A stay of execution and more troubling questions

A stay of execution and more troubling questions

- in Fitzsimon File

It doesn’t look like the State of North Carolina will execute Guy LeGrande Friday morning.  Superior Court Judge William R. Bell granted LeGrande a 60-day stay of execution Monday to give psychiatrists a chance to determine if LeGrande is mentally ill.

LeGrande was sentenced to death in 1996 in Stanly County for his role in the murder of Ellen Munford.  The victim’s estranged husband, Tommy Munford, hired LeGrande to kill Ms. Munford so he could collect insurance money.

Munford pleaded guilty to second-degree murder received a life sentence. LeGrande, who is African-American, was sentenced to death by an all-white jury after a trial in which he was allowed to defend himself despite his severe mental illness.

He addressed the jury wearing a Superman t-shirt and rambled incoherently, cursing at the jury on more than one occasion. LeGrande believed he was receiving signals from celebrities through his television.

LeGrande’s impending execution has prompted protests from across the country and the attention of media outlets including the New York Times. The stay of his execution is certainly a victory for justice, but a small one. LeGrande’s death sentence has been delayed, not overturned or commuted, and the questions raised by his case grow more disturbing by the day.

First, the prosecutor and the Attorney General’s office continue to fight to execute LeGrande, disputing his mental illness in court Monday, and telling reporters for weeks that LeGrande is not mentally ill because he was articulate at times during the trial.

That prompted the head of the Governor’s Advocacy Council for Person’s with Disabilities to respond, pointing out that people with severe mental illness can appear to be articulate and still be suffering from delusions and other distorted senses of reality.

No one disputes that LeGrande told the jury to “kiss his natural black a___,” signed letters to the court “Lucifer,” and called jurors “antichrists,” hardly the behavior of a sane man on trial for his life, much a person acting as his own lawyer before the court.

But that’s what the state is arguing. They still claim that he was not mentally ill and that he somehow received a fair trial representing himself.

Prosecutors are also dismissing defense claims that they didn’t turn over evidence about witnesses to the defense, as the law requires them to do. LeGrande’s current lawyers received more than 6,000 pages of documents just a few weeks ago, after the execution was scheduled.   Part of the problem was that LeGrande, acting as his own lawyer, did not request them.

Supporters of a temporary suspension of executions in the state correctly point out that LeGrande’s case is compelling evidence for a moratorium. His trial was affected by race, the quality of his lawyer, and was originally prosecuted by a district attorney accused by the State Bar of 23 rules violations in another capital case, a conviction and death sentence that were thrown out.

(Rob Schofield’s weekly briefing has more on the mistakes that plague the capital punishment system.)

Why is the State of North Carolina trying so hard to execute Guy LeGrande when it’s obvious his trial was a farce?  Shouldn’t we expect prosecutors and lawyers in the Attorney General’s office to seek justice, not just convictions and executions?