The House Rules committee voted Wednesday to introduce legislation that would ban inmates on death row from watching television.
The bill is a reaction to a convicted murderer’s letter to The Gaston Gazette in January in which he bragged about his great life on death row.
Danny Robbie Hembree Jr., 50, killed 17-year-old Heather Catterton in 2009. He has also been charged in the deaths of Randi Dean Saldana, 30, whose burned remains were found in 2009 near Blacksburg, S.C., and Deborah Ratchford, 30, whose body was found in a Gastonia cemetery in 1992
“Is the public aware that I am a gentleman of leisure, watching color TV in the (air conditioning), reading, taking naps at will, eating three well balanced hot meals a day ... Kill me if you can, suckers,” the letter read.
Gaston County District Attorney Locke Bell and the Catterton family are asking for the death row inmates to lose TV privileges.
Rules Committee Chairman Tim Moore, a Kings Mountain Republican, described his visit to death row during the committee meeting.
“We were within a few feet of the inmates, and got to see what life is like on death row,” Moore recounted. “While it is certainly not like Mr. Hembree said in his letter, there was color TV with cable.”
Moore remembered seeing inmates using headphones to listen to the TVs, one with a Lionel Richie video playing. “For someone convicted of such a heinous crime, it’s ... it’s just wrong. I don’t know how else to say it,” he said.
Rep. Mike Stone, a Republican from Sanford, related a personal experience he had with inmates who complained about not having TVs in their jail. “One teenager wanted to return to the other jail because Lee County didn’t have TV,” Stone recounted. “She said, ‘it wasn’t that bad of a life’ in the other county jail.”
In a brief debate about whether the bill should be limited to inmates on death row, House GOP leader Skip Stam of Apex offered a humorous solution, saying inmates should be forced to watch the children’s program “Sesame Street” as punishment.
“Fox News,” interjected House Democratic leader Joe Hackney, spurring laughter from the entire room.
“They might hear the truth for the first time in their lives,” retorted GOP Rep. Stephen LaRoque of Kinston.
Republican Rep. John Blust asked “why stop at death row,” suggesting a complete eradication of TVs from the penitentiary system.
Moore responded that studies have shown that television can be used to encourage good behavior. How much the move would save the state remains undetermined.