Commentary

Gaspo: A conversation with DA candidate Mitchell Garrell

March 11, 2014 

Editor’s note: This is the second in a series of columns about the candidates for district attorney.

Mitchell Garrell is running to be the next district attorney of Durham County. He spent roughly 15 years as an assistant DA here. He’s seen just about everything bad that a bad crime can be.

This is Garrell’s second try at the office. Currently, he is a financial crimes prosecutor with the state Conference of District Attorneys.

The 58-year old is married to a Durham assistant public defender. He claims when they debate at the dinner table about justice and the like, it is pleasant, even fun. I’m going to take that under advisement.

Garrell’s answers to the questions below have been edited for length.

Your given first name is Thomas and so is mine. You went with your middle name, Mitchell. That means your first and last name both end in ‘ell.’ What’s the deal?

Garrell: “My father’s name is Thomas. I grew up in a very small town, Tabor City. The two of us having the same first name would just confuse people.”

What is one of the strongest memories you have of your childhood there?

Garrell: “Probably one day when I went to the dentist. I think I was in the sixth grade. I saw the marked “Coloreds” sitting area.”

And?

Garrell: “I felt kind of sick. I knew in my gut it just wasn’t right.”

You say you are running for DA in large part to restore trust in the office. Are you suggesting that Leon Stanback, who’s been holding the office since Tracey Cline was forced out, is not trustworthy?

Garrell: “No. I am not saying that at all. District Attorney Stanback has done a really good job creating calm and stability. But someone has to set a new direction soon, create a groundwork for long-term trust that is still needed.”

You prosecuted the well-known case of Robert Petrick, who was convicted in 2005 of asphyxiating his wife, Durham Symphony cellist Janine Sutphen, after wrapping her body in a tarp with chains and leaving her in Falls Lake. What do you remember most about that trial?”

Garrell: “I remember thinking Mr. Petrick was one of the two or three defendants in my life I believed was evil.”

You really just want to get back in the action, don’t you?

Garrell: “Absolutely. It’s what I am meant to do. I also want to play an important role in my community again. I think I have the right experience to lead the office.”

You seem to have a flair for the dramatic – would you agree?”

Garrell: “Yes. You know, sometimes I prosecuted child abuse homicides. I had to talk to the jury about horrendous crimes. When I stated the facts aloud, I had to just let the story take over. If I really thought right there in the courtroom about what happened to those children, I’d just break down and cry.”

Why did former DA Tracey Cline not retain you? Was it because you ran against her?”

Garrell: “I had the honor of being a prosector in Durham for 15 years.”

That’s all I get? Is there something hiding under a rock that we need to know?

Garrell: “No. I did my job.”

What are your pastimes?

Garrell: “One is: I love playing Scrabble with my wife. I am very competitive, but she usually beats me. I can admit it.”

OK then, give me five words that you would want your DA’s office to stand for.

Garrell: “Integrity, fairness, respectful, human. And the idea that, but for the grace of God go I. We all could find ourselves in trouble.”

You went way over five words, but I I’ll allow it. Has either of your daughters given you any advice about the race?

Garrell: “I’m telling you: my 14-year old can work a room better than I can. I learn watching her.”

How do you feel about Police Chief Jose Lopez? He’s been getting a whole lot of heat. Deserved?

Garrell: “I don’t know that there’s a tougher job than being a DA than being … the police chief.”

If Michael Peterson has that second trial and you were the DA, would you want to try it yourself?

Garrell: “Yes.”

What makes you tick, Mitchell Garrell?

Garrell: “If I can get out of bed every day, then it’s a good day. That makes me tick.”

You can reach Tom Gasparoli at tgaspo@gmail.com or 919-219-0042.

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