ROCKINGHAM — Superior Court Judge David Lee will hear closing arguments today on whether convicted killer Derrick McRae can seek parole after more than 20 years behind bars.
On Wednesday, a morning of emotional family testimony sent witnesses in search of tissues and left McRae snuffling into his hand. In contrast, the afternoon’s testimony focused on the hard facts of adolescent brain development and the progress of schizophrenia, especially McRae’s.
After about six hours of hearing testimony that chronicled McRae’s descent into disease and crime — as well as the defendant’s struggle to do better — District Attorney Reece Saunders stated his main concerns with the possibility of eventually granting McRae release from prison:
• “If he’s paroled, who’s going to watch him take his medicine” to control his schizophrenia, the DA asked.
• “(What is he) going to be like if he comes back to this community?” Will McRae be able to learn the skills he needs to hold a job?
• And can McRae take responsibility for his own actions? Can he stay away from alcohol, drugs and bad influences?
McRae’s family — sister Marnell Gould and mother Gloria Pratt — promised consistent family support.
“Even though he’s had that sickness, he’s still that same loving and caring person” he was as a child, McRae’s sister said. “He would have all the help he needs” if released.
“He could live with me and my husband,” offered McRae’s mother, who has remarried after divorcing McRae’s abusive, schizophrenic father.
And clinical psychiatrist Cindy Cottle, who had assessed him at the behest of the Duke team, testified that McRae was now mature enough to understand and control his disease, as long as he received assistance from local social services.
As for drinking, she said, “until lately, he has had no reason to consider” the question. But McRae has good insight into his disease and how to manage it, she said. That was a good sign.
Judge Lee is unlikely to decide today on the move to grant parole; he has reams of prison and mental health documents, family history and trial transcripts to sift through first.
McRae, 38, was convicted in the 1995 killing of Jeremy Lee Rankin. He was tried twice within three weeks in 1998. The jury could not agree on a verdict during the first trial; the second resulted in a conviction.
McRae’s sentence dictated that he serve a life sentence without the possibility of parole, but a 2016 U.S. Supreme Court decision on another case questioned whether life without parole was a fair sentence for a juvenile offender. McRae was 16 at the time of the killing.
A team of lawyers already was working on McRae’s case and petitioned last year for a hearing on whether McRae should be allowed parole in the wake of the Supreme Court ruling. This week’s hearing is the result of that petition.
Reach Christine Carroll at 910-817-2673.