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Wake County DA Sought Death Penalty for Schizophrenic

Finally, after more than five years, and a year before her possible re-election bid, Wake County District Attorney Lorrin Freeman declared that the State would not seek the death penalty for Kendrick Gregory, who has previously been declared so mentally ill that he was, at certain points, incompetent to stand trial.

The decision was made in February 2021, but note well that Ms. Freeman sought to have Mr. Gregory convicted and sentenced to death in April 2020. His life may have only been spared by COVID, which shut down the courts.

But it is also likely that his life would’ve been spared by Wake County jurors, who, showing good sense, have routinely rejected the death penalty when sought Wake County prosecutors in cases involving severely mentally ill defendants.

The Death Penalty and Mental Illness

For hundreds of years, and across cultures, societies have understood that, at the very least, mentally ill people ought not be put to death for the horrific crimes they sometimes commit. Most mentally ill people are entirely peaceful and integrated into society. But a rare few are not.

And nearly all cultures have recognized that mental illness – while rarely excusing a crime – is a reason not to execute someone.

In Wake County, however, Lorrin Freeman, a Democrat who was touted at one point as being a kind of progressive, has sought the death penalty in cases in which the mentally ill come to trial.

In 2019, for instance, she ordered her prosecutors to seek the death penalty in the case of a man whose mental illness was so severe – and well documented over 20 years – that he sought treatment days before he killed his neighbors in a Wake Forest home.

[A documentary is being produced by a Canadian filmmaker that may come out later this year.]

The Washington Post wrote about the Jonathan Sander case at the time.

Kendrick Gregory’s Case

In 2015, Kendrick Keyanti Gregory was arrested, accused of fatally shooting a 64-year-old man and raping a 15-year-old girl, and shooting and robbing another man. He was arrested shortly after in Brooklyn, New York.

The crimes were horrific, the killing of one innocent human being, and the brutal assault on a girl and injury to another. Kendrick Gregory shattered many lives, and did enormous damage to our community.

But it became almost immediately apparent that something was wrong with Kendrick Gregory. At a court appearance in Wake County Superior Court in November 2015, Mr. Gregory declared himself the antichrist. He made other unhinged statements.

His mental illness further deteriorated, such that by February 2018, a Superior Court Judge, in light of reports filed by psychiatrists, declared Mr. Gregory incompetent to stand trial and ordered that he be sent to Central Regional Hospital in Butner where he could be treated and possibly brought to competency and, in Lorrin Freeman’s estimation, put to death.

As with Jonathan Sander, Kendrick Gregory, according to press reports, was in and out of mental health institutions, possibly had schizophrenia, but lacked the financial means to get the help that likely could’ve avoided the carnage that ensued.

The Death Penalty and the Wake DA

Lorrin Freeman is personally a fine human being, but her use of the death penalty, especially in a Democratic Party in 2021 that has moved away from capital punishment, demonstrates that she is out of touch with her party.

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