COVID Lessons: Public safety means letting go of extreme punishment

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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. … Read More

In the wake of the Coronavirus pandemic, let’s deem the death penalty nonessential work

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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.… Read More

Even amid the chaos of coronavirus, states still moving away from the death penalty

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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.… Read More

Echoes of Central Park 5 in NC: Children were threatened with the execution chamber to force murder confessions; decades later, two remain in prison

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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.” … Read More

Wake DA pursues death penalty even for people with severe mental illness

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Since Freeman took office in 2014, Wake has sought the death penalty at trial more than any other North Carolina county. And in almost every case, the defendant has been a black man. Freeman would have voters believe she has no choice but to pursue the death penalty, but it’s simply not true. She’s making a conscious choice to put people with severe mental illness on trial for their lives, to fight to keep innocent people in prison, and to disproportionately seek the death penalty against people of color. The citizens of Wake County deserve better.… Read More

Finding redemption & beauty on North Carolina’s death row

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Last week, I went to visit a man who has lived on North Carolina’s death row for 19 years. We talked about books and writing and art. He told me about the two plants he dug up from the prison yard and now keeps in his cell. Each morning, he moves them into a patch of light near the window. He plays classical music, because he read that it helps plants grow. As he tends to them, he thinks of his grandmother. He used to tell her she was crazy to talk to her plants. Now, he’s past 50, about the age his grandmother was in his memory, talking to his own plants on death row. He reminded me that our work to end the death penalty isn’t just theoretical. It’s about believing in the possibility of every human life.… Read More

NC case shines rare light on sexism in death penalty jury selection

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Until the middle of the 20th century, the law barred women from jury service. The myth was that women are weak and overly emotional, not rational enough to serve on juries. A brief filed in late September in a North Carolina death penalty case shines a rare light on the persistence of sexist stereotypes in the legal system. Bryan Bell was sentenced to death in Sampson County in 2001. A woman was rejected from his jury because the prosecutor was looking for “strong male” jurors.… Read More

Two death-sentenced men in NC get another chance to prove innocence

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The state Supreme Court recently agreed with two separate death row prisoners that questionable evidence was used at their trials. Both will get new chances to present evidence that could exonerate them. These cases highlight the fact that many of North Carolina’s more than 140 death sentences are based on weak and even false evidence.… Read More

A history-making day in the North Carolina Supreme Court

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At the end of August, our movement made history. A group of talented attorneys from across the state and the nation argued before the North Carolina Supreme Court. At issue were the cases of six men and women on death row who have uncovered compelling proof that their sentences were poisoned by racial discrimination. All six filed claims under the North Carolina Racial Justice Act (RJA). Black citizens were illegally excluded from their juries. At least two defendants were tried … Read More

Another innocent person is exonerated after falsely confessing. Here’s how these coerced confessions happen

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Most of us think, “I would never confess to a crime I didn’t commit.” But the sad reality is, people do it all the time. More than a quarter of DNA exonerations involve a false confession. North Carolina’s longest serving death row exonerees, Henry McCollum and Leon Brown, were sentenced to death and spent a combined 60 years in prison because police interrogators manipulated them into taking responsibility for a terrible crime they had nothing to do with. In fact, many American law enforcement officers are trained to conduct interrogations in ways that recklessly encourage false confessions.… 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