GASTONIA, N.C. --Convicted killer Danny Hembree Jr.'s sister is speaking out in response to a taunting letter he wrote from death row, explaining that her brother is mentally ill and is not actually enjoying his time in prison.
Hembree's sister apologizes for his death-row taunts
In a two-page letter Hembree recently sent to his hometown newspaper, The Gaston Gazette, the 50-year-old called himself a gentleman of leisure, explaining that he watches color TV, reads, takes naps and eats three 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? he wrote.
No one has been executed in North Carolina since 2006 as a result of debates surrounding the use of lethal injection and whether executions must be overseen by a physician.
Kill me if you can, suckers, Hembree wrote.
The letter published Tuesday in The Gazette, sparked widespread outrage, particularly among victims' families and prosecutors.
On Thursday, Kathy Hembree Ledbetter released a statement, asserting that her brother has suffered from mental illness for more than 35 years and apologizing for any hurt Hembree's letter might have caused.
He is a very depressed man and in his hopelessness, he lashed out, Ledbetter said in the statement.
He is not happy, he is not comfortable and he is not well.
Ledbetter told the Observer she can't prevent local media from publishing letters from her brother.
All I can do is let the public know that he is mentally ill, she said.
Hembree was sent to death row at Central Prison in Raleigh after he was convicted in November of first-degree murder in the death of 17-year-old Heather Catterton. Gaston County prosecutors said Hembree suffocated Catterton and dumped her body near Clover, S.C. Hembree's attorney said the teen died of an overdose after a crack cocaine binge.
He's also charged with killing two other Gaston County women: Randi Dean Saldana and Deborah Denise Ratchford, both 30.
Hembree has testified that he accidentally strangled Saldana while they were having sex after smoking crack cocaine. He allegedly dumped her body in Kings Mountain State Park about two weeks before Catteron's death. He's expected to go on trial in March for Saldana's death.
Hembree is also accused in Ratchford's 1992 killing. Her body was found near a Gastonia cemetery.
In what Ledbetter said is an attempt to reveal her brother's true mental state, she shared a hand-written letter Hembree sent her.
The letter, dated Jan. 8, describes life on death row as monotonous.
I'm bored to death, he wrote. No pun intended.
Hembree wrote that he'd been praying constantly but can't tell he even cares about me anymore.
I try to put on a (nonchalant) attitude for you guys but it is overwhelming and depressing to look at these walls and electric doors and bright lights 24-7 and digest the fact that I'm never going to leave here until they murder me or I just die either way I'm never leaving here alive, he wrote.
He signed the letter, Love, Danny Boy. GASTONIA, N.C.
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