Robert Bacon is black and his co-defendant, Bonnie Clark, the woman who master-minded the murder of her husband, is white. Both were convicted of first degree murder. The difference is Robert Bacon was sentenced to death, and Bonnie Clark received life in prison. In 2001, then Gov. Mike Easley granted clemency and commuted Bacon’s sentence to life imprisonment without parole.
Quick Facts: Robert Bacon
- Race: African American
- County: Onslow
- Date of Crime: February 1, 1987
- Victim: Glennie Clark, White
- Conviction Date: June 4, 1987
- Execution Date: Gov. Mike Easley commuted Bacon’s sentence to life without parole on October 2, 2001.
- Errors: Got death while his white co-defendant, who masterminded the crime, received life. Bacon was tried by an all-white jury in a county that was 20% African-American.
Bacon and Clark were charged with conspiring to murder Clark’s estranged husband, Glennie Clark. Bacon was Bonnie Clark’s lover.
At Bacon’s trial in 1987, prosecutors methodically excluded every prospective black juror. His case was heard by an all-white jury in a county that was 20 percent African-American. After the trial, a member of the jury swore in an affidavit that other jurors made racial jokes during the trial and that they held it against Bacon that he was dating a white woman.
All the evidence pointed to Bonnie Clark being the mastermind of the crime. She wanted to rid herself of an abusive husband, and she expected to receive $130,000 in life insurance proceeds. At Clark’s trial, even prosecutors argued that Bacon was “just a pawn” in the crime. Clark received life and was paroled in 2009. Bacon was sentenced to death even though he had no criminal record, promptly confessed to the crime and aided police in Clark’s arrest.
Clark’s jury heard evidence of her husband’s history of alcoholism and physical abuse of her and their children. The same evidence was never presented at Bacon’s trial, nor did the jury hear about Bacon’s own childhood abuse at the hands of an alcoholic parent.
Gov. Easley never gave a reason for his grant of clemency, but it marked a rare moment in which clear racial bias in capital sentencing was remedied. The grant did nothing, however, to remedy the larger systemic problems. Bacon is among several African-Americans who received death sentences while their white co-defendants got life, despite evidence showing that they were no more culpable.