Date of Crime


Cumberland County, NC Lee Wayne Hunt Mar 7, 1984 (Eastover)

Lee Wayne Hunt was convicted of the murders of Roland "Tadpole" Matthews Jr. and his wife, Lisa K. Matthews.  Both were shot execution-style, their throats slit, in their home on a dirt road near Fayetteville.  Prosecutors argued that the murders were punishment for an alleged theft of marijuana by Roland from Hunt's drug ring.  Hunt was an admitted marijuana dealer.  A codefendant, Jerry Dale Cashwell, was also convicted. 

Gene Williford, an associate of Hunt who received immunity, testified that Hunt had told him that he intended to teach Matthews "a lesson" for stealing drugs.  Williford said he dropped Hunt off at the murder scene and that he later picked up Hunt and Cashwell, who both appeared to be wearing bloody clothing.  Williford told jurors that a few days later he and Hunt were present when another member of the drug ring referred to the killings, stating that Lisa Matthews had "begged us not to kill her."  Williford never claimed to have witnessed the murders or claimed that Hunt had admitted to committing them. Hunt's mother and aunt said that he was at home with them that night.

A prison informant, who received a plea deal on separate charges, testified that Hunt told him some details about the murders, including that the couple was "killed over drug money." A third person testified that he received a box of bullets from Cashwell after the killings.  Using a procedure known as comparative bullet lead analysis, an FBI expert matched bullet fragments found in one of the victims to bullets from the box.  However, in 2004, the use of comparative bullet lead analysis was scientifically discredited after the theory underlying it was disproven.

Cashwell said nothing publicly to refute Williford's testimony.  In 2003, Cashwell committed suicide.  Following Cashwell's death, his lawyer, Staples Hughes, came forward with testimony that Cashwell confessed to him that he single-handedly killed the couple.  According to Hughes, Cashwell, who was hard of hearing, was watching television with the victims when he became enraged over the TV volume. "He just exploded. And he shot them and cut their throats," Hughes said. "It had nothing to do with drugs."  Hughes also said Cashwell "remained consistent" for two decades in saying that he committed the murders alone.  Shortly before his suicide, Cashwell said that "he felt bad about what happened to Lee Wayne."

Judge Jack A. Thompson of Cumberland County Superior Court refused to consider Hughes' testimony.  The judge filed a complaint against him to the state bar for violating attorney-client privilege, although his client was now dead.  The complaint against Hughes was dismissed in in a later confidential decision. But the next day, the North Carolina Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal of Thompson's ruling, which had also accepted the prosecution's argument that Hughes' testimony was excluded because it was hearsay.  However, Hughes' position as an officer of the court, would appear to give him privileged status, making Hughes' testimony the equivalent of direct testimony received from Cashwell to a judge.  Secondly, defense testimony need not be as reliable as prosecution testimony as it does not need to prove its case, but only raise reasonable doubt.  When presented in opposition to Williford's supposedly reliable incentivized testimony, few would argue that it would not raise reasonable doubt.

Both the United States Supreme Court and the North Carolina Supreme Court have said lawyer-client privilege survives death, though they recognized that exceptions might be possible. “Clients may be concerned about reputation, civil liability or possible harm to friends of family” if their secrets were disclosed after they died, Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist wrote for the majority in a 1998 U. S. Supreme Court decision.

According to Monroe Freedman, who teaches legal ethics at Hofstra University, “If there is no threat of civil action against the client's estate and there are no survivors who continue to believe in the client's innocence, there is no confidentiality obligation to begin with.”  Hughes said that sounded about right. “What reputational interest did Jerry [Cashwell] have?” he asked. “He had pleaded guilty to killing two people. He didn't have an estate. His estate was a pair of shower shoes and two paperback books.”  (NY Times) (Washington Post) (SI)  [10/08]



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