Gaston County’s most notorious convicted killer pleaded guilty before a judge Thursday in a murder case that took him off death row.
Channel 9 has followed Danny Hembree and the twists and turns in his murder cases for years.
Hembree was sentenced to death in 2011 for killing 17-year-old Heather Catterton in 2009, and was also convicted of murdering Randi Saldona.
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Hembree pleaded guilty to murdering Saldona and his conviction was reduced to second-degree murder after prosecutors said he lied on the stand, and as a result, forced a mistrial.
The state Supreme Court overturned his conviction in the Catterton case, despite Hembree's confession on video explaining how he killed both women. The ruling took Hembree off death row and opened the door for a retrial.
During pretrial motions Thursday morning, Hembree told the judge that he wanted to get the case behind him and accepted a second-degree murder plea that was first offered to him a year ago.
Hembree has had repeated heart problems and recently suffered a stroke, and said he was ready to clear his conscious.
"I'm sorry for the destruction and chaos I caused in my entire life," Hembree said.
Hembree also previously stirred the pot with prosecutors during his trial and even claimed to have an affair with one of them. On Thursday, he apologized for those actions.
“I apologize to Mr. Bell and Mrs. Hamlin for the dirty tricks and aggravation," Hembree said.
Hembree’s case has had a lasting effect in Gaston County. The district attorney stopped pursuing the death penalty after Hembree was let off death row, saying that if a person with his record could get off, then it wasn’t worth seeking it for any defendant.
After Thursday’s hearing, the district attorney said he will still not seek the death penalty.
Hembree’s guilty plea will give him a combined 50 years in prison for the two murders.
“He will die in prison,” district attorney Locke Bell said.
Eyewitness News reporter Ken Lemon is following the bombshell decision made by Hembree and will have a full report at 5 p.m. on Channel 9.
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