Kenneth Rouse had everything going against him at his 1992 trial for the murder of a convenience store clerk. His mental disabilities were so severe that he was not fully capable of understanding his actions or participating in his defense. During his trial, he attempted suicide by smashing his hands through a window and slashing his wrists. But perhaps the biggest strike against him was that he was a black man charged with killing a white woman, and at least one member of his all-white jury was openly racist.
Quick Facts: Kenneth Rouse
- Race: African American
- County: Randolph
- Date of Crime: March 16, 1991
- Victim: Hazel Colleen Broadway, White, Age 63
- Conviction Date: March 25, 1992
- Execution Date: No date has been set, Rouse remains on death row
- Errors: Still on death row after a juror admitted “bigotry” played a key role in his decision.
Rouse was sentenced to death for the 1991 robbery, attempted rape and murder of Hazel Broadway, a clerk at the Pantry convenience store in Asheboro.
After the trial, defense investigators assigned a Duke University law student to interview jurors in the case. One juror, Joseph Baynard, signed a sworn affidavit admitting that he had lied to earn his spot on the panel. Baynard’s mother had been murdered by a black man 40 years earlier, under very similar circumstances to the crime Rouse stood accused of. In the affidavit, Baynard said, “In particular, the pictures of Mrs. Broadway [the victim] at the murder scene reminded me of pictures of my mother after she had been murdered.” He said he decided not to volunteer information about his mother’s killing because he wanted to serve on the jury.
The juror also admitted in the affidavit that racial bigotry played a role in his decision to sentence a black man to death. When contacted by investigators in the case, Baynard said he believed that “blacks do not care about living as much as whites do” and that “black men rape white women so they can brag about it to their friends.” He also referred to African-Americans as “niggers.” He told the defense investigator that one purpose of the death penalty is to rid the world of defective human beings and said Rouse was “one step above a moron.” The law student swore to the juror’s statements in an affidavit.
This evidence has never been heard in court. The lower courts have denied requests for a new trial, and the federal appeals court refused to hear it because his lawyers filed his petition one day after the deadline. The court refused to make an exception on the missed deadline, despite the gravity of Rouse’s case.
Four U.S. District Court judges disagreed with the decision not to hear Rouse’s case. In her dissent, Judge Diana Gribbon Motz said, “I cannot join a decision that would allow the most minor procedural default imaginable to prohibit all evidentiary inquiry into such a serious constitutional claim.” Because of a single day, this important evidence of racial bias and improper jury conduct has never been examined in court — and the death sentence imposed by a biased jury still stands.