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Lamont Claxton UNDERWOOD

 
 
 
 
 

 

 

 

 


A.K.A.: "L. C."
 
Classification: Murderer ?
Characteristics: Former Salisbury policeman - Jealousy
Number of victims: 0 - 2
Date of murders: January 7/10, 1994
Date of birth: 1951
Victims profile: Viktor Gunnarsson, 40 (ex-girlfriend's new lover) / Catherine Miller (ex-girlfriend's elderly mother)
Method of murder: Shooting
Location: Salisbury, North Carolina, USA
Status: Sentenced to life in prison, 1997. Murder conviction vacated on January 2010
 
 
 
 
 
 

L.C. Underwood may get new trial

By Jessie Burchette - SalisburyPost.com

Friday, January 15, 2010

A federal court has vacated the 13-year-old murder conviction of a former Salisbury policeman.

The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, based in Richmond, Va., has ordered L.C. Underwood be granted a new trial or be released from jail in 180 days.

The Fourth Circuit Court ruled that Underwood had ineffective counsel, questioned the defense's trial strategy and concluded it was unsound.

Lamont Claxton Underwood, known as "L.C.," was convicted in 1997 in Watauga County Superior Court for the 1993 kidnapping and murder of Viktor Gunnarsson, a 40-year-old Swedish citizen who was a resident of Lakewood Apartments off Statesville Boulevard.

The trial drew international attention since Gunnersson had been accused and cleared in the 1986 assassination of Swedish Prime Minister Olof Palme. The Discovery Channel aired a documentary on the investigation after Underwood was convicted.

Underwood, now 58, is serving a life sentence plus 40 years. He is currently in the Marion Correctional Center.

Prosecutors contended that Underwood was jealous of Gunnarsson, seeing him as a romantic rival for Kay Weden, Underwood's former fiance. Prosecutors contended that Underwood stalked, spied on and harassed Weden, eventual kidnapping Gunnarsson from his home and taking him to a secluded area along the Blue Ridge Parkway in Watauga County before shooting and killing him.

The state also contended that three days later Underwood shot and killed Weden's mother, Catherine Miller, at her Westcliffe home, off U.S. 70. Underwood was never tried for Miller's death.

The Fourth Circuit Court opinion rendered on Dec. 23, 2009, cited mishandling of several issues, noting that "the defense (attorneys) essentially inflicted a fatal wound to the credibility of their own case."

Underwood was represented by Boone attorneys Bruce Kaplan and Chester Whittle.

In the 27-page opinion, the court repeatedly cited the defense attorney's opening remarks to the jury promising:

- that they had a confession from someone else who claimed to have killed Gunnersson;

- that another witness (Terry Osborne, then Rowan County Clerk of Court) saw someone else outside of Miller's house at the time of the murder and a composite sketch had been made that didn't look like Underwood;

- that an eyewitness saw someone near where Gunnarsson's body was found in Deep Gap, and that when the witness saw Underwood in a lineup with six other men, he told investigators the person he saw was not in the lineup.

When the state rested its case, the defense declined to put on any evidence.

The court noted the initial closing argument "quite interestingly, included a monologue on the origins and development of our Nation's jury system."

A prosecutor then went through the list of promises made by the defense, asking where were the promised witnesses and the evidence.

The court wrote, "It could not have been sound trial strategy for defense counsel to have created such high, unattainable expectations in the jury by promising to present exculpating evidence. To be sure, defense counsel gained no tactical advantages by making the promise.

"Thus, counsel's whetting of the jury's appetite with the promise of a confession with eye witness testimony which counsel knew or should have known was not exculpating, at the very least was irresponsible. By taking the approach which they used here, defense counsel actually enabled the state to strengthen its circumstantial case …."

The court continues over several pages to cite the defense's failures, concluding, the court "would find it quite difficult to imagine a more illogical, unreasonable strategy than to promise a jury exculpatory evidence of this nature and then fail both to present it and to effectively explain its omission. … Defense counsels' conduct was deficient and prejudicial …"

The state Supreme Court upheld Underwood's conviction in October of 2000.

In 2001, Underwood filed a motion in Watauga County Superior Court seeking appropriate relief, contending he was subjected to ineffective assistance by shortcomings of his counsel, which included failing to call key witnesses.

On Aug. 30, 2004, the state Court of Appeals denied the petition. Underwood then appealed the decision to the Fourth Circuit.

 
 

L.C. Underwood's conviction upheld

SalisburyPost.com

August 17, 1999

RALEIGH -- The N.C. Court of Appeals has upheld the murder conviction of a former Salisbury policeman.

A spokesman for the court said this morning that the court found no error in a review of the 1997 Watauga County trial of L.C. Underwood.

Underwood, 47, a Lake Drive, Salisbury resident, was found guilty of kidnapping and murdering Viktor Gunnarsson. He was sentenced to life imprisonment.

Prosecutors contended that Underwood killed Gunnarsson, a 40-year-old Swedish citizen, because he started dating Underwood's former fiancee.

Gunnarsson's nude body was found near the Blue Ridge Parkway on Jan. 7, 1994. He had been shot in the head and neck.

Gunnarsson had been accused and later cleared in the 1986 assassination of the Swedish prime minister.

The trial set a benchmark in trial history with the judge allowing witnesses to testify about mitochrondrial DNA, which is DNA found outside the nucleus of a cell. The DNA test was crucial to prosecutors in linking hair found in Underwood's trunk with Gunnarsson's blood.

Underwood can appeal the findings to the N.C. Supreme Court.

 
 

Victor Gunnarsson (1953 Ė between 3 and 4 December 1993) was a Swedish right-wing extremist, who was a suspect in the 1986 Olof Palme assassination. He was later in turn murdered in 1993 in North Carolina by former police officer Lamont C. Underwood.

Assassination of Olof Palme

Gunnarsson (labeled in the media 33-Śringen, "the 33-year old") was arrested on February 28, 1986, in Stockholm, Sweden, for the assassination of Olof Palme, but quickly released after a dispute between the police and prosecuting attorneys. Gunnarsson had connections to various extremist groups and was a member of the European Workers Party, the Swedish branch of the LaRouche movement, for a year before being kicked out in 1985.

The extent of his connection to the latter group was having signed a petition they were circulating on the streets of Stockholm. Also, pamphlets hostile to Palme from the party were found in his home outside Stockholm.

Death

Gunnarsson's nearly naked body was found in a wooded area called Deep Gap about 86 miles from his apartment in Salisbury, North Carolina. He was shot twice in the head with a .22 caliber firearm. The time of death is placed between December 3 and December 4, 1993.

Former policeman Lamont C. Underwood was convicted of Gunnarsson's murder in 1997 and sentenced to life imprisonment plus 40 years, however, in an opinion rendered on Dec. 23, 2009, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, based in Richmond, Va., ordered that he be granted a new trial or be released from jail in 180 days. Underwood is currently incarcerated in Marion Correctional Institution in North Carolina.

In the media

Gunnarsson's murder was featured on the Court TV series Forensic Files and the Discovery Channel series The New Detectives.

Wikipedia.org

 
 


Viktor Gunnarsson's nude body was found near the Blue Ridge Parkway on Jan. 7, 1994.
He had been shot in the head and neck.

Gunnarsson had been accused and later cleared in the 1986 assassination
of the Swedish prime minister.

 

 

 
 
 
 
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