NORTH CAROLINA----death row inmate commits suicide
Inmate hastened his death----Queen, 28, was on death row 7 years
Eric Queen came of age in a prison cell while waiting to die.
On Sunday night, prison officials say, he decided to wait no longer. Department of Correction officials say Queen, 28, hanged himself with a bed sheet in the janitor's closet of his death row cell block at Central Prison in Raleigh.
A prison officer noticed the closet door ajar Sunday evening. He found Queen inside when he went to inspect the closet. Death row inmates have access to the janitor's closet to fetch supplies used to clean their cells, said Keith Acree, a spokesman for the N.C. Department of Correction.
Queen has spent his adulthood behind bars after Cumberland County authorities charged him and 8 others with a gang-initiation double murder in August 1998. The killings rocked Cumberland County, evoking fear in residents worried about a gang problem.
Investigators said Queen and the teenagers had taken part in an initiation ritual for the Crips gang; defense lawyers argued it was merely a "wannabe gang." Nonetheless, the crew kidnapped, robbed and executed 2 strangers traveling home from a nightclub where they worked. They shot another woman and left her for dead on a remote military road near Fort Bragg. The tips of their bullets were painted blue -- the Crips' signature color.
Queen was convicted in 2000 of two counts of first-degree murder and attempted murder.
Richard Lambert, father of Tracy Lambert, one of the slain women, heard Queen's name and the word "suicide" on his television set Monday morning.
"For me, it's a relief that it's over. The death penalty's been stopped, and we had no idea when the end would come," Lambert said.
He hopes Queen's death will ease the burden his wife has been carrying since their 18-year-old daughter's death. "She's been struggling since 1998," Lambert said. "Our relationship's gone downhill, and she's overprotective of our other girls. I hope it releases some of her stress."
One other defendant, Christina Walters, is also on death row for the gang-related murders.
Queen is the 1st inmate on death row in at least a decade to commit suicide, Acree said. 22 inmates in the regular population have killed themselves since 2000.
"If you really want to find a way to kill yourself in prison, it's difficult for us to stop it," Acree said.
He said prison officials would, however, probably review their policy of allowing unsupervised access to the janitor's closet, which officers cannot visually monitor.
In 2006, Queen's attorneys filed a motion in Cumberland County Superior Court asking for a new trial. They argued that jurors hadn't heard evidence about significant mental illness in Queen's family that affected their client and could have swayed the jury to grant him life in prison instead of the death penalty. The matter hasn't been heard.
A halt to the death penalty in North Carolina in January cast more uncertainty on Queen's future.
Queen seemed to be taking the delays in stride, said one of his lawyers, Marilyn Ozer. He was even positive, Ozer said, in a May letter to her and Bill Massengale, another of his attorneys. Queen wrote: "Even though things are idle, the situation can and will get better. Believe in yourselves and your work."
Queen thanked his attorneys for their efforts and asked them to send some meditation books written by an African priest.
Recently, though, Queen started to get homesick, Ozer said she learned Monday. "His family was going on vacation together," Ozer said. "It could be as simple as he really, really missed them."
Queen's family could not be reached for comment. His father is a retired Army officer; his mother battles schizophrenia, Ozer said.
Queen's attorneys and prison officials didn't see clues that Queen might have been feeling desperate. "He was the kind of person who would have kept it to himself," Ozer said.
So sad to come home from vacation and see bad news. NOT.
. May the victims RIP and the families to have some closure in their lives.