Who, us?

On the Monday after the Luigi’s night of horror, there was a pall over the Resource Center.   The ripples set in motion by the murders were already being felt two hours away by people who didn’t know the victims or the killer.   My colleagues and I gathered in Henderson’s office hoping to learn more about the killings and the latest about Mr. French.

For capital defenders, a high-profile killing is a shock to the system.   You battle — day in and day out — the hate directed at your clients and at you, a more accessible surrogate for your clients.  You battle the misperceptions of the causes of crime and the efficacy of the death penalty as anything other than a blood-letting.   Some days you battle your client who would rather die than live on death row, and some days you battle your own feelings of inadequacy.  Then, the news of another killing grabs your attention.  You know in the pit of your stomach that for you and your clients, the news is not good.

There was a buzz in the room.  The State had already charged Kenneth French with four counts of murder and three counts of attempted murder.  They had already held French’s probable cause hearing in his hospital room.

Henderson interrupted the chatter, “Jim Parrish will be representing Kenneth French.” Jim was a well-respected criminal defense attorney in Fayetteville.   “And I have been asked to co-counsel,” he added.

It had not occurred to me that our office would get involved in the case.  Our primary mission was to improve the legal representation of prisoners already on death row.  However, we all knew that it would be good for our team to get involved in a trial — if for no other reason to gain the experience to help us in attorney consultations and in attacking them on appeal.  In a sense, we needed our “street cred.”

At first there was silence; then, one by one the attorneys and the investigators stated their willingness to help.  “Count me in,” I said.

Mass Killing

The horror was spread all over local and national T.V., radio and newspapers.  Friday night shooting spree by Fort Bragg soldier in Fayetteville restaurant kills four and injures many more!   The more I heard, the worse my heart broke.  I had a deep sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach.   By Sunday, a surprising amount of details were known about the victims, the gunman, and the killing spree.   “A Night of Terror, Heroes” screamed the banner headline of the Fayetteville Observer-Times.

On Friday, August 7, 1993, around 10 p.m., Sergeant Kenneth Junior French, 22, drove to a popular, locally owned restaurant, Luigi’s in his black pick-up truck.   He parked in front of the restaurant, got out with two 12-guage shotguns and a .22-caliber rifle.  He was wearing a hunting vest filled with ammunition.  French walked around the outside of the restaurant, which was full of customers, and shot out each of the four windows on the side.  He then returned to his truck and left one shotgun and the rifle.

French walked to the back of the restaurant and entered the back door with his remaining shotgun.  He shot a cook (who survived) and entered the dining room shooting.  The owners of the restaurant, Pete and Ethel Parrous, had been sitting at a booth with their daughter, Connie, and her husband, Tony.  They all were now hiding under the table.   But, as the local newspaper put it, “Mr. Parrous couldn’t just hide under the table.”  Here is Connie’s account of the events as told the day after the tragedy to the Fayetteville Observer-Times:

“Then my dad stood up and said, ‘Oh please don’t hurt us.’  Before you knew it, he’d blown his face away.  My mother freaked out and got up and tried to get him.  They were very close.  She went to him, and that’s when the creep got her, too.

“We were trying to get him (dad), to see if we could help him, but he was already gone,” she said.  “We were all just sitting in a pool of blood.”

French fired at Connie and Tony under the table, hitting Connie in the thigh.

For some 20 minutes, French wandered around the restaurant taking aim at customers.  At times, he ranted about gays in the military.  Witnesses reported him yelling “I’ll show you about gays in the military” and “I’ll show you, Clinton.”   French shot and killed Wes Cover, a former soldier, who dove to shield his pregnant fiancée, and James Kidd, who did the same to shield his son, a soldier.  French periodically stopped to reload his pump shotgun.  He fired about 20 shots.  French’s rampage ended when he was shot by a police officer.  French survived.

It was clear from the news accounts that the Parrouses were beloved by all and well known in the community, particularly the Greek community.  Their senseless deaths would no doubt cause widespread trauma and outrage.  There was also no doubt that Mr. French would be facing the death penalty.