strauch, a 17-year-old Ger- Wheatly pleaded guilty.
By Ames Alexander He also noted there was no Alco-Sensor test man exchange student, died in the June 2003 In June 2003, Wheatly was involved in the fa-
Staff Writer or evidence of bad driving. wreck on Ocracoke Island. tal wreck. Wheatly asked friends who were with
Hamilton Nobles was on his way to court to But Johnson said he brought the DWI check- Wheatly was sentenced to nearly four years in him at the time to claim they had driven the Jeep
face a DWI charge one morning in the spring of point plan to court, and that Nobles’ defense prison after a federal jury convicted him of in- because he couldn’t afford to get any more
2003 when he was again stopped by police – and lawyer read from it. District Attorney David voluntary manslaughter and driving under the DWIs, according to Murphy.
again charged with impaired driving. McFadyen said notes kept by one of his prosecu- influence. Wheatly is the grandson of Claud Wheatly Jr.,
It was the third time in two years Nobles had tors indicate no Alco-Sensor test was given but It was the fourth time he’d been charged with a well-known Beaufort trial lawyer. His father
been charged with DWI in Carteret County. suggest that the DWI checkpoint plan “was not impaired driving, and the second time he was owns a Carteret County oil and tire business.
Each time he tested over the legal alcohol lim- an issue” in the acquittal. convicted. Now 22, Wheatly is serving his sentence at
it, court records show. After an Observer reporter told Mack that, In 1999, a state trooper charged Wheatly with the minimum security federal prison camp at
And each time he got off. the judge said he can’t recall exactly why he ac- DWI after seeing his car swerve onto the shoul- Seymour Johnson Air Force Base near Golds-
Nobles, 25, is the son of John Nobles, who was quitted Nobles, but doesn’t remember any testi- der. Wheatly, then 16, refused an Intoxilyzer test. boro. He declined to be interviewed.
recently appointed to the Superior Court bench mony indicating the defendant performed The case was postponed four times at the de- In arguing for a stiff sentence, the U.S. At-
by Gov. Mike Easley. Previously, Nobles was one poorly on field sobriety tests. fendant’s request, records show. Prosecutors torney’s Office said Wheatly had illustrated “a
of the three most successful DWI lawyers in But a report by the arresting officer showed asked once to postpone the case – when the ar- complete disdain for the legal system” and said
coastal Carteret, Craven and Pamlico counties. Nobles put his foot down six times in 30 seconds resting officer didn’t appear in court in Novem- he was likely to commit further crimes as he
Hamilton Nobles declined to talk at length during the “one-legged stand” test. Suspects are ber 1999 – but a judge denied the request. The “continues to thumb his nose at authority.”
about his DWI cases, but said he has been sober supposed to keep their foot up the entire 30 sec- case was dismissed. “I think there was a clear indication to his par-
since his last DWI arrest al- onds. Richard Willis, the arresting officer, says he ents and to the court system that this was a
most two years ago. In District Court criminal doesn’t remember why he didn’t appear in young person with a severe alcohol problem,
He said he knew that if he Did the judges do the trials, officials don’t usually court. When he learned of the dismissal, he said, and a determination to get behind the wheel
kept drinking, “I was going to record the reasons for ac- he tried to reopen the case by swearing out a whenever he could,” Murphy said.
either end up in jail or dead.” right thing ﬁnding quittals in public files. new criminal summons. But for reasons that Strauch spent her junior year at East Carteret
In August 2001, he was Nobles said he wasn’t aren’t clear, the warrant was never served. High School in an exchange program. She loved
charged with driving a car
him not guilty? “I ready to quit drinking after On Oct. 15, 2000, Wheatly was driving in Mid- singing, taking pictures of sunsets and hanging
while impaired. He tested at don’t know,” the first two acquittals. dlesex County, Va., when police charged him out with friends, say Beaufort’s Billy and Myra
0.09, above the legal limit, re- Did the judges do the right with impaired driving a second time. He pleaded Morning, her host family. She had been an honor
cords show. Judge Paul Quinn Hamilton Nobles thing finding him not guilty? guilty to the lesser charge of underage drinking student, had been voted prom princess and had
acquitted him. Quinn did not “I don’t know,” Hamilton and driving, and the DUI charge was dismissed, performed in a school production of “Annie.”
respond to requests for an in-
said. Nobles said. “I’m not the Assistant U.S. Attorney Tom Murphy said. “I have lost the person I loved the most in all
terview. “I’m not the judge.” judge.” Wheatly’s driver’s license was still suspended the world,” Strauch’s mother, Alexandra, said af-
In July 2002, Hamilton No- About 9:20 a.m. on June 9, for the Virginia offense when, in April 2001, he ter the verdict, according to a story in the Carter-
bles was stopped at a DWI 2003, Hamilton Nobles was was charged with impaired driving again, ac- et County News-Times. “All I can do is ask
checkpoint. He had an open on his way to court to face a cording to the U.S. Attorney’s Office. Police said ‘Why?’ ”
beer in the car, slurred his words and performed DWI charge when he was stopped for speeding
poorly on two field sobriety tests, according to and again charged with impaired driving, ac-
Myra and Billy
Trent Johnson of the Morehead City police. cording to arresting Officer Matt Franks. It was
He tested at 0.18, more than twice the legal Nobles’ third DWI arrest.
over photos of
limit, when he blew into the Intoxilyzer, a state- Franks, who then worked for the Morehead
approved breath-testing instrument that yields City police, said Nobles smelled of alcohol and
results admissible in court. performed poorly on field sobriety tests. An In-
Judge Peter Mack found him not guilty. toxilyzer test found his alcohol level was 0.13.
Mack said he was unaware until after the trial “When I stopped him and found out who it
lived in their
that Hamilton Nobles was John Nobles’ son. was, I knew I was going to lose,” Franks said.
Officer Johnson recalled the judge faulting Postponed five times, the case was eventually
home for a year
him for not using an Alco-Sensor, a hand-held dismissed after Franks left the Police Depart-
before her death.
alcohol-testing device that is generally regarded ment and didn’t appear in court.
as less accurate than the Intoxilyzer. Its results Franks said he went to court to testify on sev-
are not usually required for a conviction and eral of the days when the case was postponed.
generally aren’t admissible in court. But he said he wasn’t subpoenaed to testify on
Mack first told the Observer that he acquitted March 24, 2004, the day the case was dismissed.
Nobles because the arresting officer didn’t have In a letter to the Observer, John Nobles said
the required plan governing how the DWI he “did not get involved in any of my son’s cases JEFF SINER –
checkpoint was to be run. The law requires po- nor did I have any discussions with any of the STAFF PHOTO
lice to establish such a plan before setting up judges concerning the cases” prior to their reso-
Defense lawyers deny intimidating judges
––––––– Mr. Chesnutt exercised consid- to an affidavit signed by Hughes. elect Judge Waddell.
Acquittals from 8A erable political influence to ef-
fectuate my appointment to the
Chesnutt said he made the
statement after Crow showed his
When Waddell ran for re-elec-
tion last year, nearly two-thirds
District Court bench,” Crow “temperament was terrible.” He of more than $40,000 he raised
Crow described in the document wrote. said he didn’t understand Crow’s came from area lawyers.
he sent to the N.C. Judicial Stan- His relationship with the three desire to run against capable in- Chesnutt, 51, gave Waddell’s
dards Commission in 2003. lawyers began to sour when he cumbents on the Superior Court campaign $4,000, the maximum
He wrote that as a young pros- refused to join the Hope Founda- bench, but still contributed $500 allowed, state election records
ecutor in the three counties in tion, Crow wrote. He wrote that to his campaign. show. He was one of two donors
the early 1990s, he considered at- he attended a meeting – con- Chesnutt filed judicial stan- who contributed that much.
torney Marc Chesnutt a friend vened by Chesnutt, Crowe, No- dards complaints against Crow, Roger Crowe, 47, donated
and a mentor. bles and a few other lawyers – alleging various instances of im- $3,700, including $1,200 in sup-
“I can distinctly recall the in- where attorneys talked about set- proper conduct in 2002, accord- plies for a September campaign
toxicating feeling of being so ting up the group. ing to a document obtained by rally, records show.
quickly accepted as a peer by Crow wrote that he believed the Observer. Chief District John Nobles, 57, contributed
what many universally regarded “the Foundation’s main function Judge Jerry Waddell later filed $1,000. On Election Day, he
as the best criminal defense at- was to raise a ‘war chest’ of cash another complaint against Crow, stood near the polls handing out
torney in our area,” Crow wrote. reserves in order to intimidate JEFF SINER – STAFF PHOTO contending that he misused state mints bearing Waddell’s name.
“I was 30, new to the area and ex- and coerce existing judges into MADD leader Ed Mullis in front of the Carteret County courthouse. time and equipment during his Lawyers are viewed as some of
tremely naive.” acting as the Foundation deemed “It is very easy to get off (on DWI charges) here,” he said. 2002 campaign. the region’s most powerful and
Crow wrote that Chesnutt ad- appropriate.” The Judicial Standards Com- influential people. Gov. Easley
vised him in 1993 to consider “If a judge was not ‘perform- used to support judicial candi- last four years on the District mission concluded that while appointed Crowe to the N.C.
seeking a judgeship but told him ing’ to the Foundation’s satisfac- dates, but a number of the mem- Court bench, Crow convicted some of Crow’s actions appeared Economic Development Board.
that another prosecutor, Cheryl tion,” Crow wrote, “then the bers contributed from their own about 36 percent of the DWI sus- to violate conduct rules, the One of Chesnutt’s law partners,
Spencer, would get the job. money would be used to support pockets. The money collected pects tried before him. That was transgressions weren’t serious Scott Thomas, is a state senator.
He wrote that he became one a candidate of the Foundation’s from members was returned in less than the 62 percent state enough to merit disciplinary ac- Chesnutt and Crowe both
of three nominees to be consid- liking to ‘run against’ the ‘non- early 1996. average but well above the 13 per- tion. Crow, in his judicial stan- know Gov. Easley and have
ered for the job, but was advised performing’ judge.” Asked years ago why the mon- cent for his fellow District Court dards filing, characterized the raised money for him. But they
to contact Gov. Jim Hunt’s office, Chesnutt and Nobles said they ey was returned, Quinn said judges. complaints against him as part of say they have little clout with the
“gracefully decline” to be inter- never talked about coercing or there were concerns about pos- Crow wrote that he continued a “well-organized and effectively governor when it comes to judi-
viewed and then endorse Spen- intimidating judges. In his letter, sible allegations of impropriety, to treat clients of the prominent disparaging negative campaign cial appointments.
cer. The following year, Gov. Crowe said that to his knowl- though he felt nothing improper defense lawyers fairly after fall- against me.” And the three leading defense
Hunt appointed Spencer. edge, the meeting Judge Crow had been done, according to a ing out of favor with them, but lawyers say they get no favors in
When the next judge’s posi- described “never occurred nor story in The Carteret County acknowledged that he later had
Positions of power the courtroom.
tion came open in 1994, Crow did I attend such a meeting.” News-Times. verbal confrontations with Ches- One morning in early Decem- Chesnutt, Crowe and Nobles
wrote, Chesnutt, Crowe and No- Judge Mack, also a former Crow says the state’s judicial nutt in court. ber, in the annex to New Bern’s handled more than half of the
bles helped him become one of member of the Hope Founda- conduct rules don’t allow him to During Crow’s 2002 cam- 120-year-old courthouse, a de- district’s DWI trials in recent
three candidates the governor of- tion, said Judge Crow’s recollec- discuss the document he gave paign, Chesnutt told Highway fense lawyer walked into Wad- years. They attribute their trial
ficially considered. Hunt ap- tion “was a whole lot different state officials. But he told the Ob- Patrol Sgt. Chip Hughes that he dell’s courtroom with large red success to skill, hard work and
pointed him to the job in Decem- than what mine is.” server he “adamantly maintains would “do anything in his power bumper stickers covering the experience.
ber 1994. Members of the now-defunct the veracity” of the assertions. to see to it that Judge Crow did sides of his accordion file folder. Combined, their win record
“I candidly acknowledge that group say none of the dues were From 1999 through 2002, his not win this election,” according The stickers’ message: Re- SEE LAWYERS|10A