Pilgrimage, Day Three

June 17, 2009

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.


88% of People Who Know What They’re Talking About Say Death Penalty Does Not Deter Crime

June 17, 2009

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

NC Prisoner Waits for Justice

June 16, 2009

[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.


Five Jurors Seated in Britt Trial

June 16, 2009

After two weeks of questioning, only five jurors have been seated for the second death penalty trial of Myron Britt.  Britt is accused of shooting his wife in 2003 to collect on her life insurance policy.  He has already been tried once, but the jury deadlocked on the question of guilt or innocence.  Prosecutors elected to try him again and seek the death penalty a second time.  The court may have to call on jurors from outside of Robeson County if they are unable to seat a full panel of local jurors.  Once the jury has been seated, the trial is expected to take another three weeks.


Pilgrimage, Day Two

June 16, 2009

Today the Sojourners for Abolition and Reconciliation are marching from Middlesex to Wilson, just under 20 miles.  Click here to read Scott Bass’s essay about why he is taking this pilgrimage to oppose the death penalty.  Past articles on the march are here and here.

(With non-endorsement-implying musical accompaniment by R.E.M.)


Pilgrimage, Day One

June 15, 2009

The Sojourners of Abolition and Reconciliation have completed day one of their march across North Carolina.  You can read a summary of the day’s events here.  There is also an interesting reaction piece here to this divisive WRAL article about the march.

“We walk to remember murder victims, people on death row, the executed, the exonerated and the families of all these persons and we walk to call for an end to the death penalty,” said Pilgrimage organizer Scott Bass. The Pilgrimage remembers those wrongfully convicted of murder as well as people who commit violent acts, “Our faith calls on us to remember that we are all children of God, even those among us who have caused the greatest harm,” Bass said. “It’s about remembering that there is no right way to do the wrong thing, and executing human beings is wrong, an unnecessary evil that does not make us safer and cannot deliver on its false promise of helping murder victim families heal.”

Over the next two weeks, walkers will travel from Raleigh to the coast and back, stopping in towns including Zebulon, Wilson, Rocky Mount, Tarboro, Bethel, Robersonville, Williamston, Greenville, Winterville, Ayden, Kinston, New Bern, Emerald Isle, Jacksonville, Swansboro, Goldsboro, Smithfield, Selma, Clayton, and Garner.

Today the pilgrims travel from Knightdale to Middlesex.  Learn how you can help here.


District Attorneys Disagree on Racial Justice Act

June 11, 2009

…is the title of this article in The Independent Weekly.

Durham District Attorney Tracey Cline told the paper that her personal position on the Racial Justice Act is “totally different” from that of the N.C. Conference of District Attorneys, which strongly opposes the bill.  On the other hand, Wake County District Attorney Colon Willoughby asserted, “I don’t think that jurors are racist, and I don’t think prosecutors are racist.”  Willoughby further stated that thinking people are sentenced to death disproportionately based on race is like thinking they are sentenced to death disproportionately based on astrological sign.

Incidentally, there are eleven people on death row from Willoughby’s home county.  Two are white and nine are people of color.  For some reason, their astrological signs are not listed on the DOC website.


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