Mockery of Justice: Jury deciding fate of Ahmaud Arbery’s killers highlights a nation’s failure to prevent racist jury strikes

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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 the case of the three white men accused of hunting down and killing Ahmaud Arbery, a Black man who was jogging through a residential neighborhood. This skewed jury came from a pool that was one quarter Black. But, one by one, almost every person of color was struck. How does … Read More

Anniversary provides powerful reminder of racism that afflicts NC’s death penalty

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Reposted from N.C. Policy Watch By Gretchen M. Engel   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 only a video call with him a few weeks after medical staff stopped Robert’s cancer treatments. I’ve been thinking about Robert a lot lately, because 20 years ago this week, he was scheduled to be executed. But on Oct. 2, 2001, three days before … Read More

This week marks the 15th anniversary of NC’s last execution. Let’s make sure we never have another

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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, 2006, when the state strapped Samuel Flippen to a gurney and injected poison into his veins. He was the last person to die in Central Prison’s execution chamber. It was a very different world back then. North Carolina was executing several people every year, as crowds of protesters gathered outside … Read More

I’m still learning what freedom really means for the wrongfully convicted

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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.… Read More

I represented an innocent man on death row. Here’s why NC must end the death penalty

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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.… Read More

Wake County wanted the death penalty for a man with severe mental illness; only a pandemic stopped it

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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.… Read More

Chauvin trial shows that justice requires diverse, inclusive juries

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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. … Read More

Virginia just abolished its deeply racist death penalty; North Carolina must follow suit

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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 punishment, but we will not be the last.” — Jayne Barnard, Virginians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty, March 24, 2021 This week, Virginia became the first southern state to abolish the death penalty. At the signing ceremony, Gov. Ralph Northam and other speakers repeatedly referenced the racist history of … Read More

Newly discovered innocence cases show how old problems still haunt the N.C. death penalty

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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.… Read More

We must remove racist symbols from North Carolina’s courthouses

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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.… Read More

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the more you know about a person, the less likely you are to support their execution; the more you know about the criminal justice system, the less likely you are to support anyone's execution