Opinions: Convicted killer taunts legal system

Pete Grapentien
Pete Grapentien is a senior English major and guest columnist for the Daily Kent Stater. Contact him at pgrapent@kent.edu

Pete Grapentien Pete Grapentien is a senior English major and guest columnist for the Daily Kent Stater. Contact him at [email protected]

Editor’s note: A North Carolina man was sentenced to death in 2011 for murder. He wrote a sensational letter from prison glamorizing the conditions in which he lived and asked to be killed. Here are two different perspectives on that letter.

Daniel Hembree’s letter to the Gaston Gazette ends hauntingly, “Kill me if you can, suckers. Ha! Ha! Ha!” On Nov. 18, 2011, Hembree was found guilty of murdering 17-year-old Heather Catterton after a “sex party.” Now, as he awaits execution in Raleigh, N.C., he has written a seemingly taunting letter to the public and, indirectly, the victim’s family.

“Is the public aware that the chances of my lawful murder taking place in the next 20 years, if ever, are very slim.”

The letter from 50-year-old Hembree goes on to include, “Is the public aware that I am a gentleman of leisure, watching color TV in the A.C., reading, taking naps at will, eating three well-balanced hot meals a day?”

The response has been swift.

Gaston County wants him dead. Although what has been published of the family’s response does not call for his immediate execution, it is clear they are torn apart and in dire need of closure. Others are looking at a more encompassing picture: how this reflects conditions in prisons not only in North Carolina but also around the country.

As hard as it is to write this, when dealing with what could set a precedent for how lives are handled in the future, an emotional response is not always best. This, of course, is easy for me to write, as I have not lost a member of my family.

If one looks deeper into the issue, Hembree’s sister has released letters Hembree sent her detailing how prison is “overwhelming” and “depressing.” I have yet to see this reported on any news show covering Hembree’s letter.

In the letters to his sister, Hembree writes, “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…”

Given the addition of these other personal letters, his Gazette letter begs further inspection. What is Hembree trying to accomplish? It’s obvious in the letters to his sister that Hembree is not comfortable in prison. Although he has a few very basic amenities, he does not have freedom. He has his own death lingering above his head. So why write this?

These are the words of a man who, until now, ran the risk of being forgotten by the public although he’ll most likely never be forgotten by the victim’s family. The letter is a power play. He wants to get under the public’s skin and assume what he sees as control of the situation. In reality, this is a pathetic old man who has literally nothing left. Publishing his letters and devoting Friday morning news shows to him only feed into his motives.

However, none of this is lasting. The media is fickle. Hembree will eventually fade from the spotlight. And Hembree will eventually die, as he deserves, strapped to a slate with a needle of poison in his arm.

But then, there’s the matter of prison reform. Political reformation is not as fickle as the media. At least, it’s not supposed to be. These are lasting changes that we put into place for the betterment of society. Logic dictates these laws, not emotion. Still, political personalities across the country are using this instance as a platform to push their own harsh agendas. Achieving this reform on the grounds of Hembree’s letter can only be accomplished by overlooking the insecurity in a man who has the bravado of the hopelessly doomed. We cannot begin judiciary reform based on the facade of a convict.

The opportunists using this case as a podium need to wake up. Stop looking at the curtain and realize that behind it is a pathetic man on his last legs craving attention.