Hunt was the last hope for John Thomas Noland. Death penalty opponents - including retired North Carolina basketball coach Dean Smith - had pleaded with Hunt for mercy.
"He told he lawyer today that he wanted everyone out here tonight to know that he will be more peaceful lying down to be executed knowing that people are out here that know him and care for him," said Pat McCoy as he stood outside the prison with other death penalty protesters.
Hunt's decision was announced about 11 a.m., 15 hours before the 50-year-old Noland was scheduled to die by lethal injection at Central Prison. Just a half-hour earlier, Noland's attorney said Hunt was the only hope for stopping the execution and a slim one at that.
"There will be no proceedings beyond the governor's decision," said Charlotte lawyer Jim Cooney. "Everything has been done in terms of the cycle of appeals. He's taken every legitimate appeal opportunity."
Cooney said his client wanted "to go out with dignity." Noland has been taking antidepressants in prison, has "always been competent" and "made a very rational and clear-headed decision," Cooney said.
"After 16 years on death row, he's got a right to make these kinds of decisions," the lawyer said.
Months after splitting up with his wife Susan, Noland went to the Charlotte home of her sister, Cindy Milton, on Feb. 21, 1982, and shot her to death. Then he walked across the street and killed her father, Troy Milton, as he slept, and wounded her mother, Mary Milton.
In October 1982, a jury sentenced Noland to die for the murders.
Noland said he was depressed at the time of the slayings because his wife had left him and taken their two young daughters with her to California. He said his in-laws' interference caused their marriage's failure.
In appeals of his case, federal district judges three times ordered new trials for Noland because of what they thought to be errors in jury instructions, but the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals overruled them every time.
Hunt listened to presentations from death penalty opponents, relatives of the victims, a prosecutor and Noland's first defense lawyer before making his decision.
"After weeks of careful and deliberate preparation, including telling his estranged wife he was going to commit the murders unless she returned to him, Mr. Noland cruelly and coldbloodedly killed two members of his wife's family," Hunt said.
"I find no reason to reverse the decision of the jury, which found him guilty of first-degree murder, or the appellate courts which carefully reviewed this case in great detail. I will not commute Mr. Noland's sentence."
Most people involved said they felt they knew Hunt would refuse clemency because he has never granted it in four terms as governor.
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