Death row prisoner Marcus Robinson clearly demonstrated that racial bias had influenced his death sentence

From: NCADP
National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty (NCADP)

Dear Fellow Abolitionists,

This morning in North Carolina’s first test case of its Racial Justice Act, Judge Gregory Weeks ruled that death row prisoner Marcus Robinson clearly demonstrated that racial bias had influenced his death sentence. This is a truly historic moment.

Today’s decision marks a new day for justice in North Carolina, where the legal system acknowledges the unsavory role that race plays in the decision to seek the death penalty, against whom, and for what crimes. It respects the rights of persons of all races to serve on juries.

The decision is a significant step in the right direction. And, it will save many lives. With this ruling, North Carolina continues its leading role as a state willing to honestly and fairly examine the affect of race in its criminal justice system.

Read more in initial news stories here, and there is this analysis on the Huffington Post. You can watch video from the ruling here. Download the ruling and read it for yourself, here.

This decision is rather timely, especially in light of Sunday’s 25th anniversary of the McCleskey decision, and just days after the release of a new study from Duke University demonstrating the greater likelihood of all-white juries to convict defendants of color.

In McCleskey, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to provide relief from a demonstrated pattern of racial bias in death sentencing. Instead the Court said that it was up to the legislature to address the concern as a matter of public policy. In enacting the Racial Justice Act, the North Carolina General Assembly and Governor Perdue have done that, making it clear that the state of North Carolina rejects the influence of race discrimination in the administration of the death penalty.

Today’s decision is a testament to the fact that we must not allow capital punishment to force us to abandon our basic commitment to fairness. With Sunday’s anniversary of McCleskey, the juxtaposition of all of this is sweet.

The National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty congratulates the broad coalition of North Carolinians who have worked so hard for this day, including the Legislative Black Caucus, the extraordinary legal team, grassroots organizers and leaders from a variety of organizations, clergy and communities of faith, and others. It has been an incredible and inspiring effort. Today you have struck a major blow for justice. Thank you!

Five North Carolina Death Row Inmates File Petitions Under North Carolina’s Historic Racial Justice Act

08/04/2010
Updated: 17 Dec 2012, on the ACLU site: http://www.aclu.org/capital-punishment/petitions-filed-under-north-carolinas-racial-justice-act

On August 3, 2010, five North Carolina death row inmates filed claims under their state’s landmark legislation, the Racial Justice Act. The law, which passed in August 2009, requires that courts enter a life sentence for any death row defendant who proves that race was a factor in the imposition of his or her death sentence.

North Carolina’s handling of the cases will be watched closely around the country, as it is the first state to undertake a comprehensive effort to sever the historical ties between race and the death penalty. The law allows capital defendants, for the first time, to use statistical evidence to show bias in the death penalty.

Examples of Racial Bias

The cases of the five inmates are based on specific incidents of racial bias as well as statistical evidence from three new comprehensive studies of the death penalty in North Carolina.

One of the inmates, Kenneth Rouse, was sentenced to death by all white jury, which included a juror who later admitted that racial bigotry was an important factor in jury deliberation, and who said that “blacks do not care about living as much as whites do.”

In another case, death row inmate Guy LeGrande was also sentenced to death by an all-white jury after the prosecutor in his case dismissed all of the qualified African-American citizens from the jury. A witness described Mr. LeGrande at his trial as a “N—– from Wadesboro.”

Petition of Kenneth Rouse

Petition of Guy LeGrande

Statistical Studies
The claims of racial bias in these cases are supported by new, comprehensive studies of the death penalty in North Carolina by researchers from Michigan State University (MSU). These studies show:

Racial Bias in Jury Selection

The MSU study of jury selection found significant evidence that North Carolina prosecutors select juries in a racially biased manner. Prosecutors used peremptory strikes to remove qualified African-American jurors at more than twice the rate that they excluded white jurors. Of the 159 inmates now on death row in North Carolina, 31 were sentenced by all-white juries, and another 38 had only one minority on their sentencing juries.

Racial Bias in Prosecutorial Charging Decisions and Jury Sentencing

The MSU study of capital charging and sentencing found that those who kill whites are more likely to get the death penalty than those who kill blacks. The MSU study found that a defendant is 2.6 times more likely to get the death penalty if the victim is white.

Link to Article Herehttp://www.aclu.org/capital-punishment/petitions-filed-under-north-carolinas-racial-justice-act

North Carolina v. White – Advocates for the Wrongfully Convicted Amicus Brief in Support of Defendant Melvin White’s Racial Justice Act Motion

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Information on jails in North Carolina: http://www.jailnation.com/nc/

North Carolina, Mental illness and the Death Penalty

————-From the Equal Justice Initiative Newsletter————
5.26.10

Greetings,

North Carolina’s slogan is ‘first in flight’ but will it one day take on the title of ‘first in fairness’? 

Last year the state passed the groundbreaking Racial Justice Act, designed to counteract the unfair influence of racism in death penalty cases. Now it is considering a bill that would exempt people with mental illness from the death penalty.
Bill and David in North Carolina
Mental illness can prevent defendants from understanding their charges, participating in their own defense and ultimately getting a fair trial. With limited help and services available, mental illness can become a nightmare for families and a threat to public safety. No one knows that better than David Kaczynski and Bill Babbit. Find out why in this issue of the EJEdition…

Asheville marks Amnesty International’s Death Penalty Awareness Week

Source: Journey of Hope: From Violence to Healing

Healing and Hope: This quilt, created by the families of murder victims and death-row inmates in WNC, stitches together the stories of individuals and families forever affected by acts of violence. The quilt, and other works by local artists, will be on display at the commemorative Execute Art Not People event. Image courtesy of Alexandra Cury of North Carolina Coalition for a Moratorium

Asheville marks Amnesty International’s Death Penalty Awareness Week:
Monday March 1st, The event will be held from 7 to 9 p.m. at First Congregational United Church of Christ, located at 20 Oak St. It’s free and open to the public. Info: 828 252-8729.

Execute Art Not People is an evening of poetry readings, presentations, performances, music and interactive art that will commemorate Amnesty International’s Death Penalty Awareness Week. The gathering, slated for Monday, March 1, at the First Congregational United Church of Christ in Asheville, has been organized to creatively oppose capital punishment while focusing community dialogue on this controversial issue.

The death penalty has been abolished in 15 states in the U.S., but capital punishment remains legal in the vast majority of states. In North Carolina, the Department of Corrections lists 159 offenders on death row, nine of whom hail from Buncombe County.

Amnesty International decries any form of punishment by execution, describing it as “the ultimate, irreversible denial of human rights.” Here in Asheville, Execute Art Not People is a meeting ground for individuals who believe similarly.

“From my experience working in the prison system, I am convinced that dealing with violence and murder through the death penalty keeps us from addressing the problem for both the victim and perpetrator,” says Rev. Mark Siler, who works as a chaplain at a state prison in Marion coordinating Christian services for prisoners. “I think my 8-year-old daughter said it best when she asked, ‘Why do we kill people for killing people?’ The core ethical problem is that the death penalty perpetuates [the notion] that violence can be redemptive.” At Execute Art Not People, Siler will discuss the role that music plays in the lives of the prisoners he works with and will close the event with a song.

Former N.C. death-row inmate Edward Chapman, whose charges were dismissed after he spent 14 years on death row in Central Prison in Raleigh, will also give a short address. Local landscape painter John Mac Kah will contribute a painting titled “Cold Mountain,” which he describes as both “an iconic image and a metaphor for the [often] cold and relentlessness of humans.”

Additional works by local artists Anna Jensen and Linda Richards, plus works by death-row inmate Wiley Dobbs of Georgia, will be on display alongside the “Quilt of Healing and Hope.” Assembled by the families of murder victims and N.C. death-row inmates, each patch of the quilt represents an individual or family reflecting on an act of violence that transformed their lives.

Local poet and featured guest speaker DeWayne Barton says, “it is always good to talk about the complete society, and about the people that are forgotten about because they made mistakes.” Execute Art Not People “reminds us about the people that are neglected by society” and the disparity between in sentencing between Caucasians versus people of color, he adds.

In addition, mediator and author of the book Grace Goes to Prison (Brethren Press, 2009) Melanie G. Snyder will discuss “restorative justice in a tough-on-crime world” and her work at the Pennsylvania state prison developing programs to promote accountability and nonviolence among inmates. Also, Asheville City Council member Cecil Bothwell will give a brief address.

This write-up is by Aiyanna Sezak-Blatt in Vol. 16 / Iss. 31 on 02/24/2010 of Asheville News Briefs: Xpress magazine