Man accused in slaying was on probation

Church officials will meet to re-evaluate fund-raising methods
The Charlotte Observer, Sep. 2, 2002

Unification Church leaders will meet in Washington, D.C., on Sunday to examine their fund-raising practices in light of the strangling of an 18-year-old Seattle church worker. Meanwhile friends and strangers grieved in a soggy field near the west Charlotte apartment where she was found dead.

The man charged in the death of Jin-Joo Byrne was being held Friday without bond. Eugene DeMorris Evans, 21, charged Thursday with murder, kidnapping and robbery, had been placed on probation last month for property crimes.

Evans had been jailed 11 times since October, records show. He’d been released from jail Tuesday on bond in connection with a misdemeanor breaking and entering charge.

Byrne disappeared Wednesday as she went door to door for the Unification Church. Members were offering jewelry to anyone who would donate at least $12 to the Washington, D.C.-based religious group.

Police discovered her body Thursday in a vacant unit at the Roseland Apartments off Pressley Road.

The Rev. Phillip Schanker, national vice president of the Unification Church, said the organization’s leaders will convene Sunday in Washington. He said the church will evaluate its policies regarding door-to-door solicitations.

“We want to be able to learn from this and grow from it,” he said.

Around 8 p.m. Friday, about 60 people stood at the apartment complex around a candlelit, framed photo of Byrne, which stood atop a plastic bucket draped with a doily. The mourners, from Byrne’s church group, the neighborhood where she was killed and other parts of Charlotte, each lighted a candle as they sang “Amazing Grace.”

When Isabella and Martin Byrne, her parents, arrived, they knelt in front of the picture, then joined the circle.

The neighborhood was mostly quiet except for the memorial service and a few people who listened from a distance, on apartment balconies and lawn chairs. In two apartment windows, single candles burned.

The crowd sang hymns, repeated the Lord’s Prayer and remembered Byrne as a faithful and devoted young woman. Her friends told stories about fishing with her in Alaska and her distinctive laugh.

Mothers of Murdered Offspring brought small cards that mourners pinned to their clothing. They read: “End violence, in memory of Jin-Joo Byrne.”

Speaking to reporters afterward, her father said, “Our hearts are totally broken, but it’s a great comfort to have the support of all these families. We believe goodness always comes out of bad situation.”

Assigned to office complex

Byrne was not supposed to enter the apartment complex where her body was discovered, a church official said Friday. Her assigned area was a nearby office complex, “the kind of thing that would be appropriate” for young church workers, Schanker said.But after they finished canvassing in the office complex, Byrne suggested going into the Roseland Apartments, Schanker said. Her partner didn’t want to go, he added. But Byrne, raised in the Unification Church, had had good experiences going door to door in residential areas.

Byrne went into the complex with her partner, but then they split up, Schanker said. She apparently did not consult her chaperones or other group leaders, he said.

“Everybody’s heartbroken and tearful,” he said. “It’s clear it was not the assignment or the intention for them to be in that area.”

It was, he added, just one of “a series of sincere and well-meaning, but unfortunate, decisions.”

Schanker, who flew to Charlotte late Thursday, said he would be joined by at least four other church leaders as they try to piece together what happened.

The church’s policies call for youth groups visiting a city to check with local church leaders to find acceptable canvassing areas. Schanker declined to say whether that was done, but added: “It’s clear we could have done a better job in that area.”

Martin Byrne said he believes it’s tragic that his daughter and other young church members have to solicit for their faith. “Hopefully, people with money will help, and then these kids can work with young people, to raise them up, instead of being out raising a few funds.”

Byrne’s group had been in Charlotte for only a day when she disappeared Wednesday. Late Thursday night, just hours after her body was found, police arrested Evans.

Detectives questioned Evans for hours before he was taken to the jail early Friday morning.

“We have a lot of evidence,” Capt. Sean Mulhall said Friday. “We can’t discuss the evidence. We never do.”

Evans, handcuffed and shackled, made his first court appearance Friday.

Mecklenburg District Judge Phil Howerton appointed a public defender for him and scheduled a bond hearing for Sept. 9.

Mulhall said he’s not aware of any other slayings of door-to-door solicitors in Charlotte. “This is a stranger homicide,” he said. “Most homicides in Charlotte are between people who have some type of relationship.”

Neighbors helped police

Mulhall praised Roseland residents for helping lead police to Evans. “That’s a place he hung out,” Mulhall said. “The people in the neighborhood were familiar with him.”

Court records show Evans has been convicted of possession of drug paraphernalia, resisting an officer, misdemeanor breaking and entering, felony breaking and entering, and felony larceny.

It’s not unusual for criminals convicted of property crimes to be out on probation. About a third of the 114,000 North Carolinians on probation have been convicted of property crimes.

“This is not the first time someone has been charged with murder who had been free on probation,” Charlotte-Mecklenburg police spokesman Keith Bridges said Friday.

“For some of the people who are in and out of the system, the type of criminal activity they get involved in escalates. They may start out with petty crimes. But it sometimes escalates into more serious crimes.”

Mecklenburg District Attorney Peter Gilchrist said criminals convicted of property crimes with minimal prior records are going to be placed on probation.

“Most of the people charged with property nonviolent crimes are out on bond before trial and on probation after conviction,” Gilchrist said.

North Carolina’s sentencing laws, in effect since 1994, are designed to keep violent criminals — not those who commit property crimes — locked up for years.

“A decision has been made to have alternatives to incarceration for nonviolent criminals and keep prison beds for violent criminals,” Gilchrist said. “That’s been public policy in North Carolina for years. When you consider the cost of construction and operation of prisons, that’s a good public policy.”

Few go door to door

Few religious groups still send their members door to door, and many schools and organizations now recommend that children avoid soliciting from strangers.

Members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons) are known for knocking on doors and sharing their faith. The Jehovah’s Witnesses on their Web site liken their door-to-door workers to Jesus, who “went journeying from city to city and from village to village, preaching and declaring the good news of the kingdom of God.”

But most mainstream religious groups discourage members from knocking on strangers’ doors — to respect the residents’ privacy and to protect the volunteers’ safety.

The 1997 death of an 11-year-old New Jersey boy while selling candy and wrapping paper for his school prompted the National PTA to come out against door-to-door fund-raising.

Earlene Williams, director of Parent Watch, a New York based nonprofit clearinghouse on child and youth labor abuse, said the practice of sending young people door to door is dangerous and not very profitable.

“There used to be a place for door-to-door sales. The peddlers in Colonial days used to bring much-needed products, but today we don’t need anything door to door and it’s become a highly dangerous activity,” Williams said. “All of these organizations can make money like anybody else. They don’t have to rely on young people.”

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Religion News Blog posted this on Monday September 2, 2002.
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