Manteo murder could be retried

Published 3:32 pm Sunday, December 14, 1997

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By Michelle Cassell, The Coastland Times

Superior Court Judge J. Richard Parker has agreed to preside during an evidentiary hearing that could result in a new trial for Clifton Eugene Spencer, a 38 year-old black man, who was convicted of, and is currently serving, a life-sentence for the murder of a 28 year-old white female, Stacey Stanton on February 2, 1990, according to Assistant District Attorney Robert Trivette.

The hearing which has been ordered by remand from the North Carolina Court of Appeals is scheduled for January 19, 1998 to determine whether the state failed to disclose exculpatory evidence prior the entry of Spencer’s no contest plea to second-degree murder on January 9, 1991 and if so, whether his plea was voluntary as a result.

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Judge Parker rejected a motion on June 17, 1997 filed by Letitia C. Echols, Spencer’s attorney with N.C. Prisoner Legal Services. Her Motion for Appropriate Relief was based on the issue on his conviction being obtained in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment. It was appealed and ordered remanded to Dare County Superior Court by the N.C. Court of Appeals on July 8, 1997 and has yet to be heard.

“Everything the state was asked to provide in the original motion for discovery was sent,” said Trivette. “Whether his attorney should have let him plead guilty, goes back to the appeal.”

Echols contends that hair found in Stanton’s hands was never analyzed, after it was concluded by SBI lab reports not to be “negroid” in origin. Further tests of the hair samples were deemed “unnecessary” by Special Agent I.K. Inscoe, an investigator in the case.

Echol’s motion has been successful in stopping the destruction of the hair evidence, according to Trivette. This is evidence that Echols said would be vital in determining if someone else could have committed the crime.

“What we are keying in on in this motion is that Spencer did not have access to information from interviews conducted by police, based on newly discovered evidence,” said Echols on Friday.

Echols said this is the final appeal on the state level and if it is exhausted they intend to pursue it in federal court.

Echols has presented an affidavit of Barbara McGuiness, a witness who swears she was interviewed by the SBI at the Dare County Sheriff’s Office about events that took place at the Green Dolphin Pub in Manteo on the night of February 3, 1990. In the affidavit she says, “I was not contacted or questioned by Clifton Spencer’s attorney or anyone investigating the case on Clifton’s behalf before he entered his no contest plea.”

McGuiness said that on the night of the murder, she saw Norman Judson Brandon (Mike), whom she knew to be the victim’s boyfriend, and Patty Roe, a new girlfriend of Brandon’s, and Stacey Stanton together in the Green Dolphin Pub. “Mike and Stacey broke up and Mike started seeing Patty. According to Stacey, Mike stopped seeing Patty and reconciled with Stacey a week before her death,” said McGuiness.

She said that Mike had just learned Patty was pregnant and Patty had just learned that Mike was still seeing Stacey. A fight ensued, that involved threats from Patty to Stacey. According to the affidavit, Stacey went home crying about the time Spencer came into the pub.

Edgar Barnes, now a Dare County District Court judge who was court appointed to represent Spencer in an amended motion for appropriate relief on April 20, 1992 (which was denied), said in his affidavit, “I was unaware that the SBI had interviewed McGuinness . . . I did not know (she) made any statements about the case.” He also said he did not know there had been an argument between Stanton and Roe over their relationships with Mike Brandon nor had he heard about threats.

Spencer’s affidavit contends that he was unaware of any argument at the time he filed his pro se motion in April of 1992 or the time when Barnes appealed it.

Briefly, Stanton was found stabbed to death on the floor of her Manteo apartment by a co-worker when she failed to report to her waitress job at the Duchess of Dare on February 3, 1990 around 2 p.m. The attack was so brutal, her neck was severed to the bone, according to the police crime scene report.

Stanton was last seen alive and in the company of Spencer and others at the Green Dolphin Pub in the late evening the night before.

SBI and police investigations led to Spencer’s indictment on first degree murder on April 2, 1990 with Judge Paul Wright presiding. District Attorney H.P. Williams said he would be seeking the death penalty in the case.

Spencer was represented by R.O. Murphy, an NAACP lawyer from Greensboro who convinced Spencer to plead no contest to second degree murder on January 9, 1991.

The move surprised many since Murphy had filed six pre-trial motions, including a change of venue, just two days prior to entering the no contest plea.

Judge Herbert Small accepted the plea which was entered by the defendant of his own free will.

On April 24, Spencer filed a pro se motion for appropriate relief raising three claims that were denied by Superior Court Judge Steven D. Michael on May 19, 1992. He appointed Edgar Barnes to represent Spencer on an appeal to determine if relief should be granted on his claim that he received ineffective counsel.

W. Mark Spence, Dare County attorney, testified as an expert for the defendant that “Murphy’s representation was outside the range of competence for a member of the Dare County Bar.”

Judge Gary E. Trawick denied the amended motion by Barnes on Oct. 31, 1993 and on May 12, 1994 the appeal to N.C. Court of appeals was denied.

To see the scans of the archived newspaper page where this article appeared, click here and here.