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Out to kill: Cedric Gaston goes free 

Two years ago, I predicted that if someone didn't stop Cedric Gaston, he would kill someone.

Nine months later, he and his friends appear to have tried. Eric Sprouse, owner of Dilworth Billiards, still bears the scars from the .40 caliber bullet holes he received during a late-night robbery in December 2007 as he closed up shop.

Gaston and two other habitual criminals are charged in that robbery.

Gaston first made WSOC's evening news more than two years ago when he and his friends led police on a high-speed car chase after they were caught breaking into cars. It was the second chase he'd been involved in since 2004. This time, police found thousands of dollars of stolen items, including laptops, iPods and video cameras in the automobile he and his friends crashed into a building on Burnette Avenue. The arrest was his 11th since 2005.

Since 2005, he has racked up 67 charges, including 21 separate charges of breaking into a motor vehicle, two charges of possession of a stolen vehicle, 11 charges of possession of stolen goods, two charges of larceny of a motor vehicle, various hit-and-run and reckless-driving-related charges and a charge of robbery with a dangerous weapon. According to state prison records, for all this, Gaston has been sentenced to probation twice.

Gaston is one of the relentless young thugs I've kept an eye on as part of my ongoing quest to figure out how many crimes you can commit in Mecklenburg County without being slapped with an actual prison sentence by our court system. Like many of the others on my list, Gaston is pushing back the limits of what the average county resident would believe was criminally possible.

Earlier this month, he hit a new high.

Incredibly, Gaston is out right now, walking the streets of Charlotte. He made bond three weeks ago and is still awaiting trial on the charges from the 2007 Dilworth Billiards robbery.

That Gaston was out, wandering about, awaiting adjudication on scores of charges when he and Tony Williams, another repeat offender, both allegedly opened fire on Sprouse in 2007 is unfathomable.

That Superior Court Judge Calvin Murphy lowered Gaston's bond last year and allowed him to walk out the door again a couple weeks ago is nothing short of insanity.

Gaston will be out until at least May, when, God willing, he'll finally be tried for the 2007 armed robbery and shooting, unless the date is postponed again.

In the meantime, Gaston is supposed to wear an electronic monitoring bracelet, follow a court-mandated curfew, refrain from shooting people and eventually show up for his court date -- we hope.

Or he'll cut the bracelet off -- as other violent criminals have in the last year -- and resume the rapidly escalating crime spree he was on when I first introduced him to you in this space last year.

This must be maddening for the police officers who spent weeks hunting for him after the crime, and for those who risk their lives daily to bring in criminals who shouldn't be out on the streets in the first place. Every time they let Gaston out, I get a flurry of angry e-mails from officers who understand how dangerous he is and fear for this community. But nothing changes.

That trying Gaston quickly isn't more of a priority is baffling. For years, everyone from the police chief to the mayor to various committees on crime have agreed that we need to target the most violent, high-volume criminals in this community for quick prosecution and maximum penalties to get them off the streets.

Millions of dollars in criminal justice funding later, it still isn't happening.

The timing issue is critical. Mecklenburg County judges routinely go behind magistrates and slash bond amounts to absurdly low levels, letting violent criminals out the revolving door while they await trial or the completion of their plea bargains. Because adjudication doesn't happen for years after a crime here, criminals go on wild crime sprees while awaiting trial, rocketing from auto theft to armed robbery to attempted murder in the months or years it takes to sentence them on their initial charges.

If Sprouse hadn't pulled through the painful surgeries he had to repair the bullet wounds, this would be a murder case. That Gaston and his friends stand accused of targeting an innocent business owner should chill this community.

I can only hope that Gaston won't appear in this column again before May. Everyone else should, too.

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