NC Death Penalty Year in Review 2008

December 18, 2008

It has been an exceptional year for life in North Carolina.  No one was executed, and only one new person was added to death row (the lowest number since the reinstatement of the death penalty in 1977).  This year, as many capital defendants were acquitted as were sentenced to death.  More death row inmates were exonerated than executed.  North Carolina should be proud.

Nationally, executions began again following the Supreme Court’s decision in Baze v. Rees, but lethal injection remains stalled in North Carolina due to litigation by inmates subject to the procedure as well as the doctors forced to participate in it.

Capital Trial Statistics

Life without parole – 9 (Kenneth Hartley, Charles Dickerson, Eric Oakes, Jakiem Wilson, James Stitt, Robert Windsor, Lisa Greene, Neil Sargeant, James Blue)

Sentences less than life -3 (Pliney Purser, Jonte McLaurin, John Chavis Ross)

Death -1 (James Ray Little)

Military capital trial acquittals – 1 (Alberto Martinez)

Post-Conviction Statistics

Executions – 0

Exonerations – 2 (Levon “Bo” Jones, Glen Edward Chapman)

Death row inmates getting new trials – 2 (John Conaway, William Moore)

Death row inmates getting new sentencing hearings – 1 (William Gray)

Otherwise removed from death row – 2 (Clinton Smith, Carlos Cannady)

Incompetent for execution – 1 (Guy LeGrande)

Deaths from natural causes – 3 (Gary Greene, Leroy McNeill, George Page)

If you would like to be part of making 2009 another Year of Life, please consider making a donation to NC-based groups like the Fair Trial Initiative.

News Flash – Guy LeGrande Incompetent to be Executed

July 1, 2008

North Carolina death row inmate Guy Tobias LeGrande has been found incompetent to be executed under both state law and the 8th Amendment of the United States Constitution, as interpreted by Ford v. Wainwright and Panetti v. Quarterman.

The decision is here and a press release is here.

Prior coverage here, here, here, and especially here.

Follow-Up on LeGrande and Panetti

July 2, 2007

News Update 7.02.07

North Carolina

Click here for a summary of the LeGrande competency hearing. No word yet on when Judge Bell’s decision is expected, or how it might be affected by the Supreme Court’s decision in Panetti.


Panetti coverage from:
* The New York Times
* The Washington Post
* The Wall Street Journal
* The Los Angeles Times
* The Fort Worth Star-Telegram
* The Houston Chronicle
* The Dallas Morning News
* The Austin American-Statesman
* The San Antonio Express-News
* SCOTUSblog
* Capital Defense Weekly
* USA Today
* The Christian Science Monitor
* The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel

The Panetti Decision

June 28, 2007

The Supreme Court announced its decision in Panetti v. Quarterman this morning, finding 5-4 for Panetti. The decision does not set an explicit standard for who is too mentally ill to be executed, and remands the case back to Texas for further consideration. However, the Court does make clear that the retributive function of capital punishment cannot be served when the inmate suffers from delusions that affect his or her understanding of the crime and the punishment to be imposed. In Panetti’s case, he understood that he was going to be executed, but had a delusional belief about why Texas intended to kill him.

More analysis to follow.

(It should be noted that North Carolina’s Guy LeGrande might have been found incompetent even under the Texas standard, which the Court has now said is too restrictive.)

More on LeGrande Competency Hearing

June 27, 2007

News Update 6.27.07

North Carolina

Two news reports this morning on Guy LeGrande’s competency hearing here and here. Apparently LeGrande’s only contribution to the hearing were vague and confusing statements about an associate and what he expects to have for his first meal after being pardoned.

Greensboro prosecutors seek death penalty against teen accused of shooting cab driver.


Should you happen to be in Washington, DC, you may want to stop by the Abolitionist Action Committee’s 14th annual Starvin’ for Justice Fast and Vigil to Abolish the Death Penalty. Join death row exonerees, family members of murder victims, and even a former warden who participated in executions at the U.S. Supreme Court between June 29th and July 2nd.

Find information here and here on a recent investigation conducted by a Texas district attorney to determine whether Ruben Cantu was innocent of the crime for which he was executed. I find it more than a little shady that the DA doing the investigation was, in her former position, a judge involved in the process of sending Mr. Cantu to his death.

Guy LeGrande Back In Court

June 26, 2007

News Update 6.26.07

North Carolina

There has been no reporting in the media, but Guy LeGrande is back in court in Stanly County. In the usual battle of the experts, one doctor has testified that LeGrande is competent to be executed (but bipolar with psychotic features), while the other has testified that he is incompetent. Of note, the doctor who found LeGrande imcompetent is employed by the State. She has testified in many other cases, finding all post-conviction defendants competent except for LeGrande.

Capital trials are ongoing in Raleigh and Concord.


The ACLU has a new report out on race and the federal death penalty. The report notes the increased likelihood of a death sentence in cases involving black defendants and/or white victims, and makes recommendations for a more equitably applied death penalty.

The U.S. Supreme Court has denied cert to Troy Anthony Davis, despite evidence of innocence and police misconduct.

There are three executions scheduled for today: Patrick Knight (Texas), Jimmy Bland (Oklahoma), and John Hightower (Georgia). (Thanks to CDW for the links.)

Oprah, Can You Hear Me?

May 8, 2007

The strange case of Guy Tobias LeGrande goes on. In 1996, Guy LeGrande was sentenced to death in Stanly County for the murder of Ellen Munford. (Incidentally, the man who hired LeGrande and provided him with the murder weapon – Munford’s husband – was convicted only of second-degree murder.) LeGrande fired his court-appointed attorneys and was allowed to represent himself over their protestations that he was severely mentally ill.

The jury never heard evidence that LeGrande believed he was receiving signals from Dan Rather and Oprah Winfrey through the television. They did not know that he had long suffered from delusions and extreme mood swings. LeGrande represented himself while wearing a Superman t-shirt, and his ranting arguments drew comments even from the judge who’d found him competent. LeGrande challenged the jury to sentence him to death, telling them, “All you so-called good folks can kiss my natural black ass in the showroom window of Heilig-Myers” and “Pull the damn switch and shake that groove thing.” They obliged after 45 minutes of deliberation. After his conviction, LeGrande continued to represent himself, and failed to preserve any of the legal issues that might have won him relief in federal court.

Over the years, attempts have been made to intervene. Attorneys have visited LeGrande in hopes of helping him with appeals. LeGrande refused assistance, but told the lawyers that he could see people’s thoughts and desires, that he was expecting a settlement to his multi-billion dollar lawsuit against the State any day, and that he could see a circle of smoke around one lawyer’s head. Doctors have tried to evaluate Mr. LeGrande, some finding him incompetent, others finding him competent, but all agreeing that he is severely mentally ill. They noted hypomanic behaviors and grandiose delusions. LeGrande has a family history of mental illness – his sister has bipolar disorder, and his half-sister suffers from chronic paranoid schizophrenia.

Eventually, a federal court tired of the frivolous lawsuits LeGrande continually filed, and appointed counsel to represent him. By this time it was too late – federal courts can only consider issues that have previously been raised in state court, and LeGrande had failed to do so. Guy LeGrande was scheduled for execution in December of 2006. In late November, a judge declared a 60-day stay, asking three doctors to evaluate LeGrande and decide whether he was competent to be executed. The stay was extended due to difficulties in evaluating LeGrande. Thus far, LeGrande has refused to meet with the doctors, and until recently, their only opportunity to observe him has been to watch videotape – without audio – of LeGrande’s activities in his cell over a 30-day period.

Last week, the judge in the case sought further information through a hearing. LeGrande’s lawyers over the years, all of whom he refuses to acknowledge, testified about their interactions with him. One said that LeGrande does not believe he will be executed, instead he will be pardoned, given billions of dollars, and enjoy his first free meal with the Governor himself. It has been reported in the past that LeGrande can be seen marching around his cell for hours at a time, and that he anticipates living out the rest of his days on the beachfront property he will purchase with his settlement from the State. LeGrande has suggested that certain employees of the Department of Corrections have ESP, and has opened letters: “From the Constitutional and Civil Rights Office of the Director for the National Coalition of Black Secret Agents Enslaved at Central Prison.”

For its part, the State insisted that LeGrande is an intelligent man who took deliberate steps to avoid capture. (The State seems to confuse mental retardation with mental illness, and conflates competency to stand trial with competency to be executed.) Ellen Munford’s parents and children have been very vocal about their desire to see LeGrande executed.

The most interesting aspect of the hearing is that LeGrande agreed to be questioned by the judge. His statements have been described as “articulate, but rambling.” Although able to cite statutes by number, LeGrande made off references to Albert Einstein and Clarence Thomas. He refused to directly answer the judge’s questions about whether he believes he will be pardoned and other significant matters. He used profanity in court. Although LeGrande grasped that the purpose of the hearing was to examine the issue of his competency, he didn’t seem to think he was a necessary part of the process. He referred to himself as a “conscientious observer” and spent much of the hearing leaning back and swiveling in his chair.

Doctors say that LeGrande most likely suffers from one of the following: (1) Schizoaffective Disorder, Bipolar type, (2) Bipolar 1 Disorder, Manic with psychotic features, or (3) Delusional Disorder. All of these would affect Mr. LeGrande’s ability to understand the fact of his impending execution, and perhaps also to understand the real reason for it. At trial, of course, these disorders would have impaired his ability to work with counsel, much less represent himself, but that issue is moot now.

The United States Supreme Court recently heard the case of Scott Panetti, a schizophrenic Texas man allowed to represent himself at trial, with much the same result as Guy LeGrande. The Court is re-examining the standard for competency to be executed, and considering, in light of its decisions about the mentally retarded (Atkins) and juveniles (Roper), whether the execution of the mentally ill serves any legitimate purpose. This blog entry gives information on recent reform efforts in North Carolina. (That bill is still in committee.)

As for Guy LeGrande, the State has made it clear that they intend to execute him as soon as possible. If the court finds LeGrande competent, the State will set an execution date to be carried out when the lethal injection debate is resolved. LeGrande insists there is a method to his madness. (When asked about a time he claimed to see anvils falling from the sky, LeGrande said, “When I make these little conundrums, these riddles, I’m alluding to another situation.”) He says that if he is executed, it will not be because he chose to represent himself. “I didn’t fail, the law failed.” At least he’s right about one thing.


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