DURHAM, N.C. (WNCN) — A family is continuing its fight for justice after a 26-year-old Duke University employee was killed in a Durham car crash almost two years ago.
Daniel Joseph Watt was thrown from a ride-share vehicle and died after it was rear-ended on the Durham Freeway back in 2021.
Family and friends took to the Durham County Courthouse Thursday, only to find that they must wait for a final decision in the case.
Watt wasn’t only working at Duke as a residence coordinator. His brother, Eugene, says he did plenty to uplift the community.
“He was an amazing person,” Eugene said. “He is loving. He is caring. He is a community-based person. My brother, Daniel Joseph Watt, was murdered by someone who was driving at 143 miles per hour at a reckless speed in a very large vehicle.”
On Thursday, defendant Gregory Allen Coley made his latest court appearance. The Durham man was originally charged with second-degree murder, but is now facing the possibility of a lesser charge: felony death by motor vehicle.
That’s the result of a plea deal with the district attorney’s office.
“It was done behind the backs of this family,” Mothers Against Drunk Driving Victim Services Manager Kimberly Cockrell said. “That is atrocious. And it’s actually setting precedence of how [the D.A.] is running her office.”
Defense attorney Julian Hall said his client is facing five to six years with a potentially lesser charge.
“There will be punishment, however, that punishment should be tempered with justice and mercy,” Hall said. “And it should be likened to what’s happening in our surrounding counties.”
Brought into court Thursday, the judge said he wasn’t willing to “entertain a plea deal.” The prosecution requested the case be placed on the July calendar.
The district attorney’s office tells CBS 17 it won’t be making any statements until the case is closed.
“If this case, 143 miles per hour, driving that vehicle at that time of night with that blood alcohol content doesn’t meet the statute for [second-degree] murder, then what does?” Eugene Watt said.
Eugene said he’s worried about what other judges will decide, as the court proceedings will continue in the near future. At that time, the plea deal could be accepted.
According to the defense, Coley is remorseful and has talked with children to raise awareness about impaired driving. Hall also said the second-degree murder charge could place Coley in jail for 12 to 14 years.