On Tuesday, the Sojourners for Abolition and Reconciliation will complete their 300-mile trek across North Carolina. The walkers will arrive in Raleigh on the same day that the House Judiciary Committee is considering the Racial Justice Act, which would allow defendants and inmates to challenge death sentences sought or obtained on the basis of racism.
The Sojourners for Abolition and Reconciliation have entered the final week of their march across North Carolina. The first stop on the long walk home will be in Kinston, where St. Augustus AME Church (318 E. North Street) will be hosting Linda White for the screening of the documentary Meeting with a Killer. White’s daughter was raped and murdered in 1986. The film tells the story of White’s healing process, which included speaking with one of the men responsible.
A listing of media accounts of the march is here. Members of SofAR are walking 300 miles across North Carolina to call for abolition of the death penalty and to raise awareness of the needs of family members on both sides of the debate.
Today the Sojourners for Abolition and Reconciliation are making their way from Grifton to Kinston, then catching a ride to Jacksonville and walking from there to Swansboro. You can follow their journey on the SofAR blog.
Over the weekend, the marchers traveled from Bethel to Greenville to Grifton, catching the media’s eye along the way. Video, including an interview with co-founder Scott Bass, is here. The Greenville Daily Reflector has two articles here and here (the latter being more informative). SofAR also made the cover of today’s Raleigh News and Observer (article and photos here).
Tomorrow the Sojourners will reach the ocean. They are planning an event at Emerald Isle Baptist Church at 6:30 PM. Linda White, a member of Murder Victims’ Families for Reconciliation, will speak.
Today they are en route to Williamston, and Saturday they’ll arrive in Greenville. You can meet up with the marchers at the Tipsy Teapot (409 Evans Street) at 4 PM. On Sunday, they’re off to Grifton and the 100-mile mark.
John Franklin Hester is on trial in Bladen County for the 2007 murder of Randolph Hughes. Hughes’ grandson was also injured, but managed to get away and run for help. Hester is also charged with kidnapping and robbery for another incident that occurred later that same day.
Eleven jurors have been seated thus far. The court plans to seat twelve jurors and four alternates for the trial.
David Gainey has been on North Carolina’s death row since 1999, facing the ultimate punishment for a crime his brother may well have committed. Thanks to Judge Gregory Weeks, he will now have a chance to prove his innocence.
Harnett County prosecutor Peter Strickland had evidence that it was Michael Gainey, not David Gainey, who killed Dwayne Winfield McNeill in 1998. He hid this information from David Gainey’s defense team, and allowed a prosecution witness to testify falsely about whether anyone else had been linked to the crime. Strickland also concealed evidence that McNeill was seen alive by his grandparents after prosecutors alleged that David Gainey killed him.
David Gainey confessed to killing Dwayne McNeill under pressure from police officers, but David was unable to provide accurate information about the location of the shooting, the time it happened, or the number of times McNeill was shot. Despite this, David Gainey’s trial attorneys failed to obtain an expert in false confessions. The murder weapon was never found and there was no physical evidence linking David Gainey to the shooting.
The court’s order is available here.
(For more information on false confessions, click here. You may think that an innocent person would never confess to a crime they did not commit, but in 25% of cases where the defendant was later fully exonerated by DNA, s/he confessed to police.)
The Sojourners for Abolition and Reconciliation have another 20-mile day ahead of them. Today they are walking from Wilson to Rocky Mount, continuing their trek to raise awareness about the effect of the death penalty on both victim and offender families.
A new survey of top criminologists reveals that the vast majority of them believe, based on factual research and not personal opinion, that the death penalty does not deter crime. In addition, 87% of those surveyed believe that the abolition of the death penalty would not have any significant effect on murder rates.
Other study findings include:
- 75% of respondents agree that legislative debates about the death penalty distract lawmakers from focusing on real solutions to crime problems
- According to 75% of respondents, research shows that death penalty states do not have lower homicide rates than neighboring non-death-penalty states
- Only 9% of criminologists stated that the death penalty significantly reduces the number of homicides
- Only 3% found evidence that executions deter future homicides
[A guest post from a friend of DeathWatch]
Rayford Burke was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to death in 1993. No physical evidence connected Burke to the crime, a fatal shooting in a Statesville crack house. The murder weapon was never found and Burke has steadfastly maintained his innocence. More than a decade ago, Rayford Burke learned that prosecutors used false evidence to persuade the jury of his guilt. Burke is still waiting for a chance to prove his claim and to have a fair trial.
It’s not the first time Burke has been accused of murder based on shaky evidence. In 1990, Burke was arrested for the murder of Calvin Royal at the Busy Bee Lounge. Burke went to trial in that case in 1992, and the jury found him not guilty. Just two months later, Burke was arrested and charged with killing Timothy Morrison, a prosecution witness in the Busy Bee case.
Burke remains convinced that he was framed in the Morrison case. The same police investigators and prosecutors were involved in both cases. Burke believes they were angry that their earlier attempt to convict him had failed and that Burke filed a multi-million dollar civil suit for malicious prosecution against them.
At trial, prosecutors admitted that the linchpin of their case was evidence that Burke had threatened Morrison three weeks before the killing. The only witness to testify about the alleged threats was an employee of the District Attorney’s office. She testified that Morrison told her his girlfriend and uncle had told him Burke was threatening to kill him because he had testified in the Busy Bee case. She also testified that she had spoken with Morrison’s uncle and girlfriend. The prosecution did not call the uncle or girlfriend to the stand or explain why these witnesses were not available to testify.
Nevertheless, the trial judge allowed the jury to hear this triple hearsay testimony, concluding that the evidence was sufficiently reliable for the jury to consider. Prosecutors stressed this evidence — which they described as “critical” to their case — and told the all-white jury they should convict Burke, whom they described as a “big, black bull.”
Turns out, the evidence was not reliable at all. In the prosecutor’s own file were notes from an interview with the uncle. According to the notes, Morrison’s uncle “never heard defendant make any threats” and Morrison “never told him about any threats.” The prosecutor’s file contained no notes of interviews with Morrison’s girlfriend. However, she gave Burke’s attorneys a sworn affidavit in which she described being interviewed by staff from the District Attorney’s office. She told them she was never threatened by Burke, she never told Morrison that Burke had threatened him, and Morrison never told her of any threats from Burke. Thus, prosecutors knew that testimony that formed the heart of their case was, in fact, false.
The State’s other main witnesses were three men who were present at the drug house when the shooting occurred. Each man gave inconsistent statements to the police before trial, but ended up testifying that Rayford Burke shot Morrison after an argument. Each man also testified that he was sober at the time of the shooting. Subsequent investigation has revealed that all three had been drinking and smoking crack at the time of the crime.
Burke has asked repeatedly for a hearing on his claim that the prosecution hid evidence favorable to him. In 2005, a Superior Court judge said that Burke should have his day in court, but no hearing has yet been scheduled.