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Murray, the appointed D.A., will run for the job next year

Andrew Murray, the veteran prosecutor appointed to lead the district attorney’s office here after D.A. Greg Newman was ousted, plans to run for the seat in next year’s election.

Murray, 59, announced on Tuesday that he plans to launch his campaign for the job that he’s held since May.
After joining the Coast Guard straight out of high school, Murray earned his undergraduate and law degrees while on active duty. He served as Mecklenburg County district attorney from 2011 until November 2017, when President Trump appointed him as U.S. attorney for Western North Carolina.
Murray said that despite the turmoil of the office because of the circumstances leading to Newman’s removal, he was impressed at the personnel he found.
“First of all, I would say the district attorney’s office has some excellent ADAs (assistant district attorneys) and support staff that are very dedicated and I was fortunate to find a staff that was capable and skilled and ready to work,” he said. “Obviously, with Greg and his circumstances, they were apprehensive about someone new coming in. Part of it was steadying the ship and using my talents and ability — I’ve been a leader a long time.”
He has streamlined and restructured the office to make it more effective and efficient, installing a chain of command that is clear to those inside and outside the office — law enforcement personnel, victims and defense attorneys.
“Senior ADAs are handling just serious crimes — murders, rapes and armed robberies — and I have put a leader in charge of all the other cases in Henderson and one in charge of Transylvania and Polk,” he said. “It’s more efficient when you have a point person and you have an appeal to the next level and you know who that is. Everyone understands their voice and their job.”
A large part of the uprising of victims against Newman was fueled by families who complained that he either failed to bring charges in sexual offense cases or allowed defendants to make pleas that led to light sentences.
“Sexual offenses were a significant issue with the administration under Greg,” Murray said. “I’ve instituted what I call the roundtable policy that is all murder cases and sexual offense cases get roundtabled with four or five of the most senior assistant DAs that are available, including me, so it’s not just one person.”
The prosecutors discuss the pros and cons, the merits of the case, whether more information is needed and other factors. “Ultimately, it’s my decision but it brings more consistency as to how those cases are handled,” he said.
He’s made progress, he said, and still aims to do more to “deal with this massive Covid backup” of crimes from the past three years. “I don’t want to see any ’18 or ’19 cases on our calendar going into next year,” he said. “No criminal case gets better with age. We had a great term in Hendersonville a week and a half ago. We disposed of many many cases and had a lot of very happy victims and families.” Negotiating plea agreements that are acceptable to victims and their families is part of the process that moves cases, he added. “We can’t try every case or the system would be shut down.”
Although the family of murder victim Thomas A. “Tommy” Bryson “very much wanted to pursue the death penalty,” Murray sat down with the Brysons and explained that the current legal landscape around capital cases presents multiple challenges and delays.
“I’m not sure they understood that no one has been killed (in North Carolina) since 2004 and right now the attorney general is not moving anything forward and there’s litigation (nationwide) about the method of execution,” he said. After four years of delays on procedural grounds and because of Covid-19, there’s still no guarantee that the pandemic restrictions would not again delay major jury trials, he said.
At a news conference on Aug. 31 to announce the plea agreement that sent Phillip Michael Stroup II to prison for life, law officers stood behind Murray as Bryson’s widow and sons endorsed the resolution of the murder case.
“I think they were ready for closure,” the D.A. said. “I think the family was doing really really well and it was time for them to move on with their lives.”
When he first stepped into his role as the appointed district attorney in the aftermath of Newman’s ouster, Murray wasn’t sure he would run for the job when it came up in the 2022 election. Filing is in December. But he and his wife quickly became comfortable with the move.
“First of all, I’m running because this is an awesome community that I’ve come to know,” he said. “My family and I love the area and I believe I can make a positive difference here based on my background and my experience. I’m passionate about taking care of the community and victims.” He’s done that as the top prosecutor in Mecklenburg County and as U.S. attorney for Western North Carolina, he said, “but I also spent 36 years in the Coast Guard. I’ve never not been a public servant since I was 18 and enlisted in the Coast Guard.”
“Apart from restructuring, the goal is to efficiently and effectively and fairly do the best job we can to take care of the community, the victims and defendants, frankly, without any external influence, without any political influence, without any media influence,” he said. “I tell my people every day we do the job and we do the right thing every time and the buck stops me with me every day. Our job is to do the best job we can every day.”
He said he was not heard of other potential candidates in the 42nd Prosecutorial District. He plans to form a campaign committee and is able to launch the effort with a significant head start. He plans to reactivate a campaign account of around $100,000 that has been dormant since he moved from the Mecklenburg D.A.’s post to U.S. attorney.