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.


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.

WSOCTV.com: DA: Death penalty cases held up by Racial Justice Law

Here is another article where our mighty district attornies are complaining about laws they are chartered to follow being “quite the burden on my office and a drain on the resources.”

Sir or m’am, seeking the death penalty in the first place, places quite the burden on your office; as well as our state budget.

Seeking the death sentence as a punishment invovles embarking on a unique trial where the defendant is tried and if convicted, sentenced in an entirely separate costly trial.  Surely one more motion to consider, one of such importance as continuously demonstrated racial bias in our courts, will hardly be any more of a burden on an already cumbersome path to justice?  Besides, if you are to use the death penalty as a tool that is “solid and something prosecutors should have in their tool belt,” it must be sharp and in accordance with North Carolina law.

Article here:  DA: Death penalty cases held up by Racial Justice Law. 

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

North Carolina Lawmakers Nearly Repeal ‘Racial Justice Act’

North Carolina Lawmakers Nearly Repeal ‘Racial Justice Act’

Jessica Kim | June 17, 2011, 3:55PM

After heated debate, a sharply divided North Carolina House on Thursday voted along party lines to repeal the Racial Justice Act, a law that allows death row inmates to challenge their sentences on the basis that race had played a role in determining their punishment. However, the move fell short by a single vote in the Republican-dominated Senate.

North Carolina was in 2009 only the second state after Kentucky to have passed such a law. In a state where a black man is more than twice as likely to be sentenced to death if at least one of the victims is white, according to a Michigan State University study, some lawmakers consider the Racial Justice Act to be landmark legislation.

But Republican opponents say the law is unenforceable and needlessly ties up the court system. After they took a majority in the legislature last year, Republicans promised to repeal or amend the act, charging that it was a disingenuous attempt to phase out the death penalty in the state.

The controversial repeal bill brought about a House debate that was at turns academic and passionate, in which defenders of the act, most of them Democrats, urged others to “do justice” and to recall the historical legacy of racism in North Carolina.

Rep. Rick Glazier (D) pointed to anecdotal evidence of discrimination reported in the distant past such as jurors’ comments to “let’s kill the nigger” or “blacks value life less.”

“Many of us in this room know that being black is different,” he concluded. “Nothing in life is settled unless settled right. Race remains this nation’s open wound whose ragged edges long to heal, but cannot.”

In turn, Rep. Paul Stam (R) rose to speak with a rebuttal that alluded to the Bible and to ancient Roman law. After highlighting the Western tradition of individual punishment, he disputed the broader use of statistics to lessen an individual death sentence.

“Stop using race as a reason not to execute cold-blooded murderers,” said Stam. “Race is a red herring.”

The vast majority of North Carolina’s death row inmates, at least 150 out of 158, have already filed claims under the Racial Justice Act. Some of those, Republican lawmakers point out, are white men who committed crimes against other white men.

Despite the impassioned rhetoric surrounding it, the Racial Justice Act is just one part of the wider debate taking place over the death penalty in the state.

In the last several years, three North Carolina death row inmates have been released after ultimately being found innocent, and since 1973, there have been eight such cases in the state.

Legislators remain divided over the question of whether the death penalty is inherently flawed as a result of racial bias and whether the Racial Justice Act is an effective way to address that.

North Carolina has had a de facto moratorium on its death penalty since August 2006, when the N.C. Medical Board barred doctors from being “present” for lethal injections. Though the N.C. Supreme Court has struck down the rule, executions are still postponed through the appeals process.

The manner in which state Republicans quickly pushed a repeal bill to the legislature was called a “gimmick” by an editorial by the Fayettville Observer.

“As far as we know, though, no one anticipated the sheer cynicism and high-handedness of the law’s more ideological enemies. The way the opposition set the stage, there might be little debate, honest or otherwise, because their purpose is to neuter the law by gimmick.”

Having failed in the Senate, the legislature won’t revisit a repeal measure before next year.

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.


Winston Salem Journal: NC NAACP Statement on HB615

“The extreme right wing that has apparently seized control of the North Carolina Republican Party chose April 4th, a day that lives in infamy in the hearts and minds of all justice-minded Americans, to introduce a law against Racial Justice,” said Rev. Dr. William J. Barber, President of the N.C. NAACP.  “On the 43rd anniversary of Dr. King’s murder, which many historians believe not only killed a prophet but set back the cause of racial and economic justice in America, Tea Party forces attacked the nationally-recognized North Carolina Racial Justice Act. Dr. King, his widow, the late Coretta Scott King, and the millions of participants in the movement he led, would have all supported the Racial Justice Act.  This extreme right wing race-baiting attack is misguided, mean, and malicious especially when we know the death penalty is too often applied in a way that is a modern day form of racism and classism.”

Much more at the link: NC NAACP State on HB615

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.




CONTACT: Alex Holsten (910) 471-0822

Asheville — Alex Holsten’s parents paid hundreds of dollars to give him a basketball signed by Shaquille O’Neal and Dwayne Wade, but Holsten could not be dissuaded by NC death row exoneree Glen Edward Chapman — the UNC-A student insisted on donating the basketball to the Freedom Ball, a fundraiser for Chapman, which takes place this Thursday, March 31, at the Grey Eagle Music Hall from 7 till midnight, featuring a fabulous musical lineup: David LaMotte; Skinny Legs & All, The Krektones and Kinjah, as well as a silent auction where the basketball and other donated items will go to the highest bidder.

Holsten and Chapman became friends after the college senior started donating his time to death penalty repeal and reform efforts. Holsten was inspired to write his senior thesis on the historic NC Racial Justice Act, which serves to eliminate racial bias from the state’s capital punishment system.

Chapman celebrates his third year of freedom this year. He was released on April 2, 2008, after spending more than thirteen years on North Carolina’s death row for crimes he did not commit. Hickory police detectives hid evidence of Chapman’s innocence. Chapman’s lawyers did not bother to investigate multiple reports by people who saw the other victim the day after the prosecution claimed she was murdered by Edward, The fact that that “victim” was not murdered after all provided another ground for reversing Chapman’s conviction.

It was only when local attorney Frank Goldsmith and mitigation specialist Dr. Pam Laughon, chair of the Psychology Department at UNC-Asheville, started working on Edward’s case more than a decade later, that the truth began to be revealed. Even then, it took years to achieve justice and secure Chapman’s freedom. His son had grown up and his own mother as well as his son’s mother had died while Chapman was wrongly imprisoned.

All proceeds ($10 student; $15 general and $25 patron tickets are available online at http://braveulysses.com/tickets or at the door) go to Edward Chapman.

Contact: Alex Cury
(828) 253-5088