The NC Supreme Court has overturned the death penalty conviction and ordered a new trial for Danny Hembree in Gaston County.
Hembree was sentenced in 2011 for killing Heather Catterton in 2009, following a night of sex fueled by drugs. Hembree is also serving 26 years for killing Randi Saldana, whose body was found a few weeks after Catterton's in York County.
A majority of Justices found three main reasons to overturn the death penalty conviction: first, the State used an excessive amount of evidence from the Saldana case while trying to argue Hembree's fault in Catterton's death; second, Saldana's sister was allowed to testify about Saldana's good character, which was irrelevant in Catterton's death; and third, during closing arguments the State made several statements which came close to accusing Hembree of perjury, or lying.
Hembree was convicted after a five week trial in which several witnesses and experts testified about the evidence. Medical experts said Catterton's exact cause of death was inconclusive, but drug toxicity was possible. There were no obvious signs of trauma, despite a confession by Hembree in which he said he tried to choke and suffocate the teen. The Saldana case had stronger physical evidence which matched Hembree's confession and was used by prosecutors in the case to show Hembree's plan or scheme to commit murder.
Coming up tonight at 5:30, Saldana's family reacts to the news of a new trial.