Local News

Judge removes Durham man from death row

Posted February 18, 2011 11:17 a.m. EST
Updated February 18, 2011 6:08 p.m. EST

— A Superior Court judge on Friday commuted the death sentence of a convicted killer from Durham to life in prison, ruling that the man has an incurable mental disorder.

Isaac Jackson Stroud, 56, was convicted in 1995 of the May 1, 1993, slaying of his girlfriend, Jocelyn Mitchell, who was beaten to death inside their Durham apartment.

Stroud was among dozens of death row inmates to file motions under the state's Racial Justice Act to seek a new sentencing hearing. State legislators passed the law in 2009, allowing convicts to use statistical evidence to argue bias in their sentencing.

Instead of taking up that claim, Judge Orlando Hudson determined that Stroud is mentally incompetent to assist in his defense and sentenced him to life in prison.

Attorney Marilyn Ozer, who has been working on Stroud's case for the last 10 years, said he's been diagnosed with mental conditions that have caused him to erase the murder from his mind and replace what happened with a different scenario.

"Those memories have been erased, and they've been written over by delusions about what might have happened," Ozer said, arguing that state law prevents the execution of someone who can't understand the crime he or she committed.

"From the very beginning, there were issues involving mental health," she said. "This was the right thing to do. Mr. Stroud has been documented as being mentally ill from the very beginning."

Durham County District Attorney Tracey Cline didn't object to the move.

"It was apparent that he did suffer from a mental health condition," Cline said. "I found that the family, after so much time, basically just wanted to be sure that Mr. Stroud was not released from prison."

Hudson called the case "ugly" and said it was "difficult for the people of Durham," but he credited both Ozer and Cline for finding a resolution to the case.

Stroud's case was the only death row case from Durham County.

A Forsyth County judge recently upheld the constitutionality of the Racial Justice Act, which prosecutors have challenged as too vague and lacking key procedures and guidelines.

Republican legislators have said they plan to overhaul the law, which they have called unfair and a waste of resources.