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Man who avoided ’83 execution pleads guilty to killing wife

By Cleve R. Wootson Jr.
cwootson@charlotteobserver.com

A man who once received a stay of execution hours before he was scheduled to be strapped into Florida’s electric chair might spend the rest of his life in a North Carolina prison after pleading guilty Thursday to strangling his wife.

Joseph Green Brown, who turns 63 next month, pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in connection with Mamie Brown’s killing in northeast Charlotte. He was sentenced to between 15 and 19 years in prison.

In 1973, Brown was accused of raping and killing a woman he didn’t know in a Tampa, Fla., clothing store.

But he was convicted on flimsy evidence. Investigators didn’t have his fingerprints or matching blood. The bullet that killed the victim couldn’t have been fired from the gun prosecutors claimed was the murder weapon.

And the prosecutor, Robert Bonnano, had testimony from a witness who admitted lying to receive favorable consideration.

The NAACP took over Brown’s appeal in 1981. The stay of execution came in 1983, 15 hours before he was scheduled to be executed. He was released in 1987 and met Mamie Brown shortly afterward.

On Sept. 13, 2012, investigators found her strangled in the couple’s apartment off W.T. Harris Boulevard.

A neighbor had heard them arguing in the early morning. A few hours later, Brown was seen withdrawing money from an ATM while driving his wife’s blue Chrysler 300L.

He also withdrew cash from an ATM in Charleston, where police caught up with him. Investigators found his wife’s blood on his clothes.

On Thursday, chained and wearing an orange jail uniform, he turned around and faced his wife’s family sitting in the court’s gallery.

“I just want to say to all of you that I cannot ever replace the loss I’ve taken from you,” he said as family members cried. “I loved your mom. For 25 years, she was my life. … I have robbed you all of someone you have loved – someone I have loved.”

Her family said this month has been especially hard.

Sept. 2 was Mamie Brown’s birthday. The anniversary of her death is Friday.

“A piece of our puzzle was taken away from us,” said Glendolyn Sharpe, Mamie Brown’s daughter. “Our family is devastated because of this. … He took away our everything. He took everything from us.”

Family members told investigators that the Browns’ relationship had grown contentious in the years before Mamie Brown was killed, said Assistant District Attorney Max Diaz. Family members worried about domestic abuse, claiming Joseph Brown had made threats toward his wife.

“She sent her grandson an email in 2012 that said if something was to happen for her to look for the defendant,” Diaz said. The Tampa Bay Times contributed.

Wootson: 704-358-5046; Twitter: @CleveWootson
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