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Prosecution, Defense Make Case At Hunt Clemency Meeting

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RALEIGH, N.C. — Witnesses were so scared of Henry Lee Huntthat they wouldn't testify against him in two murder cases until hewas behind bars for another crime, a prosecutor said Tuesday inarguing against clemency for the condemned man.

"No one was willing to talk about or share information in thesecases until he went to prison," said Robeson County DistrictAttorney Johnson Britt, who earlier called Hunt one of the mosstdangerous men in his county. "They felt safe because they knew hephysically couldn't get to them."

Jurors convicted Hunt in the murder of Jackie Ransom, whose wifepaid to have him killed to make her second marriage legal. He alsowas convicted of killing Larry Jones, a police informant.

Hunt, 58, is scheduled to die at 2 a.m. Friday. A Lumbee Indian,he would be the first American Indian executed in North Carolinasince the death penalty was reinstated in 1977.

"We just want closure," said Rosie Chavis, Jones' sister. "We just want it to be over.

"It's just been hard. It's like bringing it up all over again, and then to get in the courtroom and look at him, it's just awful."

At the clemency hearing Tuesday, Hunt's sister said Gov. MikeEasley should spare Hunt's life because he didn't commit themurders. And his attorney said another man, now dead, confessed tothe crimes.

Easley will decide clemency later this week. Meanwhile, SuperiorCourt Judge Jack Thompson ruled Tuesday in Robeson County thatthere was no need for an evidentiary hearing on Hunt's claim thathe is innocent and that a former prosecutor railroaded him. Defenseattorneys plan to appeal Thompson's ruling.

Britt said he told the governor that if anyone deserved to beexecuted in Robeson County it was Hunt.

"He's guilty of his crimes," Britt said.

Even in prison, Hunt tried to recruit relatives to get rid ofwitnesses in the murder cases and that he had a history ofviolence, including convictions for armed robbery and bombing ahouse, the prosecutor said.

But Hunt's sister, who came to the hearing, said her brother hadan alibi for both murders in which he got a death sentence. Huntwas at a social club for one and relaxing at home for the other,said Annie Ruth Wassil of Pembroke.

"I believe my brother is innocent," said Wassil, who with hersister talked to Easley's attorney but didn't see the governor. "Idon't want my brother to die."

The case attracted the attention of the state Commission ofIndian Affairs, which sent a letter asking for clemency, saidcommissioner Ray Littleturtle.

"We've got some questions about guilt or innocence and if we'regoing to err on some part of it we thought we would come down onthe side of compassion," Littleturtle said.

Stuart Meiklejohn, Hunt's defense lawyer, said he told Easleythe execution should be stopped because there were gaps inevidence.

The defense lawyer pointed to an affidavit from a co-defendantwho said, before dying in prison, that he committed the killings,not Hunt. The lawyer also said Hunt passed two lie detector testsin which he said he didn't commit the crimes.

"We think what we have presented not only creates substantialquestions about guilt but in fact shows that Mr. Hunt is innocentof the crimes of which he has been convicted," Meiklejohn said.

Hunt was moved from death row to the death watch area of CentralPrison in Raleigh before the clemency meetings began. The deathwatch cells are across the hall from the death chamber, whereprisoners are executed by injection.

Jurors convicted Hunt in the murder of Jackie Ransom, whose wifepaid to have him killed to make her second marriage legal. He alsowas convicted of killing Larry Jones, a police informant.

Four other people were sentenced to prison for participating inthe killings. They include Dorothy Locklear, Ransom's wife, andRogers Locklear, Dorothy Locklear's second husband. They servedless than five years each for conspiracy to commit murder.

A.R. Barnes, who the state said recruited Hunt to help with thekilling, served less than eight years. Elwell Barnes, sentenced todeath in Jones' homicide, died in prison.

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