Local News

Former Death Row Inmate up for Parole

Posted December 4, 2007

— Rosa Williams, 72, carries a high-school graduation picture of her daughter, Beatrice, in her purse everywhere she goes.

"The way she was brutally murdered – it was the hardest thing I've had to deal with. I'm still dealing with it," she said Tuesday after going before the North Carolina Parole Board in an effort to keep her daughter's convicted killer in prison.

At the age of 23, Beatrice Williams was stabbed to death in 1984 by her ex-boyfriend, Johnnie Spruill, in a nightclub parking lot in Northampton County. According to court documents, Spruill had assaulted Williams two weeks prior, and she had a restraining order against him.

"He stalked her and made plans to kill her – told so many people he was going to kill her," Williams said.

In 1985, Spruill, now 54, was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to death. The North Carolina Court of Appeals overturned the sentence in 1992 and ordered a new trial, in which Spruill pleaded guilty.

In 2005, after his attorneys proved he was mentally retarded, a court ruled Spruill could not be executed, and under sentencing guidelines at the time of his conviction, he was given life with the possibility of parole.

Spruill's attorneys used him as one of the first test cases of a law, enacted in July 2001, that says anyone with an IQ below 70 could not be put to death.

As a result of the law, 13 death-row inmates have had their sentences changed to life in prison. Twenty-five percent of death-row inmates have petitioned under the law to have their sentences changed.

As for Spruill, his victim's family wants him to stay in prison for life without the possibility of parole.

"I feel like he is a very dangerous person," said Rosette Futrell, who was 16 when her sister was killed.

"We feel like he deserves to spend the rest of his life in prison, and hopefully he won't be released to come out and hurt anyone else," Futrell said. "We feel like it's very important that society and the people be aware that this person is up for parole."


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  • seasiren8320 Dec 5, 2007

    The parole board is basically going to review his crime and his prison record. Upon being incarcerated people with certain crimes are given risk assessments to determine their risk to society. These assessments are kept confidential from the public because they are mental health records. But basically his release or continued confinement will be based on all of these factors.

    Hopefully he will have to stay in prison. If his crime warranted the death penalty before his mental status was a question then a jury of his peers obviously believed after hearing the evidence that he is a risk to society. I personally beleive that if released he will kill again. Very few people who come to prison make it on the outside. Prison is called a revolving door and for the most part it is true. Very few go back out in to society and change.

  • Sandollar Dec 5, 2007

    What can the public do? This stuff is stupid. Letting felons out like this. Do we write the parole board? Do we write judges? What can be done? If we have good sense how do we convey this to the people that count?

  • justbnme Dec 5, 2007

    I tried to post this before, hmmm... doesn't seem
    to be anything wrong with wanting to be a vigilante, does it WRAL? I see someone else used
    it in another story.... what's up with that?????

  • jurydoc Dec 5, 2007

    Apparently a number of you did not read my previous post. Evidence of mental retardation in capital murder cases must have been documented PRIOR TO AGE 18. Additionally, it includes significantly MORE than scores on an IQ test. It is deliberately difficult to sustain. This is NC's definition for these purposes: Significantly subaverage general intellectual functioning (defined as having an IQ of 70 or below), existing concurrently with significant limitations in adaptive functioning(defined as having significant limitations in two or more of the following adaptive skill areas: communication, self-care, home living, social skills, community use, self-direction, health and safety, functional academics, leisure skills and work skills) both of which were manifested before the age of 18.

  • davido Dec 5, 2007

    Well, it's good to be up in arms over this, but I imagine the parole board isn't so stupid as to let him out. It's like Charlie Manson coming up for parole.

  • mommy2caroline Dec 5, 2007

    He had a plan to kill her and did it. Gotta have SOME amount of sense to have a plan. If I were his defense attorney I'd tell him to dumb down enough to assure he's flunk the IQ test. I have worked with low-functioning people who still know right from wrong and don't commit murder, especially premeditated.

  • Adelinthe Dec 5, 2007

    "These people are joking right? How dare they even think about letting this guy out? Let him rot in prison for the rest of his sorry life."


    His victim received a death sentence and so should he, regardless of his IQ.

    Praying for the victim's family.

    God bless.

    Rev. RB

  • skypilot-not Dec 5, 2007

    These people are joking right? How dare they even think about letting this guy out? Let him rot in prison for the rest of his sorry life

  • Mr. John Q Public Dec 5, 2007

    IQ tests are culturally biased and can be deliberately failed so they should not be used to determine mental retardation. They should look at his past actions; was he able to live independently, drive a car...etc. If he has the ability to perform these basic tasks, he isn't mentally retarded.

    Unfortunately this is what you get with a liberal Supreme Court (currently 4 liberals, 4 conservatives, 1 moderate who leans left on crime). Of all the issues to consider when you elect a President, the most important is the kind of justices they will appoint to the Supreme Court.

  • Sessy - Italiana Dec 5, 2007


    I hate it for the victims family. What a slap in the face. Thats NOT justice served. He should spend his dying days in prison.