Death Penalty – Pentecost


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Overview – Death Penalty

Focus Text: Ezekiel 37:1-14
[The LORD] said to me, “Mortal, can these dry bones live?” I answered, “O Lord GOD, you know.”

Scripture Commentary and Pastoral Reflection by Rev. Diane B. Corlett, Rector, Church of the Nativity, Raleigh

Several years ago I met the mother of a condemned man who had been on death row for twenty years. We happened to be standing outside Gov. Hunt’s office, waiting for our turn to appeal for clemency for her son. At that time, Gov. Hunt was willing to meet with the family of the murderer before the execution. When she was finally called into the governor’s office, I remember thinking that I wasn’t sure I would be able to leave that office quietly after begging for my son’s life, but she did it. She walked out with dignity and hugged me hard. She was hanging on for dear life. Three days later her son died at the hands of the state.

Personal Vignette by Alan Gell

On April 14, 1995, the body of Allen Ray Jenkins was found in his residence in a decomposing state. When police talked to neighbors, the names of my two co-defendants–the 15-year-old girls–came up. So the cops went and spoke with them. Originally, they said they didn’t know anything. Later, they changed their story, saying they did visit him, and that I busted into the house, shot and killed the guy, and then ran out of the house after I took his money. A few days later, I was arrested for first-degree murder, armed robbery, and conspiracy to commit both. The first thing I did was call my mom, asking her to help me and thinking that mom could solve everything. I mean, I was basically a kid.

Key Fact

On December 2, 2005 Kenneth Boyd of North Carolina became the 1,000th person executed since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976. Executions resumed in 2008 after a de facto moratorium was effectively lifted by the Supreme Court following its decision upholding lethal injection. But only the South returned to regular executions, accounting for 95 percent of executions carried out in the country in 2008.

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Focus Text – Ezekiel 37:1-14

The hand of the LORD came upon me, and [it] brought me out by the spirit of the LORD and set me down in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. [The LORD] led me all around them; there were very many lying in the valley, and they were very dry. [The LORD] said to me, “Mortal, can these dry bones live?” I answered, “O Lord GOD, you know.” Then [the LORD] said to me, “Prophesy to these bones, and say to them: O dry bones, hear the word of the LORD. Thus says the Lord GOD to these bones: I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. I will lay sinews on you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live; and you shall know that I am the LORD.” So I prophesied as I had been commanded; and as I prophesied, suddenly there was a noise, a rattling, and the bones came together, bone to its bone. I looked, and there were sinews on them, and flesh had come upon them, and skin had covered them; but there was no breath in them. Then [the LORD] said to me, “Prophesy to the breath, prophesy, mortal, and say to the breath: Thus says the Lord GOD: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these slain, that they may live.” I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived, and stood on their feet, a vast multitude. Then [the LORD] said to me, “Mortal, these bones are the whole house of Israel. They say, ‘Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are cut off completely.’ Therefore prophesy, and say to them, Thus says the Lord GOD: I am going to open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people; and I will bring you back to the land of Israel. And you shall know that I am the LORD, when I open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people. I will put my spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you on your own soil; then you shall know that I, the LORD, have spoken and will act,” says the LORD.
Ezekiel 37:1-14

Additional Texts

As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive…And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God… through him.
Colossians 3:12-13,17

You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also.
Matthew 5:38-39

Indeed, under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins…But as it is, he has appeared once for all at the end of the age to remove sin by the sacrifice of himself. And just as it is appointed for mortals to die once, and after that the judgment, so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin, but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.
Hebrews 9:22,26b-28

You shall not kill.
Exodus 20:13

Other Lectionary Texts

  • Psalm 104:24-34, 35b
  • John 15:26-27; 16:4b-15
  • Acts 2:1-21
  • Romans 8:22-27
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Commentary and Pastoral Reflection on Ezekiel 37:1-14

God specializes in resurrection.

The prophet Ezekiel, along with his older contemporary, Jeremiah, was a prophet of the Exile. From the far away land of Babylon, Ezekiel pleaded with the people of Israel. Look, he called, our parched, brittle, sad souls must see and trust that God will bring us home. But such trust is hard to come by when all there is to see is darkness and guilt and shame, for the people believed that they had been dragged from their homes as divine punishment for their sins. They did not know that God’s first impulse is compassion. The good news, according to Ezekiel, is that God will release us from the perpetual torment of bearing the burdens of guilt and sorrow. God will breathe God’s own Spirit into our inert bodies, and we will be resurrected, restored to a new, more vigorous life.

“The hand of the LORD came upon me, and [it] brought me out by the spirit of the LORD and set me down in the middle of a valley: it was full of bones.”

Thirteen years ago, one of my parishioners asked me if I would go with him to stand in vigil outside Central Prison where an execution was scheduled to take place that night. I agreed to accompany him. I had no idea how traumatic our protest would be for me. As the hour of death approached, I realized that the killing was going to happen despite our well-reasoned, moral high ground. Our protest would not stop the machine. I felt helpless and horrified. I had been set down in the middle of a valley filled with the bones of the dead; dead victims of murder, dead murderers, dead hearts and minds, dead spirits. I was paralyzed with grief.

“Mortal, can these bones live?”

I don’t know. I just don’t know.

In the early morning hours of December 2, 2005, I stood with about 100 other folks in front of Central Prison protesting the impending execution of Kenneth Boyd. Here was a notorious occasion for the United States of America. Kenneth Boyd was the 1,000th person to be executed in our nation since the reinstatement of the death penalty in 1976. I didn’t feel helpless this time. I felt fury.

“Prophesy to these bones … I will cause breath to enter you…”

Earlier in the evening, folks who always see each other on these sad nights talked quietly and tried to keep their candles lit when the wind picked up. Seven of my parishioners joined me, two of them teenagers. A retired bishop of North Carolina walked over to greet us. He’s almost 80 years old, and he’s present for every vigil. More police officers than usual stood silently or paced in front of us to keep everyone on the sidewalk. At one point sixteen people were arrested for walking down the long driveway toward the doors of the prison, an act of civil disobedience. Press people milled around looking for people to interview. One of our teenagers, Oliver, told me that he didn’t care what the condemned person had actually done or how heinous the murder was. He was protesting the death penalty because it was wrong. For Oliver, this was simple. I wish someone had interviewed him.

“Prophesy to these bones…and you shall live.”

A few years ago Governor Mike Easley met with members of various communities of faith prior to executions. He was always hospitable, but he was intractable. He met with us as a courtesy. He still meets with the attorneys and members of the victims’ families, but he won’t meet with religious leaders anymore. Maybe he thinks it’s a waste of his breath.

“So I prophesied as I had been commanded; and as I prophesied, suddenly there was a noise, a rattling, and the bones came together, bone to its bone.”

The death row inmate I visit told me what happens when it’s time for the condemned man to be taken to the death watch area. Six guards, prepared to quell any demonstration of violence, arrive to escort the man off the row. As he’s taken away, his friends call out their last words of wisdom to him: “Be strong, man! Be strong!” The person I visit has mental retardation, and he is a bit confused about the whole process. His sorrow is palpable when these evil events surround him. I promise my friend that I’ll be out there and that Jesus loves him. I pray that he not lose hope.

“I looked, and there were sinews on them, and flesh had come upon them, and skin had come upon them; but there was no breath in them.”

It is emotionally taxing to meet with legislators and attorneys general and governors again and again, trying to persuade them that God’s gift of a human life is not ours to destroy. Their logic is astounding. Some examples:

“If crucifixion was good enough for our Lord, lethal injection is good enough for a murderer.”

When Gov. Jim Hunt was asked by Bishop Gary Gloster, retired Bishop Suffragan of the Episcopal Diocese of North Carolina, whether he thought Jesus would “pull the switch,” Gov. Hunt answered, “Yes.”

When she was shown the statistics demonstrating that the death penalty is not a deterrent to violent crime, a state politician answered, “The death penalty gives the public the perception of safety. That’s what we want.”

Several years ago I met the mother of a condemned man who had been on death row for twenty years. We happened to be standing outside Gov. Hunt’s office, waiting for our turn to appeal for clemency for her son. At that time, Gov. Hunt was willing to meet with the family of the murderer before the execution. When she was finally called into the governor’s office, I remember thinking that I wasn’t sure I would be able to leave that office quietly after begging for my son’s life, but she did it. She walked out with dignity and hugged me hard. She was hanging on for dear life. Three days later her son died at the hands of the state.

“Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are cut off completely.”

Kenneth Boyd was pronounced dead at 2:15 in the morning.

“I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived…Thus says the Lord God: I am going to open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people…And you shall know that I am the LORD…”

Here is our only hope, that God will breathe new life in us. Here is our call to prophesy— to the governor, to the legislature, to our congregations— that killing is not the way, for God will open our graves of fear and violence, and we shall live.

“Be strong, man! Be strong!”

God specializes in resurrection.

By Rev. Diane B. Corlett, Rector, Church of the Nativity, Raleigh

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Worship Aids for Ezekiel 37:1-14

Responsive Reading

Leader:
God of Compassion,
you let your rain fall on the just and the unjust. Expand and deepen our hearts so that we may love as you love, even those among us who have caused the greatest pain by taking life. For there is in our land a great cry for vengeance as we fill up death rows and kill the killers in the name of justice, in the name of peace.

People:
Jesus, our brother,
you suffered execution at the hands of the state but you did not let hatred overcome you. Help us to reach out to victims of violence so that our enduring love may help them heal.

All:
Holy Spirit of God,
you strengthen us in the struggle for justice. Help us to work tirelessly for the abolition of state-sanctioned death and to renew our society in its very heart so that violence will be no more.
Amen.

(by Helen Prejean, CSJ, from the Peace and Justice Support Network of the Mennonite Church USA, http://peace.mennolink.org/articles/dp_prayer.html)

Prayer of Confession

We recognize that the death penalty is part of the violence in our society. Let us ask forgiveness for all forms of violence. We acknowledge the violence we perpetuate in our world: providing weapons, imposing crushing debt payments, withholding food from governments that we call “enemies.”
Forgive us our sin.

We acknowledge the violence within our country: allowing millions of children and elderly to live in hunger and without homes or shelter, depriving the sick of adequate health care, imprisoning and executing racial minorities in disproportionate numbers.
Forgive us our sin.

We acknowledge the violence in our communities and homes: battering children and abusing women, discriminating against minorities, destroying our environment; building walls of anger and hatred.
Forgive us our sin.

We invite you to name the acts of violence that lie heavy on your heart. Forgive us our sinfulness, O God. Heal us of the wounds that afflict us and our society. Empower us to erase the hatred and violence that continue to scourge people and creation. Empower those of us gathered here tonight to continue our efforts to work for an end to the death penalty.
Amen.

(from the Kentucky Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, “Prayer Service on the Occasion of the Execution of Thomas Clyde Bowling,” November 2004, www.kcadp.org/pdf%20files/Bowling%20PDF/ Prayer%20Service%20for%20Thomas%20C%20Bowling.pdf)

Jesus the Prisoner

Jesus, our brother, you were taken prisoner in the darkness of night and you suffered the humiliation of a captured criminal. You showed the depths of your compassion and love in your life and in your death, and so, we pray…
O God, hear our prayer.

Merciful God, we pray for the victims of crime, and their families, especially for those whose cases are unsolved. May your healing presence through caring people transform their pain and anger in ways never imagined.
We pray…
O God, hear our prayer.

God of all people, the guilty and the innocent, we pray for the victims of capital punishment and their families. May they be comforted by love and understanding shown them by human beings conscious of their own frailty.
We pray…
O God, hear our prayer.
Amen.

(from the Kentucky Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, www.kcadp.org/Resources/SamplePrayerVigil.htm)

Prayer for Those in Prison and Those Facing the Death Penalty

Lord Jesus, grant your grace to those condemned to death. Give them the wisdom to see every day as a gift from you, a day to grow in love and hope, not hatred or despair. Help them to seek reconciliation with you and with all men and women, particularly anyone they have injured. Let their lives be beacons of light, showing that nothing is impossible with God.

Shepherd your people, Lord, and gather these wounded lambs close to your heart.
Amen.

(Adapted from Friends-4-Life, www.friends-4-life.org/death.htm)

Pentecost Prayer

Spirit of the Living God, visit us again on the day of Pentecost.
Come, Holy Spirit.
With rushing wind that sweeps away all barriers,
Come, Holy Spirit.
With tongues of fire that set our hearts aflame,
Come, Holy Spirit.
With speech that unites the Babel of our tongues,
Come, Holy Spirit.
With love that covers over the multitude of our sins,
Come, Holy Spirit.
With forgiveness that encompasses those who are condemned to die,
Come, Holy Spirit.
With power from above to eliminate immoral State-sanctioned capital punishment,
Come, Holy Spirit.
With compassion to the families of victims and perpetrators alike,
Come, Holy Spirit.
In the name of Jesus Christ our Lord,
Amen.

(Adapted, with additional material; from Hoyt L. Hickman, et al, The New Handbook of the Christian Year [Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1992], 229.)
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Suggested Hymns for the Death Penalty

Forgive Our Sins as We Forgive
United Methodist Hymnal 390
The Hymnal (1982) 674
Presbyterian Hymnal 347
Gather Hymnal (Catholic) 879
Moravian Book of Worship 777

In Loving Kindness Jesus Came
African Methodist Episcopal Hymnal 399
Christian Methodist Episcopal Hymnal 151
Baptist Hymnal 542

There’s a Wideness in God’s Mercy
United Methodist Hymnal 121
Chalice Hymnal (Disciples of Christ) 73
African Methodist Episcopal Hymnal 78

Where Charity and Love Prevail
Moravian Book of Worship 785
Gather Hymnal (Catholic) 625
New Century Hymnal (United Church of Christ) 396
The Hymnal (1982) 581
United Methodist Hymnal 549

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Quotes about the Death Penalty

As one whose husband and mother-in-law have both died the victims of assassination/murder, I stand firmly and unequivocally opposed to the death penalty for those convicted of capital offenses. An evil deed is not redeemed by an evil deed in retaliation. Justice is never advanced in the taking of human life. Morality is never upheld by legalized murder.
Coretta Scott King

A sign of hope is the increasing recognition that the dignity of human life must never be taken away, even in the case of someone who has done great evil. Modern society has the means of protecting itself, without definitively denying criminals a chance to reform.
Pope John Paul II

It is the deed that teaches, not the name we give it. Murder and capital punishment are not opposites that cancel one another, but similars that breed their kind.
Geroge Bernard Shaw

Make your way to death row and speak with the tragic victims of criminality. As they prepare to make their pathetic walk to the electric chair, their hopeless cry is that society will not forgive. Capital punishment is society’s final assertion that it will not forgive.
Martin Luther King, Jr.

I don’t want a moratorium on the death penalty. I want the abolition of it. I can’t understand why a country that’s so committed to human rights doesn’t find the death penalty an obscenity.
Desmond Tutu

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Vignette about the Death Penalty

My Eyes Were Opened to Our Justice System

Former North Carolina death row prisoner Alan Gell spent almost a decade behind bars for the 1995 murder of a retired truck driver. In 2004, he was finally exonerated and freed from prison. He told his story to Marlene Martin.

How did you wind up on death row?
At the age of 16, I quit high school and began to sell drugs. In 1995, there was a big drug bust, and they got one of my suppliers, so my drug supply dried up. A friend then introduced me to these two 15-year-old girls who were able to supply me with just about anything I needed through one of their sisters-in-law. I gave drugs to a guy who was hooked on crack, and he told me that I could use his Dad’s truck, but he never told his Dad. So I wound up in jail for car theft, and while I was there, I found myself being charged with murder.

On April 14, 1995, the body of Allen Ray Jenkins was found in his residence in a decomposing state. When police talked to neighbors, the names of my two co-defendants–the 15-year-old girls–came up. So the cops went and spoke with them. Originally, they said they didn’t know anything. Later, they changed their story, saying they did visit him, and that I busted into the house, shot and killed the guy, and then ran out of the house after I took his money. A few days later, I was arrested for first-degree murder, armed robbery, and conspiracy to commit both. The first thing I did was call my mom, asking her to help me and thinking that mom could solve everything. I mean, I was basically a kid.

I found out that the cost of a hired lawyer was way out of our range. So I got court-appointed lawyers. I had to get rid of two of the early lawyers because one of them told me the best advice she could give me was to read the Bible. She told me to get to know Jesus and ask him to grant me forgiveness for what I had done–in other words, she believed I did it.

I got two other lawyers. The judge told them in December 1998 to be ready for trial in February–this is on his first day accepting me as a client. He said he wasn’t sure he could prepare for a capital case that quick. The judge then said that the previous lawyer–the one who slid the Bible to me–had been working on the case for over a year and a half, and couldn’t he just use her files and get her to update him on the case?

What was the trial like?
During every word that the two co-defendants said against me–which was the only evidence against me, there was no physical evidence at all–I was laughing inside, thinking, “You all cannot be behind this. Just quit even trying to tell these lies, because nobody is ever going to believe it.” What I didn’t know is that my jury was sitting there, going, “Oh my God, I can’t believe he did this!” They went into deliberations after closing arguments, and five minutes later, they found me guilty. Then there was about a week and a half spent on the sentencing hearing, and the jury came back exactly 45 minutes later–I timed it on my watch–and gave me my death sentence.

I didn’t really get good representation until I was assigned Mary Pollard as my lawyer. She asked for full discovery and got my entire case file–investigative notes and prosecutorial notes. In reviewing it, she found that there were a total of 17 people who had seen Allen Jenkins alive after April 3, the date I had supposedly murdered him. Only the seven who had been re-interviewed by the FBI were turned over at trial. There were two audiotapes, one of which had my co-defendant talking on the phone to another guy about how to make up a believable story for the FBI. The other audiotape was of a friend who had agreed to call and record me, trying to get me to confess. On the tape, this friend is heard telling me that the murder weapon had been found, and I made the remark on the tape, “Good—that’s great!” And he says, “It’s not good—there’s fingerprints on it.” And I say, “Are you for real? That’s excellent! That means I’m fixin’ to go home! I’ll see you in a little bit.”

Why did the prosecutors go forward with the second trial in the face of the new evidence that showed so clearly that you were innocent?
Today, after all the work I’ve done and after all the politicians I’ve had to deal with, I understand why they continued to fight. They did it to maintain a belief in the criminal justice system. If that means an innocent person will be executed for the justice system and for capital punishment to look peachy and nice, then that’s the price they were willing to pay. Rather than admit a mistake was made, which means that we have flaws in our justice system, they decided to fight it as hard as they could to keep the big ugly thing from coming out. What you’ve got is people with a whole lot of power doing everything in their power to cover up and hide what the flaws are. From what I’ve seen here in North Carolina, there’s a whole bunch of whitewashing—it’s really terrible.

What would you want people to know about the people you came to know on North Carolina’s death row?
I remember my first day on death row, I was really, really scared. Our death row is different than any other, because we are allowed to mingle with each other–we weren’t locked in our cell all day. I remember my ride to Central Prison, thinking, “Oh my God, this is going to be bad. I’m fixin’ to be in there with some horrible monsters.” I had the same perception that the criminal justice system portrays to the public–that people who commit capital crimes are monsters and evil, cruel people. It took about 15 to 20 minutes to realize these guys were human beings, and some of them had already convinced me that they were nice and good people. There are a lot of guys on North Carolina’s death row that didn’t deserve the death penalty as we define it. There are four guys on death row in North Carolina that I believe are innocent. Some of my best friends are there. I’ve got a sign on my wall–a huge poster that says, “Alan, thanks, keep fighting,” and it’s got the signature of every death row inmate on it. That’s where I keep it–right there in the middle of my room. I’m doing everything in my power here in North Carolina and other states–if I get the opportunity–to speak out and have these problems addressed and see if we can’t resolve them in some way. I want to see capital punishment done away with, but I also want to see the justice system changed.

From The New Abolitionist, May 2005, newsletter of the Campaign to End the Death Penalty, www.nodeathpenalty.org/currentna/06_AlanGell.html
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Contacts and Resources for the Death Penalty

www.nccouncilofchurches.org/1987/04/resolution-on-the-death-penalty
North Carolina Council of Churches’ stance on the death penalty (“The Council has long been committed to ending the death penalty and is now working for a moratorium on executions to allow for a study of the state’s capital punishment system.”) as well as a short reflection on “Why People of Faith Should Care.” Also provides a link to a study done on “Race and the Death Penalty in North Carolina (2001).”

www.pfadp.org
People of Faith Against the Death Penalty, a nonpartisan, nonprofit, interfaith organization whose mission is to educate and mobilize faith communities to act to abolish the death penalty in the United States. Founded in 1994 by the North Carolina Council of Churches, PFADP focuses its programs on organizing among faith communities in the South.

www.moratoriumcampaign.org
The Moratorium Campaign, founded and run by Sister Helen Prejean (author of Dead Man Walking). She describes the Campaign in this way: “we are working to see every state declare a moratorium on executions. We are currently mapping out a plan of action to help people throughout the country take solid, practical steps towards achieving a moratorium in their state.”

www.deathpenaltyinfo.org
Death Penalty Information Center, a non-profit organization serving the media and the public with analysis and information on issues concerning capital punishment. The Center was founded in 1990 and prepares in-depth reports, issues press releases, conducts briefings for journalists, and serves as a resource to those working on this issue. The Center is widely quoted and consulted by all those concerned with the death penalty.

www.ncadp.org
National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty. The website explains the following: Since its inception in 1976, NCADP has been the only fully staffed national organization exclusively devoted to abolishing capital punishment. NCADP provides information, advocates for public policy, and mobilizes and supports individuals and institutions that share our unconditional rejection of capital punishment.

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Key Facts about the Death Penalty

1. Information on the NC Racial Justice Act
The “NC Racial Justice Act”, passed in 2009, seeks to address racial disparities in NC’s capital punishment system. Under the RJA, a defendant would be allowed to present factual evidence to support his or her claim that a sentence of death was improperly obtained on the basis of race. If a defendant is successful in establishing this claim, a court could impose a sentence of life without parole instead of death.

Race should never be a factor when considering a punishment as irreversible as a death sentence. That is why we urge the NCGA to preserve the NC Racial Justice Act as is and ask legislators to oppose any efforts to change the law.
Frequently Asked Questions

Will murderers be paroled?

No, under the new law, no murderers will be set free – the law explicitly states that if a death row inmate gets relief, he will be sentenced to life without the possibility of parole.

Can race be a factor in wrongful convictions?

Yes. Since a court-imposed suspension of executions went into effect in 2007, three North Carolina death row inmates have been exonerated. All three men are African-American. In all of the cases, at least one of the victims was white. One defendant was sentenced to death by an all-white jury.

Does the public support the Racial Justice Act?

Yes. The Racial Justice Act was supported by Republicans and Democrats, and by supporters and opponents of the death penalty. According to a statewide poll conducted July 6-7, 2009, by Public Policy Polling, a majority of North Carolina voters support the intent of this new law:

If a defendant can prove that the death penalty was sought or obtained in his case because of racial bias, do you think he should be able to present that evidence of bias, including statistical evidence, to the court? If yes, press
1. If no, press 2.
Yes ……………………………………………………….. 67%
No…………………………………………………………. 33%

Why use statistics?

Statistics are used routinely and appropriately in housing and employment discrimination cases, and should likewise be relevant in cases of life or death. Prosecutors will have an opportunity to rebut statistical evidence showing with their own evidence that race was not a factor in their decisions.

Race and the Death Penalty: Why We Needed the RJA in the First Place

One of the most fundamental guarantees of our criminal justice system is that people charged with a crime receive a fair trial, regardless of their race, gender, or national origin. Individuals with widely different views on criminal justice issues agree that guarantee is essential both to ensure fair trials and to maintain public support for the system that administers them.

But there is now evidence that the current capital punishment system in North Carolina is not living up to that constitutional promise and that race plays a significant role in determining who is sentenced to death. Racial bias is playing an improper role in jury deliberations and statistical analyses show that the race of the victim is a critical factor in who receives the death penalty.

Racism Admitted in the Jury Room

Kenneth Rouse is an African-American man who was sentenced to death in Randolph County by an all-white jury that had a member who is an admitted racist and believes that “black men rape white women so they can brag to their friends.” The juror admitted in a sworn affidavit that “blacks do not care about living as much as whites do.” The juror routinely referred to African-Americans as “n——s,” and stated that “bigotry” was influential in his decision to vote for death. The juror admitted that he lied in order to sit on the jury. Rouse is still on death row.

Raymond Rowsey was executed in 2004 despite the fact that the lone African-American juror at his Alamance County trial did not want to issue a death sentence. She stated in an affidavit that she was intimidated and humiliated by other jurors and told them she thought her race was a factor in why they did not respect her opinion. She tried to tell the judge that she did not want to sentence Rowsey to death, but was also intimidated by him and failed to do so clearly.

Robert Bacon was sentenced to death by an all-white jury in Onslow County in 1991. Just before Bacon was to be executed, a woman who sat on his jury came forward and revealed that the jury made derogatory racial comments during deliberations and sentenced him to death in large part because of their racist views. Bacon was granted clemency days before his scheduled execution in 2001.

Victim’s Race Affects Death Sentences

A recent comprehensive study on race and the death penalty in North Carolina found that the odds of getting a death sentence increase three and a half times if the victim is white rather than a person of color. ( “Race and the Death Penalty in North Carolina” Dr. Isaac Unah, Professor John C. Boger, UNC-Chapel Hill, April 16, 2001 ) This study mirrors previous studies conducted in other states and by the federal government.

The UNC study is also confirmed anecdotally by a review of the race of the victims of the 31 people executed in North Carolina since the death penalty was reinstated in 1977: more than 80% of the victims of those executed were white, while only about 40% of North Carolina homicide victims are white.


2. On December 2, 2005 Kenneth Boyd of North Carolina became the 1,000th person executed since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976. Executions resumed in 2008 after a de facto moratorium was effectively lifted by the Supreme Court following its decision upholding lethal injection. But only the South returned to regular executions, accounting for 95% of executions carried out in the country in 2008.

3. The most comprehensive study in the country found that the death penalty costs North Carolina $2.16 million per execution over the costs of sentencing murderers to life imprisonment. The majority of those costs occur at the trial level.

4. Nationally, there have been 138 exonerations since 1973. Seven of those were from North Carolina.

Sources:

  1. http://www.acluofnorthcarolina.org/files/SB9_HB615_Factsheet.pdf
  2. http://www.deathpenaltyinfo.org/documents/YearEnd05.pdf pg 4.
  3. http://naacpldf.org/files/publications/DRUSA_Winter_2010.pdf pg. 38.
  4. http://www.deathpenaltyinfo.org/innocence-and-death-penalty#inn-st
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