Local News

Judge Stays Henry Lee Hunt Execution

Posted September 9, 2003 5:49 a.m. EDT

— A Robeson County judge on Tuesday stayed the upcoming execution of Henry Lee Hunt, who is accused of two killings, ruling that the courts should consider a defense claim that the state uses an illegal drug.

Hunt was scheduled to die at 2 a.m. Friday at Raleigh's Central Prison for the two 1984 deaths.

Judge Gary Locklear said the state should review the use of the drug potassium chloride, which stops the heart from beating.

Defense lawyers argued that the state's use of the drug violates a statute outlining the types of drugs for execution. They said state law allows just two drugs - a lethal barbituate and one that causes paralysis.

"It's too important not to consider at this point in his life," Locklear said. "I think that issue is important enough given the finality. It has nothing to do with his sentence."

Locklear denied a second stay request based on an 1989 affidavit from a dead co-defendant of Hunt who admitted to two killings and denied Hunt had a part in them.

Defense lawyers said they intended to appeal that ruling, while the Attorney General's office announced its intention to appeal the stay.

Both appeals will be handled by the state Supreme Court.

Assistant state Attorney General Pat Murphy said the affidavit has no credibility and that its origins are suspicious because it was only just disclosed this year. In addition, Barnes could not read, raising questions about who prepared the affidavit, Murphy said. M.G. McNeill, a notary public who works at Central Prison, said in an affidavit dated Sept. 8 that he notarized Barnes' signature.

This is the second time that Hunt's scheduled execution has been delayed.

His execution was stopped in January when lawyers challenged the state's indictment form, but the state Supreme Court ruled the form constitutional.

This time, defense attorney Steven Holley argued that potassium chloride isn't among the two drugs approved in state statutes for use in an execution.

State Deputy Attorney General Barry McNeill said the law only specifies that those two drugs must be used and doesn't prohibit the use of the third drug.

The hearing came a day after Hunt's family and attorneys held a news conference to reiterate his innocence.

Attorney Stuart Meiklejohn said defense attorneys have sent a supplemental clemency petition to Gov. Mike Easley, eight months after Hunt's clemency hearing in January.

"Our submission is that Henry Lee Hunt is innocent," Meiklejohn said. "At a minimum there are such substantial questions about his guilt that execution would be an inappropriate and unjust outcome."

Jurors convicted Hunt in the death 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 prosecutors said knew about Ransom's killing.

Four other people were sentenced to prison for their roles 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. Barnes was sentenced to death in Jones' homicide and died in prison.