Local News

Former Death Row Inmate up for Parole

Posted December 4, 2007 7:46 p.m. EST
Updated December 4, 2007 7:58 p.m. EST

— Rosa Williams, 72, carries a high-school graduation picture of her daughter, Beatrice, in her purse everywhere she goes.

"The way she was brutally murdered – it was the hardest thing I've had to deal with. I'm still dealing with it," she said Tuesday after going before the North Carolina Parole Board in an effort to keep her daughter's convicted killer in prison.

At the age of 23, Beatrice Williams was stabbed to death in 1984 by her ex-boyfriend, Johnnie Spruill, in a nightclub parking lot in Northampton County. According to court documents, Spruill had assaulted Williams two weeks prior, and she had a restraining order against him.

"He stalked her and made plans to kill her – told so many people he was going to kill her," Williams said.

In 1985, Spruill, now 54, was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to death. The North Carolina Court of Appeals overturned the sentence in 1992 and ordered a new trial, in which Spruill pleaded guilty.

In 2005, after his attorneys proved he was mentally retarded, a court ruled Spruill could not be executed, and under sentencing guidelines at the time of his conviction, he was given life with the possibility of parole.

Spruill's attorneys used him as one of the first test cases of a law, enacted in July 2001, that says anyone with an IQ below 70 could not be put to death.

As a result of the law, 13 death-row inmates have had their sentences changed to life in prison. Twenty-five percent of death-row inmates have petitioned under the law to have their sentences changed.

As for Spruill, his victim's family wants him to stay in prison for life without the possibility of parole.

"I feel like he is a very dangerous person," said Rosette Futrell, who was 16 when her sister was killed.

"We feel like he deserves to spend the rest of his life in prison, and hopefully he won't be released to come out and hurt anyone else," Futrell said. "We feel like it's very important that society and the people be aware that this person is up for parole."