1996 murder charge reinstated
After 17 years in Broughton Hospital, Freeman Otis Carpenter needed just an hour Thursday to convince a judge he was ready to stand trial for the shotgun slaying of a pregnant woman.
On the witness stand, he was asked about his past paranoia and his belief in flying saucers -- he replied that there were none "until we dropped the atom bomb" -- and whether he has a cure for AIDS -- yes: lithium. He said he also knows how to cure cancer: stem cells.
But Dr. John Warren III, a forensic sychologist, testified that Carpenter, a diagnosed schizophrenic with mild retardation, has improved over the past two years thanks in large part to a change in medication "and understood his legal situation.” The most recent report on Carpenter's condition, filed Nov. 21, 2012, said that Carpenter’s symptoms, including hallucinations and delusions, had gone away.
“He was, and is able to, recognize (his illness) does not impact his capacity to stand trial. I think he is marginally competent to proceed (to trial),” Warren said.
Carpenter was charged with murder after the July 10, 1996, killing of Lisa Louise Laws, but in August 1996 he was ruled incompetent to stand trial and the charge was dismissed without leave, which left the door open to filing the charge again. Then Carpenter began his 17-year odyssey at Broughton, a state-run psychiatric hospital.
Doctors who treated Carpenter over the years knew he wasn’t well. His schizophrenia and retardation will never go away, but the symptoms are controllable with the right combination of medicine. Warren testified that Carpenter’s competency waxes and wanes over time.
Carpenter told Judge Robert Ervin he felt he was at a standstill at Broughton. His lawyer, T.J. Rohr, asked Ervin to comply with Carpenter's wishes.
“Mr. Carpenter believes he’s competent to stand trial and believes he’s better off in jail,” Rohr said. “I believe you should declare him competent to stand trial at this point.”
Ervin ordered Carpenter held in the Caldwell County Detention Center with no bond allowed. Carpenter is scheduled for a court hearing July 15. No trial date has been set.
At the time of the killing, neighbors described Carpenter, then 23, as troubled but quiet. What happened that Wednesday evening, however, would reverberate throughout the town.
Laws, 22, who was eight-and-a-half-months pregnant, had gone with her sister and her sister's boyfriend to see Carpenter's father, Ralph Carpenter, on Logan Place in Granite Falls, just off the U.S. 321-A parallel. Freeman Carpenter’s address was listed as Smokey Creek Mobile Home Park, but he had been staying with his father at the time.
Ralph Carpenter told reporters that Laws came to talk about her pregnancy because she claimed he was the father, according to 1996 newspaper reports.
“She said she was carrying my baby, and she begged me to come here,” he said at the time.
Laws was in the kitchen talking to Ralph Carpenter about 6:30 p.m. when Freeman Carpenter appeared. “We were standing in the kitchen talking, and she was showing me her belly,” Ralph Carpenter said during a TV interview. “I turned around, and she did too, when he just shot her right here,” he said, pointing above his brow. “I didn’t even know he had a gun.”
Freeman Carpenter ran away and was found about three miles away by a sheriff’s deputy.
Laws had been engaged to marry Rodney Crowe. Crowe told reporters that Laws had gone to Carpenter’s to borrow money to go see a movie, not to discuss the pregnancy.
"The baby was not Ralph's, it was ours," he said.
"He didn't just kill Lisa. We were supposed to get married Aug. 10, and it wasn't just the baby, it was our future."
Crowe also strongly disagreed with the decision Aug. 22, 1996, to find Freeman Carpenter incompetent to stand trial.
“I don’t think this man is in the shape everybody says he’s in,” Crowe said at the time. “He was competent enough to live on his own, and he was competent enough to buy a gun, and I think he’s competent enough to stand trial.”