No Death Penalty

A 19-year-old accused of shooting and mutilating his roommate won't face the death penalty.

During an administrative hearing in Catawba County Superior Court on Monday, prosecutors with 25th Judicial District Attorney's office said they won't seek the death penalty against Michael Joseph Anderson.

During a 9-1-1 call Feb. 14, Anderson confessed to shooting Stephen Starr with a shotgun before using an axe to mutilate the victim's body.

Anderson also told 9-1-1 dispatchers he "took some pills" that made him "go mad."

A native of Kings Mountain, Anderson is charged with first-degree murder for the crime that occurred in a Ruth Drive home.

"Capital punishment can be sought only when there exists a statutory 'capital aggravator,'" said District Attorney James C. Gaither Jr. "After careful review of the evidence, it's our opinion that there are no capital aggravators in this case."

Under N.C. Gen. Statute 15A-2000(e), there are 11 "aggravating factors" that define when capital punishment can be pursued in a first-degree murder case.

"When I reviewed the aggravating circumstances, unfortunately none of them existed," said Assistant District Attorney Michael Van Buren.

Some of the 11 aggravating factors relate to circumstances about the accused or the crime, such as prior criminal record and whether the murder occurred during the commission of another felony. One factor states the death penalty can be applied if the offense is "especially heinous, atrocious or cruel."

Anderson admitted to 9-1-1 dispatchers that after he he shot the victim three times, he mutilated him "very badly" and left an axe in his stomach. Catawba County Sheriff Coy Reid previously described the murder scene as "probably one of the nastiest crime scenes I've been to."

"The chain of events, how the crime occurred would not support the death penalty," Van Buren said. "I spent a lot of time agonizing, looking and researching, and I also discussed it with the victim's family ... How things occurred, it wouldn't support the death penalty."

Prosecutors announced the decision during a Rule 24 hearing before Superior Court Judge Eric Levinson. During the proceeding, prosecutors are required by state law to declare whether the death penalty will be sought for the first-degree murder charge. Prosecution of the first-degree murder charge will proceed, Van Buren said.

Anderson, according to a recording of his phone conversation with 9-1-1 dispatchers, waited until Starr was asleep before he murdered the 36-year-old man. He also said he "overdosed in Mucinex DM" which "makes him feel a little weird."

Taylorsville attorney Robert Campbell is defending Anderson. The next court appearance is set for Aug. 1.

In other court news:

Capital murder defendant Antonio Trejo appeared in Superior Court on Monday. Trejo is accused of killing 26-year-old Teresa Zavala in her home in the Dogwood Hills Mobile Home Trailer Park in Hickory in 2006.

He apparently attacked the 26-year-old victim, slitting her throat, after he forced his way through the front door of the mobile home.

During Monday's administrative hearing, defense attorney Robert Campbell said he recently received six disks of discovery requested in the case.

The hearing was Trejo's first since he was assigned a defense attorney in March.

Trejo was indicted in June 2010.

He is currently serving a 10-year, nine month sentence for a November 2008 knife attack on a woman. He was convicted of assault with a deadly weapon with intent to kill inflicting serious injury.

Trejo knew the victims in both attacks.

Trejo's next court appearance is set for August 1, and he faces the death penalty. Campbell previously said he will pursue the Racial Justice Act if there is a conviction in the case. The measure, approved in 2009, states that the death penalty cannot be sought of the basis of race being a significant factor.