Elwood, Ne. — A former Smithfield man who received a sentence of life in prison for the murder of his mother was in Gosper County District Court Wednesday for a nearly day-long hearing aimed at bringing out factors to be considered for his upcoming resentencing. Darren McCracken was 13 when got a gun and shot his mother in the head as she lay on the couch. He was sentenced in 1994 and has been incarcerated for 24 years. McCracken is asking for post-conviction relief based on a 2012 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Miller v. Alabama which essentially declared unconstitutional automatic life terms on juveniles, even those convicted of murder, saying it violates the U.S. Constitution’s prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment.
Lawyers with the Equal Justice Initiative, based in Montgomery, Alabama, want their client’s prison term commuted to a period of years, so he can be released and have a second chance at life. Wednesday morning was spent hearing the testimony of Dr. Frank DiCataldo, a forensic psychologist from Massachusetts. Dr. DiCataldo testified to questions about a comprehensive report he prepared based on psychological testing and analysis of Darren McCracken’s mental state and court records.
Dr. DiCataldo says Darren was a troubled child who suffered abuse and neglect in a dysfunctional family. His mother, Vicky Bray, suffered from a history of trauma and abuse, depression and alcohol abuse and his father, Terry McCracken, a truck driver, was absent quite a bit and when he was around, abused Darren’s mother. Dr. DiCataldo says Darren’s larger and stronger brother David, who was three years older, bullied and fought with Darren almost daily. Dr. DiCataldo says when Darren was 5, he was sexually assaulted by his older brother and there was evidence that Darren and David were sexually abused by two older girls, one of them a relative.
Dr. DiCataldo says Darren McCracken has mild to moderate depression but he’s working to manage it with medication and the coping skills he’s learned as he’s matured. DiCataldo also testified that Darren does not currently have serious mental health problems. Dr. DiCataldo also testified that McCracken has a low risk of recidivism.
Corey O’Brien, head of the criminal division of the Nebraska Attorney General’s Office, acknowledged that McCracken is doing a better job of managing his problems with depression and low self- esteem but questioned witnesses on whether he will do equally as well outside prison walls when confronted with life’s trials and tribulations. O’Brien also raised the issue of whether McCracken has control over violent, sadistic fantasies that he reported in the early to mid 1990’s.
The defense also called a senior social worker from the Equal Justice Initiative who discussed a post-release program for McCracken to acqaint him with skills that would help him reintegrate into society. Also called was a licensed mental health practitioner who has supported Darren McCracken since before he was convicted and sent to prison and who tried to work with him in 1990 because of constant fighting with his brother and again in 1992 after Darren ran away. The defense also called Vicky Bray’s sister, Patty Tate, who said the family has forgiven Darren for the killing of his mother and supports his release from prison.
District Judge Jim Doyle says the sentencing hearing, originally set for Dec. 6, will be continued to a later date. In the meantime, he wants attorneys for the prosecution and defense to write letters recommending their preference of who should conduct a sex offender evaluation of the defendant. The judge also wants input on somewhat conflicting mental health evaluations of the defendant.
Following the hearing, Darren McCracken was transported back to the Tecumseh State Correctional Institution to await his resentencing at a future date.