Last February, Nehesia Taylor was shot and killed outside of 611 Sykes St. in the Northside neighborhood -- an area located on the Chapel Hill-Carrboro border north of Rosemary Street that has struggled recently to reduce its crime rate, which is disproportionately higher than the rest of Chapel Hill.
This January, Dwayne Degraffenreid, the man who pled guilty to the involuntary manslaughter of Taylor, was sentenced to three years' probation and 200 hours of community service in addition to prison time. During the plea bargain, Degraffenreid said he fired the gun to stop an argument and the bullet accidentally hit Taylor.
Degraffenreid's plea bargain could have resulted in a maximum six-year sentence. A few people in Northside said they were angry about the short length of Degraffenreid's sentence, but several people who know the young man, who was 19 at the time of the shooting, said he should not be in jail at all. "He's a really cool person, really sweet, and he's very smart," said Kenyetta Alston, who lives at 502 Sykes St., directly across from the house where Taylor was killed. "I don't feel that he should be in jail."
Degraffenreid lives in Northside, while Taylor lived in Pittsboro but spent time in the neighborhood. Several residents, including Alston, said they knew her, but not as well as Degraffenreid. "She was a nice girl, she didn't bother nobody," said Loretta Thorton of 600-B Gomains Ave. "She was just in the wrong place at the wrong time."
Other residents blamed the environment on Sykes Street for Taylor's death.
"There are a couple of drinking houses that are right over there," said Ralph Milliken of 611 Gomains Ave., pointing to the area where Taylor was shot. "It should be pretty much like any bar, but anybody can pretty much come and go."
Several residents of the area around Sykes Street and Gomains Avenue said the situation in their neighborhood began improving five or six months ago. Residents partly attributed the improvement to the efforts of the Chapel Hill Housing Department, which operates public housing. "What did good was the Housing Department coming in and putting up 'no trespassing' signs," said Eddie Scotton, of 500-A Sykes St. "I guess they've got some pull around here."
But Scotton also said that only a few months ago, there were people smoking crack in his yard. "A lot of us started reporting this shit and then they put up the 'no trespass' signs and ran the people out," Scotton said. "They got most of the bad apples out, but then a few sneak back in. You can't cure everything."
Scotton said it was possible that Taylor's death lead to stronger efforts from the residents and the town to make the neighborhood safer. "I guess sometimes someone has to get killed for things to get straightened out," he said.