The murder of a law enforcement officer is different from other murders not because the man or woman behind the badge is any more valuable than any other man or woman. The pain and suffering of the family of a murdered law enforcement officer is no greater than the pain and suffering of the family of other murder victims. The pain and loss is so great it cannot be measured by man. Our office realizes and appreciates this fact.
The murder of a police officer is different because it represents an attack on every law abiding citizen in the community. The men and women who put on the badge represent us. We, as a community, have given them the power and authority to act on our behalf in bringing dangerous and violent criminals to justice. The willingness of the women and men of law enforcement to shoulder the responsibility of protecting each of us should be backed up by a community that is willing to impose a penalty of death to one who murders one of our protectors.
The State’s decision to allow Mr. Fenner to accept responsibility for the murder of Office Tim Brackeen without facing a sentence of death was made after a careful analysis of the law in the State as to the charge of murder and the facts and circumstances surrounding Mr. Fenner’s murder of Officer Brackeen.
Unlike some other states, North Carolina does not currently mandate that the murder of a law enforcement officer during the performance of his duties is first degree murder. Under North Carolina law, Mr. Fenner would be subject to being convicted of first degree murder under a theory of premeditation and deliberation. In the event, the State failed to establish that Mr. Fenner murdered Tim Brackeen after premeditation and deliberation, the verdict would be that of second degree murder.
The State is satisfied and believes that Mr. Fenner was guilty of first degree murder; however, there is evidence upon which a jury could find Mr. Fenner lacked the ability to premeditate and deliberate due to diminished capacity.
Without getting into specifics and detailed legal analysis, the reality is that while the State believes that Mr. Fenner would have been convicted of first degree murder, the possibility of a conviction of second degree murder, while in our opinion not likely, existed. A conviction of second degree murder would have resulted in a substantially lesser sentence and thus expose our community to great risk upon his release. Such a conviction would have also resulted in a punishment that clearly would have been insufficient under the circumstances.
Mr. Fenner pled to the crime to which he committed. He received a sentence of life. One factor that the State took into account in deciding to remove the possibility of a death sentence in the case was that the State has not executed anyone in many years. There is a man currently on death row who was convicted in 1985. Given the possibility of a verdict of guilty to second degree murder, as slight as it may have been, the reality of Mr. Fenner ever being executed was even less.
The imposition of a life sentence through a plea of guilty provides a degree of closure to the family that would not exist otherwise given the endless appeals that a death sentence would bring.
While the State believes that the killing of a law enforcement officer during the performance of his duties should be first degree murder, regardless of the presence of premeditation and deliberation, such is not the state of the law in North Carolina at this time.
While the State believes that the killing of a law enforcement officer during the performance of his duties warrants a death sentence that would actually be carried out, again such is not the state of the law in North Carolina at this time.
The State wishes to emphasize that Officer Tim Brackeen sacrificed his life for the protection and betterment of this community. The family of Officer Tim Brackeen sacrificed their relationship with the man who was a husband, son, father, and brother for the betterment of this community as well. They have experienced a loss without end. For that loss we owe them a debt that will never be paid.
For anyone not familiar with the case, Fenner, 23 at the time, was apprehended by police in Coventry, Rhode Island, where he had fled. His last listed address was Grover, NC, but he had been staying at the home of a friend in Shelby.
That's where officer Brackeen, attempting to serve warrants on Fenner, encountered him shortly after midnight on a Saturday morning. The two apparently struggled and both suffered gunshot wounds. Fenner was treated at a hospital after being apprehended in Rhode Island. His injury was not life threatening. “There is a bullet behind his rib cage and they are going to leave it there for now,” State Police Major Joseph Philbin said. Brackeen died the following Monday morning shortly before noon. The Medical Examiner's report said it was from "a gunshot wound to the chest."
Brackeen, who was 38, was survived by his wife, Mikel and daughter, Daphney.
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