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New Bern mayor says he may run for district attorney

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NEW BERN, N.C. -

New Bern mayor Lee Bettis says he might run for the district attorney's seat.

Bettis announced on Wednesday he has been thinking about running for the top prosecutor's job for Craven, Carteret, and Pamlico counties since January. Bettis announced in February he would not run for re-election as mayor.

This is the latest from Bettis, who is now facing two child abuse charges stemming from DWI and reckless driving charges back in May.

Bettis told 9 On Your Side he thinks current D.A. Scott Thomas wasted taxpayer dollars by hiring a special prosecutor from Raleigh, Ike Avery, to handle his case.

Thomas said he plans to run for re-election in 2014 and he did not know Bettis was considering run for his job. He said it would not be appropriate for him to comment further because of Bettis' pending criminal charges.

The mayor's recent child abuse charges are a result of a grand jury indictment. His case will be handled in superior court rather than district court, which is what normally happens in DWI cases.

The indictment, dated August 19, said Lee Bettis put his two stepchildren at "substantial risk of injury" the day Havelock police charged him with DWI.

A 13-year-old girl and 10-year-old boy were riding in Bettis' car when witnesses spotted him driving erratically, the indictment said.

"This is being handled differently than any misdemeanor case I've seen in Craven County over the last 30 years," said Mayor Bettis' former attorney Marc Chesnutt.

Chesnutt says he withdrew from the Bettis case because of the way prosecutors are handling it.

That decision comes from the special prosecutor Ike Avery. In a phone interview, Avery explained why he commissioned a grand jury.

"I looked at the evidence and decided the grand jury may want to consider misdemeanor child abuse, and they did," said Avery.

He says it's rare for a grand jury to indict on misdemeanor charges, but prosecutors are allowed to ask for it.

"I know it's been used, different locations for when the defendant is a lawyer or police officer or public official," said Avery.

Bettis wouldn't go on-camera, but he indicated he thinks the process is unfair. Despite the special handling, Avery says Bettis will receive due process.

Bettis' drug test revealed he had no alcohol in his system, but there was evidence of the common anti-anxiety drug Xanax.

Bettis is scheduled to be in court September 17 on the child abuse charges and October 3 for his DWI arrest.

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