Local News

DA Opposes Pre-Trial Hearings on Retardation Claims

Wake County prosecutors object to pre-trial hearing to assess murder suspects' mental capacity, saying it would be redundant and costly to taxpayers.
Posted 2008-01-24T16:49:59+00:00 - Updated 2008-01-30T17:30:48+00:00
DA Opposes Pre-Trial Hearings on Retardation Claims

Wake County prosecutors objected Thursday to a motion for a pre-trial hearing to assess a murder suspect's mental capacity.

Instead, District Attorney Colon Willoughby wants to have the motion for determination of retardation heard before a jury as part of the sentencing phase of Joseph Sanderlin's capital murder trial, if he's convicted.

Sanderlin, 26, is charged with first-degree murder in the Nov. 8, 2005, stabbing death of Lauren Michele Redman, who was stabbed and cut more than 40 times inside her Raleigh apartment. She managed to crawl outside and ask for help before she died.

"It's been two years, and we think the public is entitled to have this case resolved, and we're trying to push it forward," Willoughby said.

Under North Carolina General Statutes Sec.  15A-2005, a person with an IQ below 70 and issues of adaptive functioning prior to age 18 cannot face the death penalty.

Since the law was passed, 13 death row inmates have had their sentences retroactively commuted from death to life in prison.

Beside's Sanderlin's, Willoughby said, there's only been one other case in Wake County – that of Antonio Davon Chance –where defense attorneys use mental retardation to keep their clients off death row.

Sanderlin's attorneys, Tommy Manning and Terry Alford, argued their client is at a sixth-grade level in terms of adaptive functioning and that two recent IQ tests put him at 68 and 64.

Alford said Sanderlin's IQ as a child was 69, 66 and 69 in three tests.

"It is just the latest issue. Like the method of execution, (it's) some other attempt to derail the prosecution of a capital case," Willoughby said.

"We believe they are capital cases. We think that's what the evidence will show, and we think it's appropriate for the jury to make that decision."

The district attorney said a hearing on Sanderlin's mental capacity would likely delay his trial, scheduled to start April 14.

Superior Court Judge Leon Stanback Jr. didn't say when he would rule on Sanderlin's motion.

If a hearing were held and a judge ruled Sanderlin does not qualify for exemption from the death penalty, the same evidence would be presented again at Sanderlin's trial. That would be redundant, cost taxpayers and delay the trial, Willoughby said.

"I just don't understand the (justice) system, at times," said Walter Moreland, the widower of Cynthia Moreland, the Wendell woman Chance is accused of killing in 2006.

Last week, a defense attorney filed a similar motion asking for a pre-trial hearing for Chance and claiming he is mentally retarded.

"I don't think anything is wrong with him – anyone with the common sense to do the things he did," Moreland's daughter, Keisha Moreland, said.

Police said Chance abducted Moreland from a parking garage in downtown Raleigh. Eleven days later, authorities found her body behind an abandoned house in Harnett County.

She likely was strangled, although authorities might never know her cause of death.

Chance's trial will be delayed, which frustrates Moreland's family.

"I don't believe he is mentally retarded," Keisha Moreland, said. "I would prefer him to be executed, because her life wasn't spared. And I don't see why his should be."

"It doesn't matter to me," she added. "It's sad to say – he deserves punishment."