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Suicidal Inmate Had Mental Issues, Lawyer Says

State prison officials said they had no indication Eric Queen would harm himself. His lawyer says mental illness is not unusual on Death Row.

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RALEIGH, N.C. — Eric Queen had been on death row at Central Prison for seven years without anyone at the facility suspecting he would end his own life.

There were, the state Department of Correction said Monday, no obvious signs before he hanged himself Sunday night that that he was suicidal. His attorney said, however, that Queen had a long history of mental illness that she believes led to his death.

Officers found Queen, 28, hanging from a bed-sheet in a janitor's closet. The prison allows inmates into the closet to get supplies to clean their cells.

“We had no issues, no concerns” about Queen being suicidal, Correction spokesman Keith Acree said. “It hadn't been an issue at all.”

Queen did have some behavioral issues, however. Since entering prison in March 2000 for the 1998 deaths of two women in a gang-initiation shooting in Cumberland County, Queen had wracked up 13 infractions.

“When someone acts up, [officials] immediately think they're trying to misbehave,” said Marilyn Ozer of Chapel Hill, Queen's attorney. “The thought isn't that perhaps the person needs psychiatric counseling, and Eric obviously did.”

She said Queen suffered from a type of schizophrenia. Death Row is the wrong place for people who are mentally ill, she said.

“We represent about 20 people on Death Row, and I did a chart once. At least 18 of them were seriously mentally ill,” Ozer said.

Even his attorney was unaware how desperate he apparently was, however. Two months ago, Ozer said, she got a hopeful, thank-you letter from Queen, and even she overlooked signs that he might harm himself.

“In hindsight, maybe that was a warning sign — when someone is thanking you, that means they are closing aspects of their lives they want closed before they die,” Ozer said.

Because Queen’s attorneys were still pursuing appeals, he did not have an execution date.

The department said it will look at the policy of allowing inmates access to the janitor's closet and decide if it needs to be changed.


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