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Judge removes Durham man from death row

Posted February 18, 2011

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— A Superior Court judge on Friday commuted the death sentence of a convicted killer from Durham to life in prison, ruling that the man has an incurable mental disorder.

Isaac Jackson Stroud, 56, was convicted in 1995 of the May 1, 1993, slaying of his girlfriend, Jocelyn Mitchell, who was beaten to death inside their Durham apartment.

Stroud was among dozens of death row inmates to file motions under the state's Racial Justice Act to seek a new sentencing hearing. State legislators passed the law in 2009, allowing convicts to use statistical evidence to argue bias in their sentencing.

Isaac Stroud in court Judge removes Durham man from death row

Instead of taking up that claim, Judge Orlando Hudson determined that Stroud is mentally incompetent to assist in his defense and sentenced him to life in prison.

Attorney Marilyn Ozer, who has been working on Stroud's case for the last 10 years, said he's been diagnosed with mental conditions that have caused him to erase the murder from his mind and replace what happened with a different scenario.

"Those memories have been erased, and they've been written over by delusions about what might have happened," Ozer said, arguing that state law prevents the execution of someone who can't understand the crime he or she committed.

"From the very beginning, there were issues involving mental health," she said. "This was the right thing to do. Mr. Stroud has been documented as being mentally ill from the very beginning."

Durham County District Attorney Tracey Cline didn't object to the move.

"It was apparent that he did suffer from a mental health condition," Cline said. "I found that the family, after so much time, basically just wanted to be sure that Mr. Stroud was not released from prison."

Hudson called the case "ugly" and said it was "difficult for the people of Durham," but he credited both Ozer and Cline for finding a resolution to the case.

Stroud's case was the only death row case from Durham County.

A Forsyth County judge recently upheld the constitutionality of the Racial Justice Act, which prosecutors have challenged as too vague and lacking key procedures and guidelines.

Republican legislators have said they plan to overhaul the law, which they have called unfair and a waste of resources.


This story is closed for comments.

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  • cjw6105 Feb 18, 2011

    To all of those who cheer this decision, where were THEY when the crime was committed?

  • Tax Man Feb 18, 2011

    Time to repeal this stupid law. These are all issues that could have been raised at the trials, but if not, should not now be allowed. If they did the crime, they need to do the time or die as sentenced. Race should have no bearing on if they are executed if they committed murder. How did we ever get this law in the first place?

  • luvbailey Feb 18, 2011

    Old "Let 'em go 'Lando" strikes again!!

  • kodac31 Feb 18, 2011

    Another liberal activist judge working his OWN WILL to abolish the death penalty. This is an outrage to the seperation of powers as delegated, and disrespectful to the Jury of his peers that sentenced him to the death penalty. Judge Orlando Hudson is a disgrace to the bench.

  • donna101 Feb 18, 2011

    OGE--Justice Prevails ---awww too bad for the pro death sentence Pleabs!

    The death penalty is a thunderous message from the community that the taking of innocent life will not be tolerated. It protects all of us, if done correctly and appropriately.

  • davidbh61255 Feb 18, 2011

    THE INMATES JUDGE-- ORRRRRRRLANDOOOOO HUTTTTSONNNN new tv show correcting all the percieved and imagined social injustices!!

  • davidbh61255 Feb 18, 2011

    I am sure with more evidence Hudson could have let him out with time served, because if he can't remember it he probably wasn't there, right judge??

  • COPs eye Feb 18, 2011


  • jurydoc Feb 18, 2011

    It is a paradox of the US justice system that one must be LEGALLY competent to be executed. One must be able to understand why one is being punished in the manner s/he is being punished and, as indicated in this decision, one has to be able to assist with one's own defense. These requirements lead to impossible situations, such as, a defense attorney advising a client to not take antipsychotic medications so as to not achieve the required competence to be executed. Way back when "The Practice" was on TV they did an excellent episode about this very issue. But, the good news is he is not being let out on the streets as some here apparently believe. Life in prison is no cakewalk. He IS still being punished for his crime.

  • BigfootBeliever Feb 18, 2011

    The Racial Justice Act needs the death penalty. Appropriate consequences for actions is only way to properly enforce the law. Anything else will ultimately lead to lawlessness.