Court hears appeal of murder conviction in police officer's death
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RALEIGH, NC (WWAY) -- A Wilmington man convicted of killing a police officer appealed his second-degree murder conviction today.

In February of 2009 Anthony Pierce led Wilmington Police on a chase after fleeing from an officer during a traffic stop. Officer Rich Matthews tried joining the pursuit when he lost control of his cruiser and crashed. In May of 2010, Pierce was convicted of second-degree murder. The prosecution argued that Pierce's actions led to the death of Matthews.

Wednesday, the North Carolina Court of Appeals heard from the state and Pierce's attorney, William Dowdy.

The defense explained that the death of Matthews was not an intentional attack, adding that Pierce had no way of knowing that Matthews would end up getting into a deadly car crash after fleeing from police. The state
disagreed.

"Causing this high speed chase is inherently dangerous," said Assistant Attorney General Dan O'Brien. "If you set something like that in motion you can foresee the results."

Dowdy argued that during the trial the judge struck out the words "assault" and "wounding" when giving the definition of second-degree murder to the jury. The defense said those words were key in regards to Pierce's case.

"In order for a person to be found guilty the state has to prove an intentional act," Dowdy said. "That intentional act has to be a particular kind of intentional act. One that constitutes an assault, and that assault is either felonious or would result in death or seriously bodily injury."

Both the state and Pierce's attorney also spent a good amount of time arguing whether a second-degree murder conviction can be supported when the victim is miles away.

"There's never been a case in North Carolina that I'm aware of where someone who was remote from that pursuit has been killed and that the liability of murder has been attributed to the defendant," Dowdy said.

The state argued that arson is an example of a situation in which a defendant can be miles away when the victim is killed. The court acknowledged the difficulty in this type of murder case, even giving an example on what this conviction can mean down the road.

"You think about a car kicking up a rock that hits a small child in the head, child dies. Or the officer so excited in the chase he has a heart attack and dies," said NC Court of Appeals Judge Linda Stephens. "We have to be concerned with the reach that the state successfully took."

No decision was made Wednesday. The North Carolina Court of Appeals has up to 90 days to make its ruling.

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