Friday, 23 February 2007

Judge grants killer a reprieve

Judge grants killer a reprieve

The Associated Press
February 22, 2007

RALEIGH, N.C. - While acknowledging their client’s guilt in the brutal rape and stabbing death of an 11-year-old girl, defense attorneys Wednesday asked Gov. Mike Easley on Wednesday to commute his sentence from death to life in prison.

The same day, a judge granted a preliminary injunction halting the scheduled March 2 execution of their client, Archie Billings.

Billings is the fourth condemned inmate in the past month to get a stay from Wake County Superior Court Judge Donald Stephens as the state wrestles with the role a physician should play in the execution process.

Also Wednesday, U.S. District Judge Terrence Boyle granted a stay in all court proceedings for two other death row inmates, who cited Stephens’ order and the absence of a clear execution protocol.

Billings’ trial in Caswell County was flawed because court-appointed lawyers who represented the former farmhand were not experienced in capital punishment cases and were denied more time to prepare for the case, attorney Kevin Bradley said after the clemency hearing with Easley.

One juror wanted to sentence Billings to life imprisonment, but instead went along with the death penalty because the juror thought “he was going to get the death penalty anyway, whether I held out or not,” according to court documents.

“There’s no question this is a very disturbing crime,” Bradley said. “There really wasn’t any question about who did it.”

Billings was convicted in 1996 for the slaying of Amy Jackson a year earlier. He was also convicted of stabbing the girl’s 13-year-old brother, Bobby, more than 20 times during an attack at their home next to the dairy farm where the

children’s father and Billings worked.

Bobby Jackson pretended he was dead to ward off any further attack then called 911 to report that he had been stabbed and that a man named Archie took his sister.

Amy’s body was found hours later in woods near her home. Her clothes had been ripped from her body. She died from a stab wound to the neck.

“There is no doubt about the defendant’s guilt,” District Attorney Joel Brewer, who prosecuted Billings, said after Wednesday’s hearing. “Crimes don’t get any worse than this.”

Despite what is effectively a moratorium on executions in North Carolina, the state Department of Correction last week set the execution date for Billings and a March 9 execution date for Allen R. Holman Sr.

Corrections officials were required by law to set the dates after both inmates exhausted or ended their court appeals, department spokesman Mike Stater said.

The halt in executions stems from a federal judge’s ruling that a doctor must monitor condemned inmates for signs of pain and the state medical board’s threat to punish any doctor who takes part in an execution.

As a result, Easley says no more executions will take place until the state can resolve the issue.

Boyle’s ruling Wednesday addressed the cases of Kenneth Bernard Rouse and George Franklin Page.

Rouse was sentenced to death in Randolph County Superior Court for the March 1991 slaying of Hazel Colleen Broadway. Rouse was convicted of robbing, attempting to rape and killing Broadway, 63, at a Pantry convenience store in Asheboro.

Page was sentenced to death for the 1995 shooting death of Winston-Salem police officer Stephen Levi Amos.

Executions for both inmates had already been stayed pending other legal challenges.

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