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N.C. death row inmate taunts, ‘Kill me if you can, suckers’

By David Zucchino, Los Angeles Times –

DURHAM, N.C. — Danny Robbie Hembree considers himself a gentleman of leisure. He enjoys color TV, air conditioning and abundant food. He naps pretty much whenever he feels like it.

He also happens to live on death row at Central Prison in Raleigh, N.C. But that’s not a bad thing, he wrote in a taunting letter to his hometown newspaper, the Gaston Gazette.

In fact, Hembree wrote, the state of North Carolina has taken the “death” out of death row.

“Kill me if you can, suckers. Ha! Ha! Ha!” Hembree gloated in his letter, portions of which were published by the Gazette on Tuesday.

Hembree, 50, was sentenced to death in November for suffocating a 17-year-old girl in 2009, and is accused of killing two North Carolina women. But no one has been put to death in the state since 2006 because of legal challenges over lethal injections and whether a physician must oversee executions.

“Is the public aware that the chances of my lawful murder taking place in the next 20 years if ever are very slim?” Hembree wrote on lined notebook paper in what he described as an editorial.

Meanwhile, life is sweet. “Is the public aware I am a gentleman of leisure, watching color TV in the A.C., reading, taking naps at will, eating three well-balanced meals a day?” he wrote.

Oh, and he also receives free government health care, he pointed out.

The man who prosecuted Hembree, Gaston County District Attorney Locke Bell, was not amused.

Bell said Nick Catterton, the father of Heather Catterton, the 17-year-old murder victim, has called him twice in tears after reading details of Hembree’s letter.

“It’s ripping the family to pieces,” Bell said Wednesday in an interview with the Los Angeles Times. “He’s sitting on death row, just laughing and taunting them.”

He added: “Everybody should read this letter and see what’s happening with death row in this state.”

Bell was referring to the state’s Racial Justice Act, passed in 2009. The law allows death row inmates to be sentenced to life in prison without parole if they can provide statistical proof of racial discrimination in their case. Republicans in the Legislature, backed by district attorneys across the state, are seeking to amend or revoke the law.

Bell said Hembree could wriggle out of his death sentence by citing statistical evidence under the 2009 law that race played a role in his case. Hembree, who is white, could point out that seven of eight death row inmates from Gaston County are white, Bell said.

“Statistically, he could argue that Gaston County discriminates against white defendants,” Bell said.

Bell said Hembree’s execution should proceed.

Bring it on, Hembree wrote: “I am a man who is ready to except (sic) his unjust punishment and face God Almighty with a clear conscience unlike you cowards and your cowardly system.”

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