Saunders

Saunders: Ignore death row note

Staff WriterJanuary 26, 2012 

Most people, if they've got a good thing going - especially an undeservedly good thing that can be taken away at any minute - are going to keep it to themselves.

They most assuredly aren't going to write a letter to the local fish wrapper exulting over what taxpayer-funded fun they're having. Yet that is precisely what Danny Robbie Hembree Jr. did recently.

In a letter to the Gaston Gazette, his hometown newspaper, Hembree boasted of being "a gentleman of leisure" who watches color TV in air-conditioned comfort at Central Prison and naps at will while "eating three well-balanced meals a day. ... Is the public aware that the chances of my lawful murder taking place in the next 20 years if ever are very slim?"

You know what we ought to do about this assault on decency by a convicted murderer?

Nothing.

That's what Ty Hunter, executive director of the N.C. Center for Death Penalty Litigation, thinks. Me, too.

"If people don't want to please him, they should ignore him," Hunter said. "I think it would be his dream come true if the legislature had a special meeting to discuss the issue" or proposed some knee-jerk bill. "Ignoring him would be the only thing he's not happy about."

Hunter stressed that neither he nor the center he heads has been involved in Hembree's case. But he said he thinks Hembree's literary attention-seeking "would probably make my job tougher if people thought there were others like him" on death row. "I'm sure it's annoying to people. He's presenting a completely unsympathetic face of death row inmates. He feeds into the stereotype" that some people believe - prisoners have it made.

"In common parlance," Hunter said, "he's obviously a publicity-seeking nut. I don't know this guy, never met him. Maybe he does like death row, but I can tell you a lot of people who wouldn't like it a bit."

One person who didn't like it a bit was Glen Edward Chapman, who spent 14 years on death row for two murders he was subsequently cleared of. I couldn't reach him, but in a 2009 interview in the Henderson Times News, he painted a distinctly differently picture from the Life of Riley painted by Hembree.

"Daily conditions? Food was terrible. Floodlights 24-7. THAT was torture. ... Sometimes punishment was to move us old guys where the younger play rap music all the time. Classes and the arts? ... We were told, 'You're not here to learn - you're here to die.' "

Hembree is either, as Hunter said, a nut or just a low-ambition-possessing, attention-seeking psychopath. What other conclusion can you draw about someone who thinks access to color television and frequent naps, as well as the unlikelihood that he'll be executed before 2032 makes him "a man of leisure" and is something to write the hometown paper about?

It's going to be hard, but the best thing the legislature - and now, the rest of us - can do is to pay no attention to that man behind the bars.

Tell Barry what you think at 919-836-2811 or bsaunders@newsobserver.com.

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