Hembree Sentenced to Death; Two Robinson Trials Continue

November 21, 2011

In Gaston County, Danny Hembree was sentenced to death for the murder of Heather Catterton.  Although the victim’s family supported the death penalty, her father recognized, “This was a no-win situation. They’ve lost a son. We’ve lost a daughter.”

The Robeson County trial of Larry Robinson continues without media coverage.

The State is presenting evidence in the Stanly County trial of William Robinson.  Robinson is accused of shooting a man during a 2006 robbery.


State Moves to Recuse Black Judge from Racial Justice Act Motions

November 10, 2011

In Cumberland County today, prosecutors are arguing that Gregory Weeks, the Senior Resident Superior Court Judge for the county, should be disqualified from hearing claims under the Racial Justice Act.  Weeks is a 23-year veteran of the bench – who also happens to be African-American.  Of course, prosecutors aren’t saying that they want Weeks off the case because he’s black.  They claim that Weeks should recuse himself because he has presided over some of the death penalty trials in question, and therefore might be a witness.  If this were the State’s true motivation, it seems that they would also have moved to recuse Judge William Wood, who is presiding over Racial Justice Act claims in Forsyth County.  Wood, who is white, has also been the trial judge in a death penalty case affected by the RJA.

Duke University law professor Jim Coleman says, “It looks like they’re trying to get rid of an African-American judge and have the case heard by someone who likely would not be African-American…They’re accused of manipulating the jury on the basis of race. It’s ironic that they would do something that looks like they’re trying to … manipulate the judge who would hear the case [for the same reason].”

The State made its motion on the eve of the first real test of the RJA, a hearing that was to take place before Judge Weeks on November 14th.  That hearing may now be delayed.  The State’s motion is highly unusual and perhaps unprecedented.  Attorney Ken Rose says, “I’ve been doing this 30 years. I’ve never seen a judge recused for that reason.”  Judge Weeks has retained his own lawyer, Fred Webb, to argue that it is inappropriate to call a judge as a witness under these circumstances.

Media here, here, here, and here.


Second-Degree Murder for Gross, Life Without Parole for Mills

November 7, 2011

Two death penalty trials noted in DW’s last post have resolved with a sentence less than death.

In Buncombe County, a jury rejected first-degree murder and instead found Brandon Lee Gross guilty of second-degree murder.  He will be sentenced to a term of years.  Still no word from the local paper or TV stations.

In Alamance County, Dennis Alan Mills pleaded guilty and accepted a sentence of life without the possibility of parole.  Prosecutors alleged that Mills shot two men to death following an argument over a sandwich.  Mills previously served time for the shooting death of his uncle.


NC Capital Trial Update 11-1-11

November 1, 2011

Six death penalty trials started in North Carolina over the last few weeks.

Larry Robinson (Robeson) and Brandon Gross (Buncombe) – Progress unknown.

The guilt-or-innocence phase is wrapping up in the Gaston County trial of Danny Hembree.  Prosecutors allege that Hembree strangled Heather Catterton in 2009, while defense attorneys say Catterton died of a drug overdose.

In Alamance County, efforts were underway to pick a jury for the sentencing phase of Dennis Mills‘ trial when Mills moved to withdraw his guilty plea for two 2010 shootings.

The Guilford County trial of Isaam Chaplin came to an abrupt halt when the prosecution suddenly located what they believe to be the murder weapon.  A gun seized by police in another county came up as a “hit” in a police database, prompting the judge to delay the trial indefinitely while both sides examine the new evidence.

Jury selection has just gotten underway in the Stanly County trial of William Robinson.  Robinson is accused of a 2006 robbery-murder in Albemarle.


Jury Selection Underway in Capital Trials

October 14, 2011

In Gaston County, the jury selection process is nearly complete in the trial of Danny Hembree.  Eleven jurors have been seated; one regular juror and three alternates still need to be selected.

Things are just getting underway in the Alamance County trial of Dennis Mills; one juror has been seated.

There is no news on the Robeson County trial of Larry Robinson.


Capital Trial Update 10-4-11

October 4, 2011

Larry Robinson is on trial for a double homicide in Robeson County, but DW has been unable to find anything recent in the media.

Jury selection is also underway for the trial of Danny Hembree in Gaston County.

Both Robinson and Hembree could face the death penalty if convicted.


Life Sentence for Joshua Stepp

September 13, 2011

Josh Stepp, an Iraq war veteran suffering from PTSD, has been spared the death penalty.  He will serve life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Comments from jurors here.


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