LUMBERTON — A Maxton man who was sentenced to die for the 2000 murder of a Southeastern Regional Medical Center nurse will now live out his life in prison.
Dane Locklear Jr., now 41, also remains the suspect in a second murder, of a student at The University of North Carolina at Pembroke in1997.
Locklear was re-sentenced to life without parole last week, nearly three years after the state Supreme Court overturned his death sentence for the murder of 45-year-old Frances Persad. The state Supreme Court ruled in 2009 that the trial court committed “prejudicial error” when it did not explain to the jury that Locklear would receive life without parole if he were found to be mentally disabled.
According to the Supreme Court opinion by Justice Patricia Timmons-Goodson, Locklear’s attorneys argued for the explanation to be added to the jury’s sentencing instructions in the 2005 trial, saying that otherwise the jury may believe that Locklear would go free. The request was denied by the court.
It is against state law to execute anyone who is mentally incompetent.
Locklear was convicted on June 1, 2005, of first-degree murder, arson, and larceny for the Feb. 27, 2000, murder of Persad. In a taped confession which was presented as evidence, Locklear said that he beat Persad unconscious with a board and left her lying on her bedroom floor while he set fire to her home. On the same tape, Locklear confessed to the murder of Cynthia Wheeler, a student at UNCP. He is awaiting trial for her death.
The state Supreme Court found that although the jury rejected Locklear’s claim of disability, Locklear presented “substantial evidence of mental retardation,” including an IQ score of 65, functioning tests that placed Locklear in the bottom 2 percent of the population, and school records that showed Locklear performed poorly. The opinion said that Locklear’s cognitive impairment made it difficult for him to handle stress appropriately.
“The jury often has the unenviable task of identifying ‘gray area’ defendants; that is, those offenders who are not clearly mentally retarded but who may nevertheless present enough evidence of mental retardation to render them ineligible for the death penalty,” Timmons-Goodson wrote in the opinion.
An assessment by a medical firm in Raleigh, found that Locklear suffers from “frontal lobe syndrome,” which can cause loss of tact and self-control, as well as a short attention-span, poor memory, difficulty in inhibiting emotions, and “difficulty in understanding other people’s point of view, leading to anger and frustration,” according to court documents.
Dr. Timothy Hancock testified in the 2005 trial, calling the defendant’s case a “slam-dunk” for mental retardation. The state later presented as evidence an audiotape of Locklear telling a friend in a phone call from the Robeson County jail that he had tricked Hancock by “reading slow” and “writing slow” during the evaluation.
The defense also argued that abuse Locklear suffered as a child had contributed to his mental state.
“Dane was born into a dysfunctional family,” said defense attorney Bullard Davis during the trial. “His father was an alcoholic who beat on the mother and the children. The home was unkempt and nasty. This was a house full of hatred. He was disliked and abused by many people.”
Locklear’s sister, Kecia Locklear Tubbs, said in an affidavit that Locklear’s father was constantly drunk and often pointed a gun at family members, threatening to kill them. She also said “Junior” did not know how to appropriately express his feelings when he was bullied by children who called him “slow” and made fun of him because his clothes did not fit.
“Junior couldn’t communicate that this hurt his feelings, he just reacted by hitting other kids … he just took everything as an insult because that’s what he was used to,” she said.