Former Death-Row Prisoner to Serve Life Imprisonment

September 10, 2012 12:21 pm

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RALEIGH, N.C. – A long-serving prisoner on North Carolina’s death row had his sentence changed to life imprisonment today, following an abrupt turn-around by state prosecutors who will no longer seek his execution.

The American Civil Liberties Union represented Elmer Ray McNeill, Jr., who was resentenced to life imprisonment today in Wake County Superior Court for his part in the 1993 murders of two men in a Raleigh supermarket. McNeill had originally been sentenced to death in 1996, while his codefendant and older brother, Robert McNeill, was convicted of the same murders but sentenced by a different jury to life.

The crime happened at a Food Lion where Robert McNeill worked. He had become embroiled in a dispute with his manager, John Ray, who was one of the victims. In the 1996 trials, prosecutors show that Robert McNeill planned the crimes, had committed a similar crime previously, and this time recruited his younger brother to help.

In 2009, a federal court reversed Elmer McNeill’s death sentence, finding his counsel had been constitutionally inadequate for failing to uncover and present to the jury evidence of his severe depression and of rampant physical and sexual abuse in the family home. The state initially announced it would again seek his execution. But Wake County District Attorney Colon Willoughby recently said he would be satisfied with a life sentence, setting the stage for today’s proceeding.

“We are grateful that our client is no longer facing the death penalty, and that the family members of the victims of this tragedy can now move on after nearly 20 years of litigation regarding Mr. McNeill’s sentence,” said Brian Stull, a senior staff attorney at the ACLU Capital Punishment Project.

The move came after a recent hearing revealed that McNeill suffers from debilitating epilepsy that had never been treated in prison.

“Given the circumstances of this case, life is certainly the appropriate sentence,” said Jonathan Broun of the Center for Death Penalty Litigation, who also represented McNeill. “We applaud the district attorney for recognizing that truth and for upholding justice.”

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