Death Penalty Debate: New Study On Race & Jury Selection

Executions have been on hold in NC for the past five years and some new information may further complicate the issue. Central Prison in Raleigh is home to North Carolina’s 157 death row inmates. Some of them have been there since 1985. Twenty-eight of them, all convicted of first degree murder, are from Eastern Carolina. But with the death penalty on hold the debate rages about what exactly to do with these killers, and what it means for all involved.

Tom Bennett is the Executive Director for the NC Victim Assistance Network. He says, “Crime victims are getting yanked around emotionally and it’s despicable. It’s a terrible thing to do to people.” While Bennett advocates for crime victims and their families, others fight for those facing death. Tye Hunter is the Executive Director for the Center for Death Penalty Litigation. Hunter says, “Are we going to kill people based on, ya know they’re probably right?” Hunter’s center represents 40 people currently on death row.

“When people support the death penalty one of their assumptions is there’s no question about the person’s guilt, that any questions about the person’s guilt has been resolved in the accused’s favor and that lots of courts and judges have looked at this. But our system, it’s not that accurate.” Hunter says the cases of death row inmates having their convictions tossed out and set free are a clear example of a broken system. Some of those exonerations helped lead to the current death penalty moratorium. Since then, three more people have been set free, while others wait. So where ultimately is the debate over the death penalty headed? More litigation certainly could be filed, but Bennett suggests letting voters decide.

“I would love to see this state have a referendum on the death penalty and abide by whatever the public decides.” But Hunter says it’s not quite that simple. Several current legal challenges need to be resolved in the courts, such as how North Carolina executes those on death row, execution protocol, and whether lethal injection constitutes cruel and unusual punishment. And the argument over the role race plays is about to be ratcheted up. Hunter says, “We’re gonna show the court system some things and they are not going to like it. I don’t like it. It’s uncomfortable.”

Video available here: Death Penalty Debate: New Study On Race & Jury Selection.

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Star News: Marge Ciardella – The true cost of capital punishment

This editorial is an in depth look into the  many costs tax payers, defense attorneys and prosecutors face throughout often long and drawn out North Carolina capital cases.

In a 2009 study by Duke University Professor Phil Cook, the data presented shows that the state could save $11 million annually by repealing the death penalty. Prosecution and court costs are not included in this number. Arguably, that number would double had the prosecutor’s costs, including in-kind costs, been included.

Editorial available here: Marge Ciardella – The true cost of capital punishment.

The full cost of a capital case can be shown only if all costs incurred by both the defense and the prosecution including the prosecution’s in-kind costs, are included in the discussion. Then the public will know the total costs incurred by the prosecutor’s choice in seeking the death penalty, a choice that rarely results in a death sentence.

The Execution of Troy Davis: A Photo Exhibit in Charlotte

at the Amnesty International Southern Regional Conference, November 4, 5 and 6

Please join Amnesty International for their annual Southern Regional Conference.  This year we invite you to a special reflective memorial installation remembering Troy Davis on Friday evening (Nov 4) from 7pm to 9pm.  The event features a photography exhibit of photos taken outside the prison during Troy’s execution, by activist and photojournalist Scott Langley (former Amnesty death penalty coordinator for North Carolina).

Also, during the weekend conference:  De’Jaun Correia, Troy Davis’s nephew, will be speaking alongside Rais Bhuiyan, survivor of a post-911 hate crime who protested the Texas execution of the man who shot him.

Event location: 

Sheraton Charlotte Airport Hotel

Junior Ballroom

3315 Scott Futrell Drive

Charlotte, NC 28208

Conference information and schedule: http://www.amnestyusa.org/2011SRC   

The state of Georgia shamefully executed Troy Davis on September 21, 2011, despite serious doubts about his guilt.   The campaign to try to save Troy was a historic effort, led by Amnesty International and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).    Scott Langley, a human rights photojournalist and Amnesty’s State Death Penalty Abolition Coordinator (SDPAC) for New York (formally of North Carolina), was present in Georgia before Troy’s execution to document the events through photographs.  The photos have been printed and will be exhibited to tell the story of what transpired in those final days and in those final moments before Troy was executed – capturing the intensity and the emotion behind the dark reality of capital punishment in the United States.

An exhibit of these photographs will be shown this weekend, November 4, 5 and 6, at the Sheraton Charlotte Airport Hotel

This photo series is the latest installment in Scott Langley’s Death Penalty Photography Documentary Project (www.deathpenaltyphoto.org).  The project, started in 1999, explores capital punishment through the photographer’s lens.   The work-in-progress consists of thousands of images – making it the largest, most varied known collection of photos about the death penalty in the United States’ modern era.  The project highlights Scott Langley’s efforts as an independent photojournalist and a human rights activist – bringing together the unique combination of art, journalism and education into one powerful project.

Why Death Penalty Trials Last So Long

digtriad.com: Why Death Penalty Trials Last So Long

“Freedman said an average homicide trial could last a week, while a death penalty trial could last up to five weeks.

Freedman said the difference in time has everything to do with the possibility of a death sentence.

Background checks, psychological testing and several experts add to the cost of a death penalty trial. Freedman said when someone’s life is on the line, everyone goes out of their way to make sure no stone is left unturned.

This will also affect jury selection. Freedman said if a potential juror would automatically give a death penalty sentence, or the person is vehemently against the death penalty, attorneys will more than likely pull them from the jury selection. That adds time and cost to the trial.

If the defendant is found guilty, there will be a second phase for sentencing. Freedman said a death penalty trial is the only time a jury determines sentencing.

Freedman also said a homicide trial is expensive, but you can multiply that by five for a capital case. One reason is because the defendant will automatically receive two attorneys for his defense team. These trials could be upwards of $200,000 when it’s all over.”

Video available here:  Why Death Penalty Trials Last So Long.

Winston Salem Journal: Wood right in ruling on Racial Justice Act

“Judge William Z. Wood of Forsyth Superior Court has once again ruled
correctly in allowing a Racial Justice Act case to proceed…

…Carl Stephen Moseley and Errol Duke Moses, two Forsyth County death-row
inmates, filed motions under the act. Prosecutors had asked that the motions be
dismissed, arguing that the two failed to prove that racial bias occurred in
their cases. Moseley, who is white, is on death row for the murders of two white
women — Deborah Jane Henley in Forsyth County and Dorothy Woods Johnson in
Stokes County, whose bodies were found in 1991. Moses, who is black, was
sentenced to death for the murders of two black men — Ricky Griffin in 1995 and
Jacinto Dunkley in 1996.

Assistant District Attorney David Hall contended that state law and legal
precedent required defendants to present facts proving racial bias in their own
specific case, the Journal’s Michael Hewlett reported. But Moseley’s attorney,
Paul Green, argued that the Racial Justice Act doesn’t preclude defendants from
using statistical evidence. And he said the law doesn’t require that defendants
prove racial discrimination in their specific case. Defense attorneys say
statewide statistics can be used to show a pattern of racial discrimination…

…Wood ruled earlier this year that the Racial Justice Act is constitutional. He
was right in that ruling, just as he was right in his latest ruling.”

Full article available here: Wood right in ruling on Racial Justice Act.

Gallup: In U.S., Support for Death Penalty falls to 39-year low

“Sixty-one percent of Americans approve of using the death penalty for persons convicted of murder, down from 64% last year. This is the lowest level of support since 1972, the year the Supreme Court voided all existing state death penalty laws in Furman v. Georgia.

CLICK HERE for more charts and questions posed to Americans nationwide on the use of execution for justice.

News & Observer: Another danger in the death penalty

“Put a gun to a man’s head, and he’ll do or say pretty much anything he thinks  will save his life. It’s common sense.

Yet we allow our justice system to do this anytime it pleases. Can’t get your  suspect to confess to murder? Threaten him with lethal injection.

This is what happened to two innocent Asheville men, Kenneth Kagonyera and  Robert Wilcoxson. They confessed to a murder they had no part in because they  were told that a trial might end with the death penalty…”

Full article here: Another danger in the death penalty

The Republic: NC Supreme Court rules that state officials acted properly in setting new execution rules

The North Carolina Supreme Court has ruled that state officials acted properly when approving new capital punishment guidelines four years ago.

In a ruling published Friday, the court found that the Council of State did nothing wrong in 2007 when it signed off on a new protocol for lethal injection developed by the Department of Correction.

Lawyers for five death row inmates had argued the council, which consists of statewide elected officeholders, violated a law regulating the way state agencies approve policies.

David Weiss of the Center for Death Penalty Litigation says the court’s ruling is unlikely to mean that executions will immediately resume in North Carolina. Weiss says other court challenges to capital punishment are pending.

No one has been executed in North Carolina since 2006

Available here: NC Supreme Court rules that state officials acted properly in setting new exectution rules

Asheville Citizen Times: More important to get justice right than quick.

By WNCDPR Leader Jean Parks,

“I appreciate victims’ rights being brought into the ongoing discussion about the death penalty (“Victims’ rights,” AC-T letters, Sept. 29), however, I challenge the implication that murder victims’ families support the death penalty. Some victims’ families do, but many of us do not. My sister was murdered in Raleigh in 1975. I was relieved at the time that the death penalty was not considered for the defendant. I’m more relieved now because I learned recently the convicted man might be the wrong man. What I need as a victim is that the devastating harm to my sister and her family be recognized, that the right person(s) be identified, held accountable and prevented from killing again, and that the investigation be done and a resolution be reached in a timely way. But it is more important to get it right than to get it quickly. Even if the authorities got the right guy, I would find no peace in another life being ended. I believe in the sanctity of all human lives, even the worst of the worst. It is a true burden to me that many supporters of the death penalty claim execution is necessary for families to feel justice has been done.”

Available here: More important to get justice right than quick