CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Joseph Green Brown refused to run from his troubled past. He'd tell audiences he was only hours from being executed on Florida's death row. He'd talk about how an appeals court overturned his rape and murder convictions in 1986 and how he walked out of prison a free man – with a goal of ending the death penalty.

Now Brown is back in jail, this time facing first-degree murder charges in the death of the woman he married 20 years ago, Mamie Caldwell Brown of Charlotte.

"This is just horrible," said Sherry Williams, Mamie Brown's aunt. "From what we could tell, he was sweet and caring. And now this? We are all in shock. How could this happen?"

Brown was in a Mecklenburg County courtroom Monday for a preliminary hearing. The judge ordered the 62-year-old Brown held without bond until a Sept. 26 hearing. A daughter of the victim shouted, "Oh, my God!"

Mamie Brown, 71, was found dead in her apartment last Thursday after police were asked to check on her. Joseph Brown was arrested late Friday at a hotel in Charleston, S.C.

Joseph Brown was convicted and sentenced to death for a 1973 rape and murder in Hillsborough County, Fla. His conviction was reversed in 1986 because of false testimony from a co-defendant.

During a brief hearing in Charlotte, Brown was escorted into a courtroom in handcuffs. Wearing an orange prison jump suit, he glimpsed at his wife's family in the courtroom, but quickly turned away.

Outside, Mamie Brown's family said Brown never hid that he was on death row. In fact, they said, he embraced it.

"He went around talking to groups about it," Williams said. "He even talked to my church about it. He told people what they had to do to stay out of trouble. He was a good motivational speaker. That's how he made a living."

It's unclear whether Brown had an attorney Monday afternoon.

Charlotte-Mecklenburg police are still investigating Thursday's slaying. District Attorney Bill Stetzer said prosecutors would present the case soon to a grand jury.

Brown's 1974 conviction and death sentence by a Florida jury was for raping and murdering Earlene Treva Barksdale, the owner of a clothing store. He was scheduled for execution Oct. 17, 1983, but a federal judge ordered a stay 15 hours before he was to be put to death. The U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals overturned the conviction in early 1986, saying the prosecution knowingly allowed false testimony from a leading witness.

The prosecution decided against retrying Brown and he was released from prison on March 5, 1987.

After his release, Brown took the name Shabaka and frequently spoke out against the injustice and finality of the death penalty, including to a U.S. House Judiciary subcommittee in 1993.

Richard Blumenthal, now a U.S. senator from Connecticut, represented Brown on appeal as a volunteer attorney for the NAACP Legal Defense Fund. He was in private practice at the time.

Blumenthal said in 1987 that the Brown case changed his view of the death penalty "because it provided such a dramatic illustration of how the system could be fallible and cause the death of an innocent person."

Blumenthal declined to comment Sunday on his involvement in the case, and did not respond to requests for comment Monday.

After prison, Brown went to the Washington D.C. area where he met his future wife. They got married about 20 years ago and moved to Charlotte about five years ago, family members said.

"We thought they were happy," said Marcus Williams, who is Mamie Brown's cousin.

He said the family didn't worry about Brown's past.

"He didn't seem like a threat. He was upfront about everything. He was always smiling and trying to help people. He was a motivational speaker. He liked to warn people what could happen in the legal system," he said.

Joyce Robbins, another relative, said she stared at Brown in court.

"He had a blank look. I don't know that person. I've never seen him before," she said.

J. Michael Shea, a Tampa attorney who defended Brown on the Florida murder charge, said over the years, they appeared together on television shows and spoke at law schools. He said he talked to Brown by telephone at least each Christmas, and last saw Brown about a decade ago when both appeared on the Jenny Jones syndicated TV talk show to discuss the case.

He said Brown cared about his wife.

"I can recall that he cared a lot about this woman. I mean, he always talked very favorably about her. And usually when I talked to him (on the phone) she was there. I could either hear her say, `Oh, hello Michael,' in the background or she actually got on the phone or whatever. So it was a real shock that this has happened."

He said Brown was an effective speaker.

"Joe was a good example of why we shouldn't have it," Shea said. "It's a real sad thing that this happened because he was a real champion for the anti-death penalty group."

Also on HuffPost:

Loading Slideshow...
  • Marcus Crosby

    The Will County, Ill. Sheriff's Department said Crosby killed his wife and himself hours after auditioning for the show 'Family Feud'

  • Na Cola Franklin

    FILE - This undated file photo provided by the Whitehall Township Bureau of Police, Whitehall, Pa. shows Na Cola Franklin. Jurors found Na Cola Franklin, 32, guilty after deliberating about three hours in Lehigh County Court. She could get life in prison when she is sentenced July 16. Her attorney said an appeal is likely. (AP Photo/Whitehall Township Bureau of Police, File)

  • Pvt. Isaac Aguigui

    In this Aug. 30, 2012 file photo, Pvt. Isaac Aguigui walks into the courtroom during a preliminary hearing at Long County Superior Court in Ludowici, Ga. Army prosecutors plan to reveal why a Georgia-based soldier accused of leading an anti-government militia group has also been charged with killing his pregnant wife two years ago. A legal hearing at Fort Stewart for 21-year-old Pvt. Isaac Aguigui is scheduled to begin Monday, July 1, 2013. (AP Photo/Stephen Morton, File)

  • Gravedigger buries wife

    Police in Virginia allege that Ashley Rodriguez, the wife of Adan Quiroz Rodriguez and mother of four children with him, was shot fatally by her husband. Her body was found in the cemetery her husband worked as a gravedigger in Virginia. He was arrested near Charlotte, N.C.

  • Jesus Maqueira

    Maqueira was arrested in February, 2012 for allegedly murdering his wife. Cops said he <a href="http://usnews.nbcnews.com/_news/2013/02/12/16936647-florida-man-confesses-to-killing-wife-wont-reveal-where-body-is-police-say?lite" target="_hplink">admitted to killing Raquel Maria Calderin,</a> but wouldn't tell them where her body was, according to NBC Miami.

  • Kelly and Kristi Suckla

    Police in Grapevine, Texas say that Kelly Suckla, 43, killed his estranged wife and then himself during an argument at their daughter's 16th birthday party on Jan. 19, 2013.

  • Shrien and Anni Dewani

    FILE - Undated file handout photo issued by the Bristol Evening Post of Shrien Dewani and Anni Dewani. The British man is accused of hiring a hit man to kill his wife during the couple's honeymoon in Cape Town, South Africa in 2010. His wife's body was found with gunshot wounds in a taxi.

  • Thomas Mortimer IV

    Mortimer was sentenced to life in prison for killing his wife Laura Stone Mortime, their two children Charlotte and Thomas V, and his mother-in-law Ellen Stone. Police contended that marital discord preceded the grisly killings. HIs sister-in-law discovered the bodies in the family's home north of Boston in 2010.

  • Ice Cream Parlor Murderess

    Goidsargi Estibaliz Carranza Zabala pleaded guilty to killing her ex-husband, then chopping up his body with a chainsaw and hiding the parts inside cement blocks in the cellar of her ice cream parlor. Two years later, she did the same thing to her new boyfriend. <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/11/20/estibaliz-carranza-murder-husband-ice-cream-parlor_n_2165849.html" target="_hplink">Read the whole story here. </a>

  • Calvin L. Harris

    FILE - In this July 15, 2009 file photo, Calvin Harris walks to Tioga County Court in Owego, N.Y. Harris, a prominent auto dealer imprisoned for the murder of his estranged wife, will have his case heard by New York. Michele Harris' body was never found and she has not been seen since Sept. 11 or 12, 2001. Blood was found in the Harrises kitchen, but investigators never located a murder weapon.

  • Christopher Smeltzer

    FILE - In this Nov. 10, 2010 file photo, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/12/03/christopher-smeltzer-sentence_n_1126844.html" target="_hplink">Christopher Smeltzer</a> arrives for arraignment in District Court in Candia, N.H. on a charge he beat his wife to death. In October 2011, Smeltzer pleaded guilty to killing her. He faces 15 to 30 years in prison when sentenced Friday, Dec. 2, 2011 in Rockingham Superior Court in Brentwood, N.H. (AP Photo/Jim Cole, File)

  • Fredericka Rosa

    Fredericka Rosa, who suffers from dementia, allegedly murdered her husband and then continued to prepare him meals for 2 days. Her children claim that her husband "drove her insane" and that she had snapped after years of abuse.

  • Arnoldo Jimenez

    FILE - This undated photo provided by the Burbank, Ill., Police Department shows<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/05/16/estrella-carrera-death-arnoldo-jimenez_n_1520615.html" target="_hplink"> Arnoldo Jimenez</a>. The FBI announced Thursday, May 24, 2012, a $10,000 reward for information leading to the arrest Jiminez, who is accused of killing his new bride shortly after their May 11 wedding in Chicago. Authorities say they are concentrating their search for Jimenez in Mexico in the state of Durango. (AP Photo/Burbank Police Department, File)

  • Bobby Nichols

    This photo provided by Smith County Jail shows <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/huff-wires/20120706/us-slain-wife-texas/" target="_hplink">Bobby Nichols</a>. Nichols spoke with The Associated Press in a telephone interview from his home in Tyler three days after he posted a $750,000 bond and was released from jail. He is charged with murder in the June 29 death of 71-year-old Rosiland Nichols, to whom he had been married for 26 years. Tyler police arrested Nichols after receiving a 911 call from a man who identified himself as Dr. Bobby Nichols and requested an ambulance and the sheriff, saying he had just shot his wife.(AP Photo/The Tyler Morning Telegraph, Herb Nygren Jr)

  • Bruce Beresford Redman

    FILE - In this May 26, 2010 file photo, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/02/09/bruce-beresford-redman-murder_n_1264609.html" target="_hplink">Bruce Beresford-Redman, the former "Survivor" producer</a>, pauses for a photo at his home in Rancho Palos Verdes, Calif. A spokesman for the ex-"Survivor" producer said Wednesday, Feb. 8, 2012, that Beresford-Redman is being returned to Cancun, where he is charged with aggravated homicide for his wife Monica's April 2010 death. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes, File)

  • James Herring

    This undated photo provided by the Fort Smith, Ark., Police Department shows <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/05/16/celestia-duffin-pregnant-james-herring-stabbed-murder-arkansas_n_1521620.html" target="_hplink">James Herring</a>, who was arrested on a murder charge Tuesday, May 15, 2012 after his pregnant wife, who had been stabbed in the chest, staggered into the Fort Smith police station and collapsed. Police say officers rushed 32-year-old Celestia Duffin to Fort Smith hospital, where doctors delivered her baby prematurely, but both mother and infant died. (AP Photo/Fort Smith Police Department)

  • Eric Gilford

    <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/10/05/eric-gilford-sentenced-to_n_996303.html" target="_hplink">Eric Gilford</a>, 32, who pleaded guilty to the murders in June 2011, was sentenced to 50 years for the first-degree murder of his wife Kristine Gilford, and another 50 years for intentional homicide of their unborn son, to be served consecutively, the <em>Chicago Sun-Times</em> reports. Kristine was 20 weeks pregnant at the time of her death