Eyewitness News has learned that prosecutors in Mecklenburg County will soon be focusing more attention on suspects who have been wearing out the justice system's revolving door.
Prosecutors said they planned to meet Wednesday to schedule court time for a new team that will try to take those habitual criminals off the streets.
Eyewitness News reporter Mark Becker first learned about the new team several weeks ago, and he has talked with the district attorney and some of his critics about the plan.
As crimes go, the break-in at the Godley Auction Company in northwest Charlotte was routine.
The suspect went in through a side window and took only a handful of things from the office. Police said they caught him holding the bag.
But before Robert Thomas even set foot in a courtroom, prosecutors had taken a close look at his record.
“In 1986, he had a robbery with a dangerous weapon,” said prosecutor Bryan Crocker.
Crocker said he found enough felony convictions in Thomas' past to charge him as a habitual felon. So instead of about 10 months in prison, Thomas was suddenly looking at more than 10 years if convicted.
That’s the kind of result that Crocker said he hopes to duplicate when he heads up a new team of prosecutors.
“We're going to start with the new cases coming in the door, identifying them at a very early stage as being habitual felons,” he said.
Once a month, Crocker and his team will bring those habitual felon cases into courtroom 5310, where they will be the only cases on the docket and where they won't get lost in the hundreds of other cases prosecutors have to juggle every week.
“This is a group we'll target, (that) we have targeted before, but we'll put additional emphasis on to take them and put them away for a long period of time,” said Mecklenburg County District Attorney Peter Gilchrist.
Gilchrist is using two new prosecutor positions provided by the county to create the habitual offender team. He said it’s his answer, in part, to criticism that his office hasn't done enough to close the so-called revolving door that's put repeat offenders right back on the streets.
“We'll always have a revolving door,” he said.
“Will it help close that revolving door?” Becker asked.
“(It will) reduce how wide it's open,” Gilchrist said.
Christy Wright with Neighbors For A Safer Charlotte is one of his critics.
“He's a public servant and should be accountable to the public,” she said.
She said she was encouraged when Eyewitness News told her about Gilchrist's plan, but she’s still cautious.
“Look, anything is better than what we've had. The revolving door is unsustainable if you want to have a vibrant city,” she said.
If it all works like they hope, prosecutors said they will have the new team handling cases by September. They expect to identify about 200 habitual felons.
While that number may not seem high, prosecutors said those 200 are responsible for a lot more than their share of the crime.