In honor of World Day Against the Death Penalty on October 10, NCCADP released a letter signed by nearly 1,500 people of faith in NC, all of whom stand with our movement to ensure that no more executions are carried out in our state. They stand beside nearly 350 faith leaders who support commutations.
On August 19, our coalition once again came together to create a future without executions. About 200 people gathered at Pullen Memorial Baptist Church in Raleigh to remember the 43 people executed under North Carolina’s modern death penalty. Afterward, we marched to Central Prison, which houses the nation’s fifth largest death row, to demand that it be dismantled. We carried signs bearing the names of the executed.
This month marks the seventeenth anniversary of North Carolina’s last execution. Between 1984 and 2006, North Carolina executed 43 people. For some, it might feel like executions are ancient history in our state. However, the enormous pain they caused is still very much with us. I know because, in 2005, I stood by helplessly as the state of North Carolina killed a man and devastated a family that I cared about deeply.
Are you part of a religious or spiritual community and/ or do you consider yourself a person of faith who lives in North Carolina? In a state where nearly 80 percent of people identify with a faith tradition, including Governor Cooper, people of faith can be powerful voices for justice. We encourage you to add your name to this letter asking the governor to commute all death sentences to prison terms.
Originally published in the Charlotte Observer By Rev. Sharon Risher I know what it means to have my faith tested. Eight years ago this week, I was a hospital chaplain […]
A man who has spent nearly 30 years on death row finally had a chance to present evidence that Black jurors were illegally excluded from his trial. Frank Chambers, a Black man, was sent to death row in 1994 by a Rowan County jury that included only a single non-white member. The evidence of discrimination was so extensive that the hearing took an entire week.
Faith leaders gathered in Raleigh on April 14 to present a letter to Gov. Cooper asking him to commute North Carolina’s 137 death sentences.
More than 300 leaders from across North Carolina, representing all the state’s major faith traditions, signed a letter that was sent to Gov. Cooper on April 14. All agreed that the death penalty is immoral, cruel and inherently racist and asked Cooper to use his power to commute sentences.
In the context of a death penalty trial, the harm of Confederate imagery is even more pronounced. The death penalty is already disproportionately applied to Black defendants, and the presence of such imagery reinforces the perception that the system is rigged against us. It makes it even more difficult for Black lawyers to represent their clients effectively and for Black defendants to receive a fair trial. The message these monuments send is clear: The courthouse is a place where white supremacy is tolerated and honored.
Russell Tucker was a Black man facing the death penalty in the South in the “tough-on-crime” 1990s. He deserved the chance to be tried by a jury of his peers. However, a Forsyth County prosecutor came up with reason after reason why Black people could not remain on the jury. On Feb. 8, Mr. Tucker’s attorneys will present evidence to the NC Supreme Court that jurors were illegally excluded because of their race.
We are often told that society must continue to seek the death penalty to get justice for the families of victims. In the years since my parents’ murders, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about what justice means. Certainly, it’s not the same thing as revenge. And it could never be achieved through a death penalty that is inhumane, racist, and prone to errors.
We held North Carolina’s largest death penalty abolition event in more than a decade. Well over a hundred people gathered outside Central Prison and marched more than two miles to the Governor’s Mansion. Downtown Raleigh was awash in signs that proclaimed: No More Death Row! At the mansion, we were 200 strong as we made our demand of Governor Cooper: He must use his power to commute the death sentences of all 135 people on death row.
Members of the Homicide Survivor Engagement Group reading their letter aloud outside the Governor’s Mansion on Dec. 10, 2022 As part of the launch of our campaign to persuade Gov. […]
December 6, 2022 The Honorable Roy CooperGovernor of North Carolina200 North Blount StreetRaleigh, NC 27601 Re: Commutation of North Carolina’s Death Row Dear Governor Cooper, We are attorneys, advocates, organizers, […]
You may think that watching a video doesn’t make a difference in the world. But we’re here to tell you that it does. At more than two dozen screenings, we’ve seen this film’s power to educate and move people to action. It’s a key part of our work to organize a public movement to end the North Carolina death penalty. If it spreads far and wide, it will lead to change.
This week, my client Ty Hargrove was sentenced to die in prison. In 2017, Ty killed his estranged girlfriend, Shaekeya Gay, in front of a Henderson Food Lion. He was […]
We already know from our experience with the Racial Justice Act how prosecutors work to keep juries in capital cases overwhelmingly white, using the tool of peremptory strikes. Now, new […]
Sixteen years ago today, North Carolina used its execution chamber for the last time. On August 18, 2006, Samuel Flippen was the last of 43 people executed under our modern […]
On August 18, it will be sixteen years since North Carolina strapped Samuel Flippen to a gurney and executed him in the middle of the night. From August 15 to 19, we are gathering for a week of in-person events to remember the 43 people executed under our current death penalty laws and to recommit to building a future without the death penalty. Please join us.
Three-quarters of the 136 people living on North Carolina’s death row were sentenced to death in the 1990s. But our large death row is just one of the remnants of […]
Reposted from the Center for Death Penalty Litigation Earlier this month, Marcus Robinson was found dead in his cell at Scotland Correctional Institution. The prison ruled it a suicide. He […]
By Elizabeth Hambourger Yesterday, my client Henry White went home to his family after 25 years in prison. It was one of the most heartwarming moments I’ve experienced as a […]
If you follow the news about the death penalty, you’ve probably heard that five executions are scheduled in United States in the next few weeks — and that one of […]
This week in Warren County, Lester Kearney’s capital murder trial was declared a mistrial after the jury couldn’t agree on his innocence or guilt. The prosecution’s case was based entirely […]
Few of us would choose to be judged solely on the choices we made as teens. But that is exactly what our criminal justice system does when it imposes extremely […]
A new story by Jeffrey Billman in The Assembly has done a huge public service: It’s given us a much fuller picture of one of North Carolina’s most powerful district […]
Reposted with permission from NC Policy Watch I recently got some sad news. My former client, James Blackmon, died earlier this month from complications from COVID. He was 68. Mr. Blackmon was […]
On January 21, one of North Carolina’s most dedicated advocates, Gerda Stein, will leave her long-time post as director of public information at the Center for Death Penalty Litigation. Here, […]
The law promises a “race-neutral” process for choosing juries. Yet, last week, the nation watched as a jury of eleven whites and just one Black person was seated to hear […]
Reposted from N.C. Policy Watch A few months ago, my former client Robert Bacon died in the hospital at Central Prison. Because of COVID-19, he died alone. His loving sister had […]
August 16, 2021 Today, it’s easy for most North Carolinians to forget that our state has a death penalty. It’s been fifteen years since the early morning of August 18, […]
When I saw Ronnie Long openly express his heartbreak and fury, I realized how I’d expected exonerees to smile and be thankful for what they were given, rather than demanding acknowledgment of the life that was stolen from them. When I saw Ronnie Long smoke a cigarette in front of a reporter’s video camera, blow out the smoke and say, “That’s freedom,” I realized how we pressure exonerees to appear perfect. In our society, the wrongfully convicted have to prove themselves worthy of freedom, just as Black people have to prove that they are well behaved enough not to be killed by police. Long made me realize that I, too, had absorbed the idea that exonerees must be model citizens to earn our sympathy.
In September 2014, I was sitting with Henry McCollum at the moment a judge ordered his release from death row for a crime he did not commit. Many folks in the courtroom clapped in celebration. Others embraced out of relief. It had been 30 years since Henry and his brother Leon Brown – two innocent and intellectually disabled children – had been convicted and sentenced to death in Robeson County, North Carolina. A case that had captured the country’s attention had come to an end for the two men, who had unflinchingly claimed their innocence for all those years. But Henry, the innocent man at the center of it all, remained solemn.
A bipartisan group of North Carolina legislators introduced a bill this week to prohibit the death penalty for people with severe mental illness. Here’s a recent case that illustrates why this law is so needed: Wake County prosecutors knew that Kendrick Gregory had severe mental illness when they decided to try him capitally. In the eight months before the crime, he’d been hospitalized at least 20 times for mental illness. He checked himself into emergency rooms over and over, reporting symptoms of psychosis. On some occasions, he said he heard voices telling him to hurt himself. In the five years that they sought to try him for the death penalty, his mental illness became only more apparent. It is both immoral and unconstitutional to execute people who cannot understand or regulate their actions. Yet, in North Carolina, it remains accepted practice to try people with severe mental illness for their lives.
No one should have been on the edge of their seat about the verdict in Derek Chauvin’s trial. He was caught on video kneeling on George Floyd’s neck for more than nine minutes as Floyd begged for his life. But this is America, where police are almost never held accountable, so we held our breath and prepared for Chauvin to be acquitted. But in this rare case, a jury of six white, four Black and two multiracial people provided a measure of justice, finding Chauvin guilty of murder. Surely, the jury’s diverse makeup helped it reach this much-needed verdict. Yet, it’s exactly this kind of diversity that prosecutors often work to avoid. They strike Black citizens from juries at far higher rates than whites. Then, when they’re accused of violating the law prohibiting racist jury strikes, they offer the flimsiest possible defenses. And no matter how implausible their excuses are, they almost always get away with it.
This piece is reposted from N.C. Policy Watch. By Elizabeth Hambourger “This is, as we know, a historic day for Virginia. We are the first Southern state to abolish capital […]
Last month, two new men were added to the list of innocent people who’ve been sentenced to death in North Carolina. Anthony Carey was sentenced to execution for a murder he took no part in, based entirely on the testimony of a 16-year-old who had made a deal with the police. The teen said that while he robbed and murdered a gas station attendant, Carey was a passenger in a getaway car parked blocks away. In exchange for that testimony, the prosecutor allowed the teen to plead guilty to second-degree murder while Carey went to death row.
This week, a diverse group of criminal justice leaders announced a campaign to rid North Carolina’s courthouses of Confederate symbols. At least 39 counties have these racist monuments on grounds that should be dedicated to impartial justice. The N.C. Commission on Racial and Ethnic Disparities in the Criminal Justice System says it will create a complete database of all Confederate symbols on courthouse grounds; sponsor events to educate the public on the history of these monuments, most of which were erected in the Jim Crow era as symbols of white supremacy; develop a legislative and legal strategy for monument removal; and serve as a resource for communities seeking to remove them. At NCCADP, we wholeheartedly support this work and see it as closely related to our efforts to abolish the death penalty.
This week, the federal government plans to execute three people: Lisa Montgomery, Cory Johnson and Dustin Higgs. If all three executions are carried out, that will make 13 people executed […]
This month, the Center for Death Penalty Litigation launched an ambitious new online project, Racist Roots: Origins of North Carolina’s Death Penalty.
The project includes essays, poetry, artwork, commentary, and historical documents that place the state’s death penalty in the context of 400 years of history and expose its deep entanglement with slavery, lynching, Jim Crow, and modern systemic racism. The death penalty, the project contends, is another Confederate monument that North Carolina must tear down. Read the introduction here and then explore the rest of the project at RacistRoots.org
Last week, three Wilmington police officers were fired after being caught on tape making some of the most vile and racist statements imaginable. Unbelievably, their desire to gun down Black people in a race war was just one entry in a litany of shocking and despicable comments. Firing them was a good first step, but we must admit that the problem is far broader. It’s time to unearth the real-life consequences of such racist attitudes.
There have not yet been any reported cases of Coronavirus on North Carolina’s death row, but prisons have emerged as some of the worst hot spots for Covid-19. More than 25,000 cases have so far been diagnosed among U.S. prisoners and the numbers are increasing exponentially. Rayford Burke is 62 years old and has lived on North Carolina’s death row since 1993. In prison, Rayford has taken up writing and become a keen observer of the world. Here we share his most recent work, a poem in honor of Covid-19 first responders.
Last week, the state announced that an unnamed prisoner had become the first person to die from a Covid-19 outbreak at North Carolina Women’s Prison. The person was Faye Brown, and her death is the end of a 45-year story that demonstrates the cruelty and excess of our punishment system. In a humane system, this 67-year-old woman who reformed herself in every way possible would have gotten a second chance at life in the free world. In that world, she would have had at least the possibility of protecting herself from a deadly virus. But in our system, which prides itself on unending punishment at any cost, a life sentence turned into a death sentence.
In these days of COVID, it’s easy to be overwhelmed by bad news. But we shouldn’t forget to celebrate good news, and we’ve had a little of that in the past week. On Friday, the North Carolina Supreme Court issued a decision that sends a clear message: North Carolina’s courts must finally begin to take the exclusion of black jurors seriously. The decision says that, when a person on trial suggests that a prosecutor struck a juror because of the juror’s race, the courts must fully investigate. They must consider the history of disproportionate jury strikes in the county, and compare the treatment of white people and people of color in the jury pool to see if it’s been equal. If these sound like no brainers, that’s because they are. This is the least the courts can do to begin to end the decades-long practice of denying people of color a voice in the criminal punishment system.
COVID-19 is teaching society many lessons. One of them is that public safety doesn’t always mean locking people up for as much time as possible. Right now, public safety means letting people go home. With the number of infected prisoners and guards growing quickly, reducing incarcerated populations protects us all — because once the virus spreads inside a prison, it doesn’t stay there. Prisons are like small cities. Many people go in and out every day: staff, defense lawyers, law enforcement, doctors, and many more. If a virus is in a prison, it threatens the free world too.
In the midst of a Coronavirus pandemic, society is forced to decide which work is essential. Across the United States, that question is now being applied to countless enterprises — including the death penalty. Is it essential for states to kill people? Eighteen executions are scheduled between now and the end of the year in Texas, Missouri, Ohio and Tennessee. Countless death penalty trials are also planned across the country, including in North Carolina. The courts are likely to call most or all of them off because, right now, if our society wants to kill, we must risk harming innocent people too. That has always been true, but the Coronavirus allows us to see and feel that risk more concretely.
This week, some much-needed good news came out of Colorado. Gov. Jared Polis signed a bill ending the death penalty and commuting the sentences of the state’s three remaining death row prisoners. His signature made Colorado the tenth state since 2007 to decide that the death penalty isn’t necessary to maintain public safety and does more to perpetuate injustice than to ensure justice. Right now, with Covid-19 bearing down, most states and local governments are focusing on short-term efforts to cut jail populations and release some of the scores of people who are behind bars only because they can’t afford to pay bail. But Colorado has taken a step at the other end of the spectrum, joining a national movement away from the death penalty.
The five boys were 14 and 15 years old when they were taken to the Winston-Salem police station. The cops wanted them to confess to the murder of Nathaniel Jones, a 61-year-old man who’d been beaten, robbed and left tied up on his carport, then died of a heart attack. The boys said they knew nothing about the crime. Detectives separated the children and interrogated them hour after hour, without lawyers or their parents there to help them. Police threatened them and told them that if they confessed, they’d be allowed to go home. One detective described the process of death by lethal injection. “Hold out your arm,” the armed officer said to the child. “That’s the vein.”