A convicted North Carolina killer who painted a picture of himself living the high life on death row in a letter to a newspaper tells a different story to family members, describing his life behind bars as "overwhelming" and "depressing," according to a letter made public Thursday.
Kathy Hembree Ledbetter released the letter by her brother, Danny, because she said it reflects his emotional state better than the taunting missive he sent to The Gaston Gazette, which published it on Tuesday.
In that letter, Hembree boasted of being a "gentleman of leisure" watching color TV and taking frequent naps, and wrote, "Kill me if you can, suckers."
But in the letter to Ledbetter, dated Jan. 8, Hembree writes of his despair at the prospect of either execution or spending the rest of his life in prison, and wonders whether God cares about him.
"I want this stuff to be over for good once and for all," Hembree wrote. "I try to put on a nonchalant attitude for you guys, but it is overwhelming and depressing to look at these at these walls and electric doors and bright lights 24-7 and digest the fact that I'm never going to leave here until they murder me or I just die."
Hembree is on death row at Central Prison in Raleigh for murdering Heather Catterton, 17, in 2009. He's also accused of the 2009 killing of 30-year-old Randi Dean Saldana, whose burned remains were found near Blacksburg, S.C.
In his letter to his sister, Hembree complained about the dull routine of prison life.
"I'm bored to death. No pun intended," he wrote. "Every day is exactly the same. I've got to where I sleep as much as I can."
Hembree admitted to taking drugs and having sex with Catterton and Saldana the day they died, but he told jurors he did not kill them or dump their bodies. He is scheduled to go on trial in March for Saldana's killing.
He is also charged with killing 30-year-old Deborah Ratchford, whose body was found in a Gastonia cemetery in 1992.
"I've been praying constantly about the same stuff," Hembree wrote to Ledbetter.
Referring to God, he adds: "I can't tell he even cares about me anymore."
In an email, Ledbetter said she wanted to make the letter public as a way to apologize for any further suffering Hembree caused by writing the letter to the Gazette.
"He is not happy, he is not comfortable and he is not well," she wrote. "He is being punished for his crimes and he is in a bad place."
A call to the Gaston County district attorney's office was not returned late Thursday.
After Hembree's letter ran in the paper this week, District Attorney Locke Bell said it illustrated the reason that many people in North Carolina are frustrated that a tangle of legal challenges has created a de facto moratorium on capital punishment. No one has been put to death in the state since 2006.