When he was sentenced to prison, habitual felon and convicted drunk driver Kenneth Maready bemoaned that Durham County prosecutors bothered going to trial for the 2005 car crash in which he killed 61-year-old grandmother Kay Stokes. It was a waste of time, really, he said, with the incurable, chronic liver disease hepatitis C taxing his health.
"I don't even know why this trial went on. I'll be lucky if I live five years, anyway," Maready said when he was sentenced to 62 years in prison for second-degree murder and other charges.
It has been nearly five years, and Maready is not only still alive after years of drug abuse, severe depression and a failing liver, but he also has been fighting to get out of prison. Maready appealed his conviction in 2007; the N.C. Court of Appeals has been mulling the case ever since. And at any moment, a panel of judges in Raleigh will decide whether Maready deserves a new trial.
The victim's brother, 72-year-old Calvin Parrott, says the only thing Maready deserves is to die in prison.
Parrott, who lives on the road where Stokes was killed, has told the story of her death dozens of times. He recites the details of the agonizing event month after month at meetings of Mothers Against Drunk Driving, he said, where first-time offenders are often sent to see the harm their drunken driving could cause.
On the afternoon of Feb. 12, 2005, Stokes, who lived on Stallings Road in eastern Durham County, was taking her 5-year-old granddaughter to buy some peaches from a market. Drunk and with traces of cocaine in his blood, Maready was not far behind them. He sped down Stallings Road in a stolen Honda, trying to elude sheriff's deputies. Topping speeds of 70 mph, Maready careened into Stokes' red Ford pickup, throwing her from the truck. Her granddaughter, Courtney, wailing from the side of the road, watched Stokes die.
"I just get up there and tell the truth," Parrott said. "It's not pleasant, but maybe it will do some good."
The N.C. Court of Appeals ruled in 2008 that Maready deserved a new trial because some evidence on his long rap sheet, which includes six convictions for drunk or otherwise impaired driving since age 16, was not legally admissible in court. But after an appeal by prosecutors, the state Supreme Court overturned the appellate court decision.
Now Maready's attorney, Durham defender Daniel R. Pollitt, is seeking a new trial on other grounds: claims that during the original trial a judge gave incorrect and incomplete jury instructions, that Maready's attorney admitted his client's guilt without Maready's consent, and that during closing arguments a prosecutor introduced information that had not been established during the trial.
Despite what he describes as an "incredible circus of proceedings" leading up to this point, Pollitt says, "I think Mr. Maready's going to get a new trial."
A panel of three judges at the N.C. Court of Appeals, including Linda M. McGee and Rick Elmore, is considering the matter and will soon issue an opinion.
"It should happen pretty quickly," said John Connell, clerk of the N.C. Court of Appeals. "The court doesn't let the parties know when that opinion is going to come down. It just materializes on a court opinion filing day." Those filing days are the first and third Tuesdays of the month, Connell said.
Parrott said he thought he could put the matter to rest in 2008, when the state Supreme Court nixed the call for a new trial. But the matter persists, he said, and each day his hatred for Maready grows.
"If they set him out today and I see him tomorrow, there would be a problem," Parrott said.