Local News

Harnett Teen Misses Death Penalty by One Vote

Posted June 3, 1998

— A 20-year-old woman convicted of murdering for money in Harnett County is headed to prison for the rest of her life.

Thursday, Superior Court Judge Wiley Bowen gave Vera Sue Lee two, consecutive life sentences after the jury that convicted her deadlocked.

Foreman McVeigh Heaster said the jury was 11-1 in favor of execution but could not persuade one holdout juror, Louise McDougald Spears, to change her mind.

Spears said she was satisfied with her decision to block the death sentence.

``I just wouldn't have made it if I wasn't,'' Spears said.

The jury had been deliberating since late Monday on whether to sentence Lee to life in prison without parole or the death penalty.

Last Friday, the jury convicted Lee of arson and murder. An 8-year-old boy and his great-grandmother were killed in the fire.

The judge imposed the life without chance of parole, as required by law when a jury cannot reach a unanimous decision.

Brian Brewington and his great-grandmother, Frances Brewington, were found burned to death June 12, 1997, in the front bedroom of Ms. Brewington's frame farmhouse near Dunn. Prosecutors said Lee poured gasoline in the house, then ignited the fuel with a dish towel she had lighted in a gas heater.

Her neighbor, Henry Michael McKeithan, and her boyfriend, Robert Brewington -- he is Ms. Brewington's grandson and Brian's uncle -- await trial. They are charged with the same crimes.

Prosecutors said during Lee's trial that the three committed the crimes to collect on a $58,000 life insurance policy that Brewington held on his nephew. Ms. Brewington opposed Robert Brewington's planned marriage to Lee, prosecutors said.

During the sentencing phase of the trial, a psychologist testified that Lee had been molested by a half dozen men before her 14th birthday and that the molestations caused Lee to suffer severe depression and a borderline personality disorder.

Several jurors interviewed said they were swayed by the weight of evidence against her.

``Even this one woman agreed that the aggravating factors outweighed the mitigating factors,'' Heaster said of Spears. ``But she was very emotional and could not come to grips with sentencing anyone to death.''

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