Last week, the Supreme Court halted the execution of Keith Tharpe in Georgia because of a juror’s admission that he voted for death because he believed Tharpe was a “n—-r.” It might be tempting to believe this case was just an anomaly. But Keith Tharpe is far from the only defendant to be sentenced to death by a deeply racist juror.
Not long ago, Arkansas was much like North Carolina. It hadn’t executed a death row inmate in more than a decade, and the death penalty appeared to be quietly fading away. How quickly things change. Today, Arkansas is fresh off four executions carried out in the space of eight days. The message to North Carolina is we cannot afford to become complacent. It’s up to us to make sure North Carolina doesn’t become the next Arkansas.
The juror who voted to sentence Kenneth Rouse to die believed that African-Americans were naturally more prone to commit crimes because “blacks do not care about living as much as whites do.” By his own admission, “bigotry” was a key factor in his decision on Rouse’s case. This kind of open racism has been allowed in jury rooms for too long. Now the U.S. Supreme Court says states must address it.
Duane Buck was sentenced to death after an expert deemed him inherently dangerous because of his race. The racism in his trial was blatant, yet it still took 20 years for him to win a new sentencing hearing. Just like Texas, North Carolina fights every day to execute people whose trials were stained by racial bias.
A man who spent nearly 20 years on death row was recently re-sentenced to life in prison without parole. It was a sane resolution to a senseless and much-regretted crime committed by a deeply troubled teenager. Phillip Davis was re-sentenced with the full of support Buncombe County District Attorney Todd Williams. If only more North Carolina district attorneys would consider resolving decades-old cases with evidence of prosecutorial misconduct.
Today is a somber anniversary in North Carolina. The last execution carried out in our state was on this day 10 years ago. We didn’t know it then, but that day marked a dividing line in North Carolina’s history. Before, North Carolina had one of the most active death chambers in the nation. After, we became the only state in the South to put executions on hold.
On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed what North Carolina death row inmates have been saying since 2010: Race discrimination in jury selection is a serious problem, and states cannot continue to ignore it.
A case heard in the U.S. Supreme Court this week could force courts across the country to stop ignoring clear evidence that African Americans are systematically denied the right to serve on juries. North Carolina should watch this case closely.
Do the legislators who want to restart executions in N.C. know what they’re suggesting? A primer on why we must find alternatives to the death penalty.
The Racial Justice Act went to the Supreme Court this week. Now, the state’s highest court must decide how North Carolina should deal with revelations that African-Americans are being systematically denied the right to serve on capital juries.