An under-the-weather Danny Robbie Hembree arrived in court Friday morning.
The 50-year-old convicted killer wanted to address several matters with
Superior Court Judge Beverly Beal before his next murder trial in March.
He entered the courtroom with a surgical mask over his mouth, coughing often
during the hearing. Beal told the court that the mask would help prevent anyone
else from getting ill.
Hembree was convicted of capital murder in November and sentenced to death for
suffocating to death Heather Marie Catterton, a 17-year-old Gastonia woman.
Hembree is also accused of strangling to death 30-year-old Randi Dean Saldana.
Both women were killed in 2009. Their bodies were dumped along side roads in
South Carolina. Saldana’s body was also set on fire.
During Hembree’s 1st trial, prosecutors showed jurors three videos of police
interrogations where Hembree confessed to killing the 2 women in 2009 and
Deborah Ratchford in 1992.
Hembree’s attorneys, Rick Beam and Brent Ratchford, entered a motion to include
evidence in Ratchford’s death in the upcoming trial. In the previous trial,
evidence in the Ratchford killing was not introduced.
Beam told Beal that the defense wants to introduce the evidence to prove
inconsistencies in evidence, investigation and in Hembree’s confessions.
Hembree testified in his own defense during Catterton’s trial. He told the
court that he lied in the taped police interviews where he confessed to killing
several women. Hembree said he made up the stories he told police to deflect
attention from multiple armed robbery charges he faced in Mecklenburg County at
Hembree was convicted in the Mecklenburg County armed robbery cases.
Hearing details of her niece’s death will be tough, but Mary Fleming said she
wants to see Hembree brought to justice.
Ratchford was Fleming’s niece. Tears still fall from her eyes though it’s been
20 years since the Gaston County woman has seen Ratchford.
“She was a good person. She was real friendly to everybody,” said Fleming. “I
miss my niece. I loved her.”
Fleming said she hasn’t heard from the District Attorney’s office about
prosecuting Hembree in Ratchford’s death, but she has kept up with the details
of the 1st trial.
Fleming said she would like to see Hembree stand trial for each of the murders,
and that she hopes he gets what he deserves.
Judge Beal did not rule on the request to include the evidence from Ratchford’s
death in the Saldana trial.
Hembree wrote letters to his attorneys, Judge Beal and Gaston County Assistant
District Attorney Stephanie Hamlin.
In the documents he told each that he was dissatisfied with his legal
representation during his first trial. He made a motion to dismiss Beam and
The motion was discussed Friday morning, though Hembree said he had a slight
change of heart over the past week. Having been locked up at Central Prison in
Raleigh since being sentenced, Hembree has not had constant contact with his
After some conversations this week, he told Beal he was rethinking his idea to
dismiss the attorneys, but he did not back down from saying he didn’t think he
got the best defense in the 1st trial.
“They were unprepared for trial, and they were unprepared for the sentencing
phase,” Hembree said. “They were hamstrung by the court’s ruling.”
Beal said that Ratchford and Beam were competent attorneys, and he denied the
motion to withdraw them from the case.
In a decision last month Beal decided Hembree would be best served with a jury
outside of Gaston County.
Jury selection will begin March 12 in Rutherford County. Once selected, the
jury will be bused to and from Gaston County each day of the trial.
Hembree told the judge Friday that a jury from Rutherford County would also be
Hembree said that Hamlin’s husband was from Rutherfordton and that her
connections to the community would make finding an unbiased jury impossible.
He also suggested that Beal was from Rutherford County.
Beal gave both sides an opportunity to argue the matter before telling Hembree
the plans for jury selection would remain the same.
Hembree has spent his days and nights on death row since his sentence was
handed down — brought back to Gaston County sporadically for pre-trial
He was transported to Gaston County Jail for the recent proceedings. Hembree
requested that he be allowed to remain in the local jail until his trial –
making access to his attorneys much easier.
A Gaston County Sheriff’s deputy in the courtroom suggested that a death row
inmate may be a security risk.
Beal pointed out Hembree’s illness and access to his attorneys was reason
enough to house him locally through the duration of the trial.
Hembree made 1 last motion, verbally, to the judge. He requested that the
1st-degree murder charge in the Saldana case be dropped because of double
With so many motions on the table and a short court day scheduled, Beal said he
would address that motion, along with the question of introducing evidence from
Ratchford’s killing, at a later date.
Court was dismissed before lunch.
Other pre-trial hearings will be held to work through motions prior to the
start of the trial in March.
(source: Gaston Gazette)