Local News

Man Executed for Murder of His Son

Posted August 13, 1998

— A man who killed his son during a drunken rage in 1990 went quietly to his death by lethal injection today without opening his eyes or making a last statement.

Zane Brown Hill, 62, of Buncombe County, died at 2:24 a.m. strapped to a gurney and covered with a powder blue sheet in the death chamber at Central Prison. The execution began at 2:01 a.m. and although prison officials said it took a little longer than usual, no explanation was given.

``God rest his soul,'' said defense lawyer Harold Bender just after prison Warden James French announced Hill's death to 13 witnesses who watched the execution through a glass window.

Death penalty opponents and Hill's lawyers had lobbied Gov. Jim Hunt for clemency. They said the case was tailor-made for commutation to life because Hill had been offered a second-degree murder plea bargain.

But Hunt said he rejected the clemency petition because of Hill's ``long history of terrorizing his wife and children with guns'' and because he had threatened to kill his wife and shot his 29-year-old son, Randall, twice in the back.

The shooting occurred when Hill came to his wife's house in violation of a restraining order and his son held a gun on him while calling police. Hill claimed self defense, but the jury rejected the plea and deliberated about 30 minutes before convicting him. Evidence showed Hill had consumed beer and pain killers earlier and hit his wife in the head with a gun when she tried to help her son.

``Tonight, I saw an old man die,'' Bender said after leaving the prison. ``It should not have happened. But the state's machinery of death prevailed. Right now, I'm not very proud to be a North Carolinian.''

Bender had filed an appeal Thursday with the U.S. Supreme Court, seeking a review on grounds that prosecutors hadn't shared all their files with Hill's defense lawyer. The court rejected the plea.

Buncombe County District Attorney Ron Moore said that as he watched the execution he was struck with how peaceful it was and how violent Hill's crime had been on New Year's Day 1990.

``It would not bother me for 12 jurors trying one of my cases to see what I saw tonight,'' Moore said. The prosecutor also said it took courage for Hunt to deny clemency because of pressure from vocal death penalty opponents.

Outside the prison, about 50 death penalty protesters prayed during a candelight vigil. Many said they were disappointed Hunt didn't commute the death sentence.

``I'm disappointed, but it's something I almost expect from the powers that be,'' said Paul Colbert of Raleigh. ``It just seems things are so entrenched that nobody wants to hear a different point of view.''

Hill's wife, Bonnie, visited her husband during the day along with their daughter and a son. Hill also visited with a minister and his attorneys and had two large hamburgers with lettuce and tomato and a bottled soft drink for his last meal. Amanda Lamb contributed to this report.


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