Racial Justice Act ‘fix’ would in essence end it

Racial Justice Act ‘fix’ would in essence end it

North Carolina’s prosecutors apparently don’t want to defend their death-penalty decisions against claims of racial prejudice. Simple justice demands otherwise. The General Assembly should leave the state’s Racial Justice Act alone.

The 2009 law allows the use of statistics to demonstrate that racial bias played a significant role in either sentencing or in prosecutors’ decision to seek the death penalty. If a claim is successful, the inmate’s sentence is reduced to life without parole.

A Michigan State University study showed that a North Carolina defendant is 2.6 times more likely to be sentenced to death if at least one of the victims is white, and that of 159 people on death row at the time of the study, 31 had all-white juries and 38 had only one person of color on the jury.

Not surprisingly, almost every African-American on death row is seeking a review. Prosecutors claim, in a letter to the state Senate seeking repeal of the law, that this will clog the court system.

“If you do not address this issue quickly, the criminal justice system will be saddled with litigation that will crush an already under-funded and overburdened system,” wrote Johnston County District Attorney Susan Doyle, president of the North Carolina Conference of District Attorneys.

The biggest problem yet visible has been caused by the prosecutors themselves. In Cumberland County they tried to stall proceedings by asking that a judge be disqualified because he might be a witness. The judge had nothing to do with the original case. He is, however, an African-American.

House Republicans have tried to undermine the law by changing a Senate-passed bill dealing with synthetic marijuana to instead require that defendants challenging actions under the Racial Justice Act prove discriminatory intent. This would be a virtually insurmountable barrier.

The purpose of the parliamentary maneuver is to get around the rules that only bills already passed in both houses can be considered during the special session at month’s end. “The House is attempting a procedural maneuver to eliminate public debate,” said Sen. Floyd McKissick, D-Durham, an architect of the act.

“There is agreement that occasionally race plays a role in sentencing,” House Minority Leader Joe Hackney, D-Chapel Hill, said during a visit to the Citizen-Times editorial board. “(The Racial Justice Act) is an appropriate exercise of caution.”

The Racial Justice Act cannot set anyone free, despite claims made in an incendiary mailer delivered to voters late in the 2010 campaign against then-Sen. John Snow, D-Murphy. Most Death Row inmates were convicted since North Carolina eliminated parole for capital murder in 1994, and even those convicted before 1994 would have to go through a parole hearing before release.

The Senate already has twice refused to vote on the bill, each time sending it to the Judiciary Committee. Senate Majority Leader Phil Berger, R-Eden, doesn’t know if it will come up this month, but “It’s certainly on the radar screen.”

It should stay in committee. North Carolina must not backslide in this important move toward racial justice.


Death penalty debate heats up

Asheville and Georgia cases ignite death penalty debate:
One execution, two exonerations raise questions of justice

ASHEVILLE — Fifteen hours stood between the execution of Troy Davis amid questions over his true guilt and the sunny afternoon two Asheville men exonerated in another murder case walked free.

But the cases stand out for reasons other than just timing. Though each held significant differences from the other, they both have reignited debate over the death penalty and imperfections within our justice system.

Davis, convicted of killing an off-duty police officer in Georgia in 1989, was given a trial.

Kenneth Kagonyera and Robert Wilcoxson pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in a 2000 slaying under threats from investigators and prosecutors and even their own attorneys and family, who wanted to spare them life in prison or the possibility of a death sentence.

Davis gained national attention, with even the pope questioning his guilt.

The case of Kagonyera and Wilcoxson generated passing interest before they were freed Thursday.

But where Davis had to work within the court system, Kagonyera and Wilcoxson had the N.C. Innocence Inquiry Commission.

Its success with their case will give new momentum to calls for similar justice system checks in other states.

For the full story, see http://www.citizen-times.com/article/20110925/NEWS/309250062/Death-penalty-debate-heats-up?odyssey=mod|newswell|text|News|p

Capital Punishment: Its Morality, Politics, Economics, and Effectiveness

Ed Chapman

The Episcopal Peace Fellowship is presenting a panel
presentation and discussion about the death penalty in the library at
All Souls Cathedral (Biltmore Village) on Saturday, September 17 from
10:00 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. Panel members will be Dick Taylor (CEO of
North Carolina Advocates for Justice), Jean Parks (Western Carolinians
for Death Penalty Repeal) and Ed Chapman (a death row exoneree).  Join
us and bring your friends for an open discussion on the subject. There
is no admission but there will be a free will offering to provide an
honorarium for Mr. Chapman.  For more information, contact Jean Parks
at jparks@grandcreative.com or 828-329-8306.

FayObserver.com: Tuesday hearing in Fayetteville case is first under Racial Justice Act

“Marcus Reymond Robinson killed a teen in a robbery in 1991 and was sentenced to death in 1994.

Still on death row 17 years after his conviction, Robinson is scheduled today to be the first condemned inmate in North Carolina to present statistical evidence of racism per the new Racial Justice Act to convert his sentence to life without parole.

Marcus Robinson

“It’s an historical hearing,” said Ken Rose, senior staff attorney at the N.C. Center for Death Penalty Litigation. “This hearing will be about the prosecutors in Cumberland County, the prosecutors in the judicial division that Cumberland County is a part , and the prosecutors across the state. And it will be about their use of strikes in a disproportionate way to exclude African-American jurors from service.”

Read the full article here: Tuesday hearing in Fayetteville case is first under Racial Justice Act

WRAL.com: After five years, NC’s death penalty still in limbo

Video at the link: After five years, NC’s death penalty still in limbo.

Five years ago yesterday, Samuel Flippen was executed by the state of North Carolina. He was sentenced to death in March of 1995 for the murder of his two-year old stepdaughter, Britnie Nichol Hutton.

The state hasn’t executed any one since Flippen. For the past five years, there’s been a de facto moratorium on the death penalty in NC. It’s the longest gap between executions since they were banned between 1962 and 1983.

Meantime, 158 people are sitting on death row — left in legal limbo because of ongoing disputes over how North Carolina executes prisoners who’ve been sentenced to die for their crimes…

Rest of the article at the link.

PRNewswire: N.C. Resident Questions State’s Use of Death Penalty in Federal Court

N.C. resident Donna Pilch filed a lawsuit in federal court which questions whether it is constitutional for North Carolina to use the death penalty when it is allegedly using questionable science and methods to convict people. The lawsuit names Attorney General Roy Cooper as the defendant, because he is responsible for the State Bureau of Investigation, which, according to an audit done by a former FBI agent, has been using questionable science in its serology (blood) and ballistics units.

Article available here: N.C. Resident Questions State’s Use of Death Penalty in Federal Court

Struck by lightning: the vagaries of American execution

It couldn’t have taken more than a two-minute visit to the web site of The Innocence Project to persuade most rational adults that the death penalty is not only cruel and unusual, but a costly and ineffective way to deter murder.

That’s the gist of a new report from the Death Penalty Information Center (DPIC). It’s entitled “Struck by Lightning: The Continuing Arbitrariness of the Death Penalty Thirty-Five Years After Its Re-instatement in 1976.” Richard Dieter, DPIC’s executive director, is the report’s author.

To read the rest of a very compelling case concerning the randomness and failure of death sentencing and execution, click here.

Hopes Perdue will veto attempt to repeal Racial Justice Act

Hopes Perdue will veto attempt to repeal Racial Justice Act

Written by

Jean Parks, Fletcher

11:13 AM, Jun. 14, 2011|

In 2009, I worked hard to help get the Racial Justice Act passed. That was before I learned that the man serving time for my sister’s murder might have been wrongfully convicted by a Wake County jury. If he is in fact innocent, I believe unconscious racial bias may have played a role in his conviction.

So I am now an even more ardent supporter of the RJA. I know the law only applies to death penalty cases currently, and this inmate was not sentenced to death, but we have to start somewhere to eliminate the conscious and unconscious bias in our legal system that is our heritage as Americans.

Recent studies clearly demonstrate that racial bias is present in NC’s practice of capital punishment. Our legislators have a civil and moral duty to correct that injustice by preserving the RJA in its current form. If they fail that duty, I hope and pray Governor Perdue will veto their attempt to repeal the RJA.


The Truth About HB 615, Falsely Named “An Act to Reform the Racial Justice Act”

Our general assembly is attempting to ignore racial disparities in our system of law.  KNOW THE FACTS:

  • HB 615 does NOT amend the NC Racial Justice Act, it renders it meaningless.  HB615 is, in fact, a repeal of the Racial Justice Act.
  • Active litigation of Racial Justice Act claims has been conducted in an efficient and cost-effective manner in front of a single Forsyth County Superior Court judge.
  • The Forsyth County judge recently ruled that the Racial Justice Act is constitutional.
  • The Forsyth County judge made clear in his ruling that both statistics and individual case facts can be considered in each case.
  • The RJA is consistent with McCleskey v. Kemp and the Forsyth County judge said that it is consistent. The US Supreme Court held in McCleskey that this is a matter for state legislatures.
  • No one will be released under the Racial Justice Act.  The law requires those who prove discrimination to serve the rest of their lives in prison without possibility of parole.
  • Because inmates rightfully and legally filed motions under a constitutional law, passage of the proposed amendment would end up costing the state more money in legal actions than it would to continue the Racial Justice Act litigation as it is currently proceeding.
  • Major research studies recently found significant racial bias in jury selection and with regards to race of victim in North Carolina. (Michigan State University School of Law, University of Colorado at Boulder) A repeal of the Racial Justice Act would mean that North Carolina chose to ignore demonstrated racial discrimination in our criminal justice system.
  • For those who are currently on death row, 33 cases had all-white juries and 40 had juries with a single person of color.
  • The Racial Justice Act was enacted with support by a majority of North Carolinians: 58% of polled registered voters said defendants should not be executed if a judge finds that racial bias played a role in their trials. (Public Policy Polling, November 2010)
  • We have a history of racism in North Carolina that necessitates the U.S. Department of Justice pre-clear our legislative district maps.

NC high court to hear case on death penalty process

Raleigh, NC — An administrative law judge was right to order North Carolina’s statewide elected officials to revise the protocol for the execution of prisoners on death row, according to lawyers who are preparing to make that case to the state Supreme Court on Monday.

The state’s top court is scheduled to hear oral arguments in a case involving five death row inmates that has partly contributed to an unofficial moratorium on capital punishment in North Carolina. A ruling in those inmates’ favor wouldn’t overturn the death penalty or immediately force revised protocols for carrying it out, but would send the case to a lower court for review.

The case essentially centers on whether Administrative Law Judge Fred Morrison had sufficient jurisdiction to order the Council of State, which consists of North Carolina’s 10 statewide elected officials, to revise the protocol governing the death penalty.

Read more here.