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Legal Twist Could Spare Life Of Death Row Inmate

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WILSON COUNTY, N.C. — Abner Nicholson was sentenced to death for killing his wife and a small town police chief in 1995. On Friday, his attorneys will try to convince a judge he should not be on death row because of his IQ.

At his 1999 trial, Nicholson's attorneys said he had the mental capacity of a 13-year-old. That did not sway the jury that sentenced him to death row for the 1997 murders of his estranged wife Gloria and Sharpsburg Police Chief Wayne Hathaway.

Since Nicholson's conviction, the U.S. Supreme Court has barred the death penalty for those under 16 and the mentally retarded.

North Carolina now has new tests to determine mental capacity. On Friday at the Wilson County Courthouse, Nicholson's attorneys will present his score on a new mental evaluation.

To be taken off death row, Nicholson's test results must show his IQ is at or below 70.

The move brings fresh pain to the victims' families.

"My brother didn't deserve to die so why should he deserve to live," sister Monica Worsham said.

Hathaway's sisters believe their brother's killer was and still is smart enough to know right from wrong.

"He was ruled competent to stand trial so what's the big deal now," sister Faye Beddingfield said.

"He knew right from wrong. He hid for 11 hours. When they said he was competent to stand trial he went 'Yes','" Worsham said.

If Nicholson is spared death, Hathaway's sisters vow to fight for a change in the law.

"I just want justice for my brother," Worsham said. "My brother was in the police department for 30 years upholding the law and now it seems the law is letting him down."

If Nicholson's test results show he is mentally retarded, Hathaway's sisters say there is not much they can do to put him back on death row. They say they will continue fight to change the law for other families in a similar situation.

Calls by WRAL to Nicholson's attorney were not returned.


Renee Chou


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