RALEIGH, N.C. — Officials rescinded a murder charge Tuesday against a sheriff's deputy accused of shooting an unarmed teenager who authorities believed had stolen video game consoles, after a grand jury foreman said he had checked the wrong box on the indictment paperwork.
The dismissal came a day after New Hanover County District Attorney Ben David announced the second-degree murder charge against Cpl. Christopher Long.
David said Monday that the 34-year-old sheriff's deputy opened fire as police raided the home of Peyton Strickland, who police believed stole two Sony PlayStation 3 video game consoles from a college student in Wilmington.
The grand jury foreman told a court Tuesday that he checked the wrong box on the indictment form by mistake, according to an order signed Tuesday by Superior Court Judge Ernest Fullwood. The foreman learned about the mistake after other jury members heard about the incorrect indictment from media reports.
A copy of the indictment filed as evidence Tuesday shows a checked box for a "true bill" of indictment crossed out, with a heavy mark made through "not a true bill," followed by what appears to be the foreman's initials and Tuesday's date.
When a grand jury wants a murder indictment, it returns a "true bill." When it decides it does not want to issue an indictment, it returns "not a true bill."
"It was the kind of mistake you and I make in the world of forms," said Long's attorney, Mike McGuinness. "We check the wrong boxes."
The development drew a quick reaction from Strickland's family, which had praised prosecutors after they won the indictment against Long.
"Yesterday, our son's murderer was going to have to answer for what he did," Don and Kathy Strickland said in a statement. "Today, we just don't know what is going on in Wilmington. We are upset, confused and searching for answers."
In a statement, David said everyone in the court system believed the grand jury had indicted Long, a 12-year member of the sheriff's office who was fired last week after the Dec. 1 shooting.
"I will be traveling to Raleigh in the morning to meet with senior members of the Attorney General's office and we will evaluate all options," David said in the statement.
McGuinness said there is no need for prosecutors to reconsider the case because the grand jury has already "made a substantive decision" not to charge Long with murder. The only mistake was in reporting that decision, he said.
"We certainly are hoping this will bring the matter to a conclusion," said McGuinness, who added that Long had not yet decided whether he would return to a career in law enforcement.
Strickland's family, meanwhile, demanded an investigation into the mistake.
"We call on the judge presiding over the grand jury to hold an inquiry into what happened here and make the results public," the family's statement said. "And, if it shows that anyone even attempted to influence the grand jury, we trust charges of obstructing justice will be filed."
Authorities had accused Peyton Strickland and two friends, Braden Riley and Ryan Mills, with beating a student at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington and robbing him of two PlayStations 3s, the popular video game machines that have been in short supply since the went on sale last month. Riley and Mills have pleaded not guilty.
Police believed they would be at high risk when serving the search warrant at Strickland's home, citing photos posted on the Internet in which Mills is seen posing with guns. His friends said the photos were a prank. UNC Wilmington police also said they had information that Mills was known to carry a weapon.
The deputies and university police served the search warrant, and the 18-year-old Strickland was struck in the head and near his right shoulder by gunfire, an autopsy found. David said Monday an investigation into the shooting cleared two other sheriff's deputies of any wrongdoing.
Strickland, a student at Cape Fear Community College, didn't have a weapon. One of Strickland's roommates has said he may have been holding a video game controller when he went to the door. David said Monday that Long believed he heard gunfire when a police battering ram hit the door of Strickland's home, a belief not shared by his fellow officers who did not fire.
"He based his decision on his law enforcement training," McGuinness said Tuesday. "The fact that he shot was not a mistake. It was based on his belief that he was being fired upon."
Copyright 2006 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.