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DA Opposes Pre-Trial Hearings on Retardation Claims

Posted January 24, 2008
Updated January 30, 2008

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— Wake County prosecutors objected Thursday to a motion for a pre-trial hearing to assess a murder suspect's mental capacity.

Instead, District Attorney Colon Willoughby wants to have the motion for determination of retardation heard before a jury as part of the sentencing phase of Joseph Sanderlin's capital murder trial, if he's convicted.

Sanderlin, 26, is charged with first-degree murder in the Nov. 8, 2005, stabbing death of Lauren Michele Redman, who was stabbed and cut more than 40 times inside her Raleigh apartment. She managed to crawl outside and ask for help before she died.

"It's been two years, and we think the public is entitled to have this case resolved, and we're trying to push it forward," Willoughby said.

Under North Carolina General Statutes Sec.  15A-2005, a person with an IQ below 70 and issues of adaptive functioning prior to age 18 cannot face the death penalty.

Since the law was passed, 13 death row inmates have had their sentences retroactively commuted from death to life in prison.

Beside's Sanderlin's, Willoughby said, there's only been one other case in Wake County – that of Antonio Davon Chance –where defense attorneys use mental retardation to keep their clients off death row.

Sanderlin's attorneys, Tommy Manning and Terry Alford, argued their client is at a sixth-grade level in terms of adaptive functioning and that two recent IQ tests put him at 68 and 64.

Alford said Sanderlin's IQ as a child was 69, 66 and 69 in three tests.

"It is just the latest issue. Like the method of execution, (it's) some other attempt to derail the prosecution of a capital case," Willoughby said.

"We believe they are capital cases. We think that's what the evidence will show, and we think it's appropriate for the jury to make that decision."

The district attorney said a hearing on Sanderlin's mental capacity would likely delay his trial, scheduled to start April 14.

Superior Court Judge Leon Stanback Jr. didn't say when he would rule on Sanderlin's motion.

If a hearing were held and a judge ruled Sanderlin does not qualify for exemption from the death penalty, the same evidence would be presented again at Sanderlin's trial. That would be redundant, cost taxpayers and delay the trial, Willoughby said.

"I just don't understand the (justice) system, at times," said Walter Moreland, the widower of Cynthia Moreland, the Wendell woman Chance is accused of killing in 2006.

Last week, a defense attorney filed a similar motion asking for a pre-trial hearing for Chance and claiming he is mentally retarded.

"I don't think anything is wrong with him – anyone with the common sense to do the things he did," Moreland's daughter, Keisha Moreland, said.

Police said Chance abducted Moreland from a parking garage in downtown Raleigh. Eleven days later, authorities found her body behind an abandoned house in Harnett County.

She likely was strangled, although authorities might never know her cause of death.

Chance's trial will be delayed, which frustrates Moreland's family.

"I don't believe he is mentally retarded," Keisha Moreland, said. "I would prefer him to be executed, because her life wasn't spared. And I don't see why his should be."

"It doesn't matter to me," she added. "It's sad to say – he deserves punishment."


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  • ltbarkley Jan 25, 2008

    I feel that the punishment should fit the crime, regardless of a persons IQ. Being mentally retarded should not be a valid excuse. A choice was made to kill someone, a choice should then be made to execute that person.

  • davidgnews Jan 24, 2008


    This guy knew what he was doing, when he was doing it.

  • bosoxbaby Jan 24, 2008

    It costs taxpayers more money because they sit on death row for eternity with appeal after appeal after appeal.

  • tarheelalum Jan 24, 2008

    The death penalty costs taxpayers substantially more than life in prison. This is well-documented in countless studies. Once he is evaluated by medical experts to determine his mental capacity...then the correct decision will be made, regardless of whether before trial & during trial or just after trial.

  • Humungous Jan 24, 2008

    There's a very fine line that differentiates retarded vs. just plain stupid. I don't think there's much of an argument that this gene pool contaminate is a little of both.

  • Sailfish Jan 24, 2008

    IQ test are merely just a statistic. It does not tell us very much. If President Lincoln came back today he would be considered mental retarded. We learn from the early ages of life the difference between right and wrong. As life goes on we learn about consequences and how to accept them. I feel that there is just an excuse being made here. He knows right from wrong and now he must learn how to accept his consequences.

  • twc Jan 24, 2008

    I agree, life in prison is harder than the death penalty. But receiving the death penalty means that he wouldn't be able to be in the general population. That is much harder than life in prison. Who cares if he ever gets put to sleep like he deserves if he is going to be miserable the rest of his life! Of course, someone is one day going to say keeping them on death row is cruel and unusual.

  • twc Jan 24, 2008

    There's a difference between retarded and lazy.

    There's a difference between retarded and ignorant.

    There's a difference between retarded and knowing right from wrong.

    If the risk of someone being retarded is the death of an innocent person then we need to take preventive measures BEFORE the loss of an innocent person!!!! How did he get by 26 years if he is too retarded to know right from wrong!!

  • NE Raleigh Jan 24, 2008

    Bring back the death penalty. Why are taxpayers strapped for keeping individuals alive for the next 50 years or so? Studies show most individuals like this are chronic offenders, and beyond any rehabilitation.

  • something2say Jan 24, 2008

    Truth is live in prison is harder than death! So let them suffer it out in prison. The only problem I see allowing this defense is then it opens the door to say he did not know right from wrong or something along those lines that could potentially lower the charge or sentence.

    For the moment a Death Sentence is a life sentence so there is no difference! Go figure!