March 31, 2011
In Iredell County, a judge declared a mistrial after it was revealed that the State failed to turn over hundreds of pages of evidence in the case of Al Bellamy. The State had been seeking the death penalty, but the judge ordered that if Bellamy is retried, the maximum penalty shall be life without the possibility of parole.
Among the evidence not turned over was a statement by one of the prosecution’s key witnesses indicating that one of the victims in the case was armed. This statement was also not revealed to counsel for Bellamy’s co-defendant, Travis Ramseur, who was convicted and sentenced to life without the possibility of parole last summer.
It must be mentioned that this scandal happened to erupt just as the legislature was considering a bill that would shield prosecutors from sanctions for similar discovery violations. Learn more here and here. The latter link tells the story of Chris Foye, who pleaded guilty to a crime he did not commit in order to avoid the death penalty, only to learn later that the State Bureau of Investigation had concealed DNA evidence that would have exonerated him.
March 15, 2011
In Statesville, testimony is soon to begin in the capital trial of Al Bellamy. Bellamy is accused of killing two men and injuring a third in 2004. If Bellamy is convicted of first-degree murder, the jury will decide whether to sentence him to death or to life without the possibility of parole.
Bellamy’s cousin and co-defendant Travis Ramseur has already been tried and sentenced to life without parole.
December 30, 2010
- Executions: 0
- Persons removed from death row for other reasons: 3
- New death sentences: 4
- Capital trials not resulting in death: 9
> Persons Removed from Death Row
- Jamey Cheek (New Hanover) – Cheek was re-sentenced to life for a 1996 killing after the court found that the prosecution intentionally withheld evidence favorable to the defense at trial. This evidence was relevant to whether Cheek was present at the time of the murder. (Cheek participated in the kidnapping that led up to the killing, which could make him guilty under the felony murder theory. However, the fact that he was not present during the actual killing would likely have made a difference to the jury for sentencing purposes.) You can read the court’s order here.
- Abner Nicholson (Wilson) – Nicholson’s death sentence was converted to life after a court determined that he is mentally retarded. Nicholson was convicted in 1999 of shooting his wife and the local police chief. You can read the court’s order granting relief here.
- Kyle Berry (New Hanover) – Berry was re-sentenced to life after it was determined that the trial court committed error in refusing to allow his lawyers adequate time to investigate and present evidence of pervasive mental illness in Mr. Berry’s family. Because the jury did not know the true extent of Mr. Berry’s genetically based mental illness, they did not have all of the information they needed to accurately determine an appropriate sentence for his crime. The court’s order is here.
> Persons Sentenced to Death at Trial
- Michael Ryan (Gaston) – Fired his attorneys and asked the jury to sentence him to death. Ryan was convicted based largely on the testimony of a co-defendant who received a lesser sentence in exchange for his cooperation. The first jury to hear the case deadlocked on the question of guilt; this was Ryan’s second trial.
- Andrew Ramseur (Iredell) – Black defendant sentenced to death by an all-white jury. Ramseur killed two people during a botched store robbery. His ability to plan and control his actions was reduced by the combination of a head injury and the unknowing ingestion of a hallucinogenic drug.
- Stephen Buckner (McDowell) – Buckner was sentenced to death for a domestic triple murder. He is deeply remorseful for his actions.
- Timothy Hartford (Forsyth) – Hartford received one death sentence and one life sentence for a double homicide. Hartford is severely mentally ill, suffering from both bipolar disorder and PTSD. He was also addicted to drugs at the time of the crime. His co-defendant was allowed to plead guilty and avoid the death penalty.
> Persons Given Other Sentences at Trial
- Abdullah Shareef (Cumberland) – jury voted unanimously for life. Shareef is a paranoid schizophrenic and was held in a mental institution for six years before becoming competent enough to stand trial. He was convicted of stealing a city van and running down five people, killing one.
- Samuel Cooper (Wake) – jury voted unanimously for life. Cooper was convicted of killing five people in separate incidents spanning two years. The jury found that Cooper was mentally damaged as the result of a childhood fraught with extreme abuse.
- Alfred Willard (Mitchell) – pleaded guilty to second degree murder during trial. Willard killed his live-in girlfriend and tried to conceal her body.
- Carlos Keels (Robeson) – jury voted unanimously for life. Keels beat his girlfriend’s daughter to death.
- Demeatrius Montgomery (Mecklenburg) – court declared case non-capital after investigating officer was found to have destroyed evidence. Montgomery was accused of killing two Charlotte police officers who were responding to an unrelated call.
- Travis Ramseur (Iredell) – jury voted unanimously for life. Ramseur was convicted of killing two men and wounding a third.
- Dexter McRae (Cumberland) – jury voted unanimously for life. McRae was convicted of raping and murdering his estranged wife, stabbing her more than 50 times.
- Edwardo Wong (Catawba) – sentenced to life after jury could not reach unanimous decision. Wong was convicted of killing a state trooper during a traffic stop.
- Albert Ramos (Scotland) – pleaded guilty and accepted life sentence during trial. Ramos killed his mother and stepfather, then fled the state.
Other Significant Events
- Demario Atwater (FED) – In a North Carolina federal court, Atwater received a life sentence for the highly publicized killing of the UNC student body president.
- Alejandro Umana (FED) – Also in an NC federal court, Umana was sentenced to death for a gang-related double murder.
- Timothy Hennis (MIL) – In military court, Hennis was sentenced to death for the same crime for which he was twice tried (once sentenced to death and once acquitted) in civilian court.
- Racial Justice Act – Following last year’s passage of the RJA, pre-trial defendants and death row inmates have filed claims under the law alleging that their death sentences were sought or obtained on the basis of race. It remains to be seen how the law will ultimately be interpreted by the courts.
- State Bureau of Investigation – A blockbuster investigation by Raleigh’s News and Observer revealed widespread and systemic misconduct at the state agency charged with conducting investigations and forensic testing in criminal cases. A report commissioned by the Attorney General’s Office identified 269 defendants whose cases were affected by faulty evidence. (The report looked at one test done by one division of the SBI lab; it found an error rate of nearly 25%.)
September 10, 2010
An Iredell County jury has sentenced Travis Ramseur to life without the possibility of parole for two 2004 murders.
Previous reporting here, here, and here.
September 9, 2010
In Statesville, the sentencing phase of Travis Ramseur’s trial has begun after a jury found him guilty of killing Angelo Stockton and Timothy Cook in 2004. Once the evidence has concluded, jurors will decide what sentence Ramseur should receive – the death penalty or life without the possibility of parole.
August 31, 2010
In Iredell County, jurors are hearing the second week of testimony in the trial of Travis Ramseur.
In Catawba County, Edwardo Wong‘s motion for a new judge has been denied. Wong had alleged that Judge Nathaniel Poovey violated his right to counsel by meeting with him outside the presence of his court-appointed lawyers and offering legal advice. Jury selection is continuing this week.
There is no news on the Cumberland County trial of Dexter McRae or the Robeson County trial of Deonte Harris.
August 26, 2010
In Statesville, the prosecution is putting on evidence in the trial of Travis Ramseur.
In Fayetteville, opening statements are being heard this morning in the trial of Dexter McRae.
In Newton, jury selection is continuing in the trial of Eduardo Wong. Wong’s attorneys have made a motion to recuse the judge, but complete information is not available at this time.