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A Gangster Goes Down

But first, needless bloodshed

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The politicians and judges of Mecklenburg County owe paramedic and rescue squad member Jimmy Perkins an apology.

On Wednesday, Perkins finally and heroically did what a series of Mecklenburg County judges and our district attorney's office have failed to do for months: He put an end to Eric Lester Jones' mind-bending rampage of violence. In the process, Perkins was shot twice.

That Jones was out of jail at all is a testament to the absurdity of what passes for a criminal justice system here in Mecklenburg County.

Two weeks ago, frustrated police officers at the end of their collective rope e-mailed me a profile of Jones and asked for my help publicizing his case because they feared he would kill someone. Jones and a marauding gang of thugs had been personally responsible for a spike in armed robberies of drug stores and auto parts shops. It had gotten so bad that officers put out e-mails warning each other to be on the lookout for Jones fleeing the scene if a robbery of a drug store was reported.

Officers knew who Jones was, and even where he lived, but they were powerless to stop him. Which is not to say the police didn't try. They have charged Jones with seven armed robberies since February and two felony possessions of a stolen firearm.

Jones is currently charged with robbing three businesses, including the Napa Auto Parts store in Huntersville and the Dollar Tree on South Tryon Street. The four other robberies involve individual victims he robbed for cash.

Most rational people would assume that by your second armed robbery in a row, you wouldn't get bond anymore or your bond would be set high enough to keep you behind bars, and in other places that's true. But not here.

Magistrates had set the bond for armed robberies four, five and six at $50,000 to $65,000 per charge in Jones' case. Even though Jones was already out on bond for two felony possession of a stolen firearm charges and three other armed robberies, Judge James Lanning slashed his bond to $12,500 in the three new cases. Since you only need 10 percent of your bond amount in each case, or $1,250 in each of the three cases, Jones quickly made bond after his August arrest. He was arrested again for a seventh armed robbery in September, got a bond of $25,000 and bonded out again.

According to state law and the official bail policy of the Mecklenburg County courts, judicial officials are supposed to grant bail to defendants unless there is reason to believe that the defendant poses a danger to others, might intimidate witnesses or poses a flight risk. But it is a policy that is very liberally interpreted in Mecklenburg County. It is not unusual for defendants with a long history of violent crimes -- including Lawrence Brooks, who was featured on the America's Most Wanted Web site -- to bond out on attempted murder charges and then go on another crime spree. And we set bonds so low here that violent criminals waltz out of jail.

Jones would no doubt still be terrorizing drug store managers had he not made the mistake of committing his next crime in Lincoln County, where they aren't as tolerant of armed robbery. Perkins, the paramedic, was in the parking lot, leaving the CVS store on N.C. 16 last week in Denver when he noticed two armed men get out of a car and enter the store.

Perkins pulled his car behind the car the men drove up in and reported the license plate number to dispatch officers by phone. He was then rammed from behind three times by two of Jones' accomplices in another car. They began blowing the horn, and Jones, 19, and Raymond Jones, 42, fled the store and began firing at Perkins, who was hit twice in the leg.

After a chase, police eventually caught Eric Jones and Raymond Jones. Eric Jones is currently in jail in Lincoln County on $500,000 bond. That's five times more than the total final bond amount he received in Mecklenburg for all seven armed robberies here.

Unfortunately, Jones' case is typical of the chaos that passes for justice in Mecklenburg County.

This could explain why Charlotte-Mecklenburg has a robbery rate that is more than double Raleigh's and a violent crime rate that is 60 percent higher. Our violent crime rate is also higher than New York City (by 40 percent) and Los Angeles (by 27 percent). Ditto for our robbery rates.

While we haven't yet achieved violent crime rates comparable to the most violent cities in America -- like Washington, D.C., Atlanta, Chicago and Miami, which have rates that are about 20 to 25 percent higher -- we are beginning to have more in common with those cities crime-wise than the cities we claim to compete with.

In 2006, Austin had a violent crime rate that was half ours. And our violent crime rate is a third higher than that of Portland and Phoenix.

Waiting for the court systems in surrounding counties to stop the next Eric Lester Jones is not a viable crime-fighting strategy. Until we're willing to target repeat offenders like Jones, nothing will change.

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