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Q&A: Newman 'will not be fearful of trying the case'

Greg Newman speaks to the Republican Men's Club on Jan.22. Greg Newman speaks to the Republican Men's Club on Jan.22.

Greg Newman is comfortable in the courtroom.

 

A defense attorney in Hendersonville for 13 years, he switched roles last July and when he became the chief prosecutor for Henderson, Transylvania and Polk counties. Gov. Pat McCrory appointed him as district attorney for Judicial District 29B. A former mayor of Hendersonville, Newman succeeded Jeff Hunt, whom McCrory appointed to a Superior Court judgeship.
Hunt, who was district attorney for 19 years, remained popular among voters and never seriously challenged in a re-election campaign. But he was not making arguments in front of juries.
"I've been a very active lawyer in terms of trying cases with jurors so I'm going to continue to do that," Newman, 52, said in an interview. "That was not the style of Jeff Hunt but Jeff's style worked very well. ... I'm just a little more hands on and engaged day to day in running the office."
The hands-on prosecutor has plenty to juggle in the coming year.
Before it was postponed last week, his office was set to launch the trial of Eric Wilson, the first of four murder defendants that Newman expects to bring to trial this year. Although he recused himself from prosecution duties, the highest profile case is the trial of Travis McGraw, who is accused of murdering his wife, the well-known businesswoman Vanessa Mintz, in February 2011. McGraw's murder trial is scheduled to start next week in Columbus.
Newman also made the decision to lodge murder charges in the 18-year-old cold case disappearance of Edna Glaze in Brevard. Last October Transylvania County detectives charged 63-year-old Michael Owen with her death. Also on the docket for later this year is the murder trial of 41-year-old Michael Leroy Wilkie, who authorities say killed his wife, Shelby Anne Wilkie, on New Year's Day of 2012, burned her body in a barrel and dumped the barrel at his parents' property on Kanuga Lake Road.
As district attorney, Newman and his assistants will "not be fearful of trying the case," he said. "In other words, trust the public, trust the juries, (and) make sure that law enforcement knows that you back up what they're doing, and that victims of crime are confident that you'll make sure that someone is prosecuted to the fullest and fairest extent and that they can be confident in that."
A native of Hendersonville, Newman graduated from UNC-Asheville. He earned his law degree from the University of Dayton in Ohio. His first law job was as a junior prosecutor in Ohio, under a seasoned boss who knew politics and the law.
"I was a new lawyer early on but was given a lot of responsibility in that office, which paid very little," he said. "But the pay was the experience."

Here is the Lightning interview:
You ran for mayor and won in 2005. What did you learn from that?
"That experience took me outside the courthouse. I still maintained my active law practice but that provided a way for me to see what else is going on in the community, and what I learned is that there's a lot going on. I'd be invited to different parts, in events where they were honoring someone pr promoting something. When we would meet every year to develop our budgets, we would entertain a lot of requests from different organizations who needed help with their projects. That was fascinating. It provided some insight to me how much is going on in the community that has nothing to do with the court system.
"I really learned ... every time I had a chance to participate with young people. Eagle Scout ceremony, I loved going to those things. I always come away feeling positive about things in general when I'm around kids. I feel confident in our future when I'm around kids. I just don't see how you can feel anything else."

What about the building height controversy? (The council approved a five-story condo project in a decision that was ultimately reversed in a referendum.)
"What we were talking about in my mind, a five- or six-story building, is not a skyscraper. My definition of that is different than theirs. The disappointment to me had nothing to do with size. It was the opportunity for tax base. I looked at properties where people wanted to build residential on the property. From the mayor's point of view I would look at that as increased tax revenue for us, to fund things that we needed, with the population increase, without having to raise taxes on people, and that to me, I thought was an opportunity and I thought it was an opportunity missed."

So you're out in 2009. You don't run for re-election. Then you run for Congress in 2010.
"I felt it was the right thing to do. I'm not sorry that I did it. When Jeff Miller got into it my fundraising just went nowhere. I wanted to serve and felt I could have brought some things to the table to help the district. You want to succeed but sometimes success has a different face on it. This position to me that I do now is a better fit. I have experience that I'm able to bring to the office and I'm glad to be able to do that ... to work with a team of good lawyers. I'm not traveling to a distant capital; I still get to be home. That's important because I still have a kid at home. (His son, Parker, is a seventh grader at Hendersonville Middle School.) It's called a blessing in disguise perhaps. I think it worked out fine."

How did you make the transition from defense to prosecutor?

"It's not as difficult as one would think because it's all about making sure people's rights are protected. In this case what I'm doing is making sure the rule of law is upheld, that the people are held accountable. Sometimes they will go in court and take responsibility for what they've done. But if they challenge that or if they say, 'No it's not that way or I didn't do it and I'm not going to say I did,' then they have that right to a trial and we make sure they have that trial. And then we review evidence to make sure that there is an investigation and that we don't proceed forward with that case unless we feel like the evidence is solid. In other words, you want to protect someone's name and reputation if you feel like there is inadequate evidence or you need more evidence to support an actual criminal charge."

How would you describe the Greg Newman philosophy of the office?

"To not be fearful of trying the case. ... That we're not going to be someone that doesn't take the matter seriously, that we won't compromise just to make something go away or because we don't want to deal with it, (or) don't want to put the effort into it. We'll give it the full effort and that we are not fearful or hesitant to call cases for trial. I want that word to be out there. We'll be supportive of making sure that the law is followed and someone is held accountable, as they ought to be.>

What is going on with the Travis McGraw case?
"I've appointed a prosecutor from Rutherford County. I had a conflict of interest. McGraw had been represented previously by one of my law partners, Ron Blanchard. Ron represented Travis McGraw in a divorce case, and when he was initially charged with murder Ron did represent him at the probable cause hearing. Because of that connection, I didn't want there to be any question about us going about it."

Would you anticipate a lot of jury trials in major cases?
"Oh, yeah. I'm trying to be sensitive to moving cases where the defendants are being held in jail. I have a great appreciation for that because I defended for 13 years. I understand that these folks that are sitting in jail waiting for court, you don't want to just warehouse people. There are reasons sometimes you have to wait ... but we want to make sure that (for) these folks that are in jail we get their cases addressed as quickly as possible. A couple of things: If they're in jail it's a serious case, and that means on the prosecution side there are people affected also, families, and they need to have some closure also. The longer it takes, (victims or survivors) try to resume some form of routine, and then you call them up, and if it's two, three, four years after the fact, they sort of have to relive it all again. You really put them through a similar trauma that they experienced when the crime occurred. You try to avoid that if you can. They're dealing with the loss. You want them to feel like the case is being dealt with in a timely manner."

You just hired Chelsea Forbes as the first African-American prosecutor in the district.

"That was an intentional thing. I feel like our office ought to reflect a little more of the racial makeup of the community. Now, we do not have an enormous African-American community here in Henderson County but they are a part of this community, and I wanted to bring in someone that was interested in criminal law, and she is, and I wanted to bring somebody in that would be interested in prosecuting cases, entry level, but at the same time provide a role model to a segment of the population that I feel like probably has too few role models in the world that I deal in, which is the judicial branch of government. We have a lot of minorities that come through the court as dependents, and I think it's important for people especially to see that there are careers you can have, that if you're serious about your education, you can become a prosecutor or a defense lawyer or a judge."

Is she a Republican?
"I have no idea. I didn't ask. But she will be supportive of a Republican." (laughs)

Do you have any political ambitions beyond this job?
"Not right now. The attorney general's position, I like that position. But I don't know. A statewide race might be beyond anything I ever do. I'm committed to our district right now because it's home. I get to live at home, work within the district, work with the law enforcement folks. I'm very content right now. I feel very fortunate that the position opened up the way it did. It was fortuitous for me that I met Gov. McCrory when we were both mayors."

Anything else?
"When I ran for mayor, I met a gentleman during the campaign when I was going door to door. It was a middle-aged black gentleman and he expressed some issues about his street. I said, 'Listen, I can't help you right now. I'm not elected yet. But if I'm elected please come see me.'
"He did. And I remembered him. He was dressed in a three-piece suit. I asked him, 'Are you going to a church service or a funeral or some kind of service today?'
"He dressed up to come see me. I knew this was not a man of great financial means — I knew where he lived. In public service, people lots of times don't respect the person, they don't respect the position, they'll say anything about you. It impressed me that this guy thought enough of me that he went to that trouble to dress up. I've always remembered it, and I thought, I hope I never do anything that would cause someone to lose respect for me personally or the position that I hold. I've always remembered that. That's important to me."

 

 

AT A GLANCE

Greg Newman
District Attorney
Graduate of University of Dayton law school
Prosecutor in Ohio and Tennessee, 1991-2000
Trial lawyer in Hendersonville, 2000-2013.
Appointed district attorney for 29B, July 2013.
Married to Kim Newman. Three children.