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Lamont Claxton Underwood. Photo courtesy of the N.C. Department of Correction.

Originally published: 2013-01-30 09:40:26
Last modified: 2013-01-30 09:40:26

Convicted murderer seeks new trial

The man convicted in a 20-year-old, high-profile murder in Boone is seeking a new trial, claiming prosecutors withheld evidence that would have been favorable to his case.

Lamont Claxton “L.C.” Underwood, 61, was convicted in 1997 for the murder of Viktor Gunnarsson.

Gunnarsson’s body was found Jan. 7, 1994, in a wooded area near the Blue Ridge Parkway in Deep Gap, more than a month after he disappeared. He had been shot twice in the head.

The case gathered international attention, as Gunnarsson had been a suspect in the 1986 assassination of Swedish Prime Minister Olof Palme.

Prosecutors argued that Underwood was jealous of Gunnarsson, who dated his ex-fiance, Kay Weden. They also theorized that Underwood had killed Weden’s mother, Catherine Miller, although he was never prosecuted for that crime.

Underwood, a Salisbury police officer, was convicted of first-degree murder and first-degree kidnapping and sentenced to life in prison plus 40 years. He is currently in custody at Scotland Correctional Institution in Laurinburg.

Over the years, Underwood has attempted to reverse the outcome of the case through various legal means.

In late 2009, he found success when a federal court determined that Underwood’s attorneys had provided ineffective counsel by declining to present any evidence during the original trial. But the U.S. Court of Appeals reversed that decision in January 2011 and upheld his conviction.

During that federal appeal, Underwood and his attorneys obtained more discovery information from the state that led to this newly filed motion.

The 21-page motion, filed Nov. 19, 2012, alleges that prosecutors did not disclose information from a witness named Sherry Greer, who reported seeing suspicious activity from within a vehicle when her boyfriend stopped to urinate at an overlook near the Parkway.

Greer told investigators that she saw two men, one holding a gun, standing over a third man in the wooded area where Gunnarsson’s body was found. Lead investigator Paula Townsend stated that neither of the two men seemed to match the description of Underwood, the motion states.

The motion also claims that parts of the investigation pointed toward other suspects.

Bruce Kaplan of Boone, one of the attorneys who originally represented Underwood, included a sworn statement that defense counsel never received the information.

“The undisclosed facts had a direct and material bearing on Mr. Underwood’s innocence,” the motion states. “It was unavailable at the time of trial because of the non-disclosure. It was also in the hands of the prosecution but not turned over to the defense. These facts also independently satisfy the requirements for a new trial on grounds of newly discovered evidence.”

Underwood’s attorney, Gordon Widenhouse Jr. of Chapel Hill, did not return phone and email messages by press time Tuesday.

On Dec. 18, 2012, Resident Superior Court Judge Phil Ginn granted an evidentiary hearing on the motion to be held sometime after March 1.

The state has until Feb. 15 to file an answer to the motion.

District Attorney Jerry Wilson downplayed the significance of the motion in an interview Friday.

“People in prison have nothing more to do than file motions of that nature,” Wilson said. “You get ‘em, and you get ‘em, and you get ‘em.”