RALEIGH, N.C. — A man charged with killing a Progress Energy employee nearly two years ago pleaded guilty Thursday to first-degree murder, avoiding what could have been a lengthy trial and a possible death sentence.
Antonio Davon Chance, 30, was sentenced to life in prison for the Aug. 22, 2006, kidnapping, rape and murder of Cynthia Moreland, 48, who police say was on her way to work when she was taken from a downtown-parking garage.
Authorities found Moreland dead behind an abandoned barn in Harnett County on Sept. 1.
The courtroom was packed Thursday afternoon with family and friends of both Moreland and Chance.
Chance, wearing a green sweater and khakis, was expressionless when Superior Court Judge Jack Spencer questioned him.
He did not address the court, but as he left the courtroom, yelled to his mother: "Don't cry, Momma. Only God can save me."
Earlier, Moreland's widower, Walter Moreland, told the court that although he is a man of compassion, forgiving Chance was impossible.
"I'm so angry. I'm so mad. I've got so much hate in my heart, and I can't vent like I want to," Moreland said. "The only way I can vent is to cry."
Moreland's daughter, Keisha Moreland Mangum, recounted to Spencer how she had a bad feeling the day her mother died and knew something was wrong when Moreland did not reply to an e-mail from her.
Moreland had stopped by her daughter's house that morning to drop off jelly for her grandson's sandwich, Mangum said. She did not see her mother then, and instead had talked to her for the last time on the phone.
"I mean, there's not a day or a minute that goes by that I don't think about her," Mangum said. "She's with me all the time."
The capital case was scheduled to go to trial earlier this year, but it was delayed because Chance's attorneys wanted a pre-trial hearing to determine whether he was mentally retarded. Prosecutors wanted a jury to decide the matter.
Psychologists for both the state and defense ultimately found he met the state's criteria, which are an IQ below 70 and issues with adaptive functioning.
"You can't tell me that this person doesn't know right from wrong," Walter Moreland said. "And it's all because of a number you deem him retarded. And I deem him one of Satan's angels."
"Mental retardation is not an excuse for what he did. It is not a defense," Chance's attorney, Bryan Collins, said. "It did not cause him to commit this crime. But he took responsibility and he will face the only punishment he can receive under the law."
A medical examiner said Moreland was likely strangled, although her body was so badly decomposed that it was impossible to say how she died.
Assistant District Attorney Susan Spurlin said Thursday that Morgan's car entered the parking garage beneath Progress Energy's headquarters at 6:40 a.m. Aug. 22, and that surveillance video showed Chance in the garage. A witness, she said, later saw the car leave the garage with two people inside.
Spurlin also said witnesses saw Moreland's car in a ditch near where her body was found and that Chance waved them on when they tried to stop for help. Moreland was in the passenger seat, the prosecutor said, staring straight ahead.
When a passer-by called a tow truck for Chance, Moreland was nowhere to be found. Chance used her check to pay the tow-truck service, Spurlin said.
Raleigh police arrested Chance the next day after he tried to use Moreland's debit card at BP-McDonald's on Fayetteville Road and then again at a Dollar General store.
Each time, he was captured on surveillance video wearing a distinctive striped shirt that had been seen on a tape from the parking garage.
"He has always had a strong sense of remorse for what he did," Collins said. "He's never tried to avoid responsibility for it. He just did not want to be executed, as you can understand."