Local News

Prosecution, Defense Make Case At Hunt Clemency Meeting

Posted January 22, 2003 9:35 a.m. EST

— Witnesses were so scared of Henry Lee Hunt that they wouldn't testify against him in two murder cases until he was behind bars for another crime, a prosecutor said Tuesday in arguing against clemency for the condemned man.

"No one was willing to talk about or share information in these cases until he went to prison," said Robeson County District Attorney Johnson Britt, who earlier called Hunt one of the mosst dangerous men in his county. "They felt safe because they knew he physically couldn't get to them."

Jurors convicted Hunt in the murder of Jackie Ransom, whose wife paid to have him killed to make her second marriage legal. He also was 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 Carolina since 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. Mike Easley should spare Hunt's life because he didn't commit the murders. And his attorney said another man, now dead, confessed to the crimes.

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

Britt said he told the governor that if anyone deserved to be executed 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 of witnesses in the murder cases and that he had a history of violence, including convictions for armed robbery and bombing a house, the prosecutor said.

But Hunt's sister, who came to the hearing, said her brother had an alibi for both murders in which he got a death sentence. Hunt was 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 her sister talked to Easley's attorney but didn't see the governor. "I don't want my brother to die."

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

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

Stuart Meiklejohn, Hunt's defense lawyer, said he told Easley the execution should be stopped because there were gaps in evidence.

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

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

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

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

Four other people were sentenced to prison for participating in the killings. They include Dorothy Locklear, Ransom's wife, and Rogers Locklear, Dorothy Locklear's second husband. They served less than five years each for conspiracy to commit murder.

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