Mistrial Declared; Death Off Table for Bellamy

March 31, 2011

In Iredell County, a judge declared a mistrial after it was revealed that the State failed to turn over hundreds of pages of evidence in the case of Al Bellamy.  The State had been seeking the death penalty, but the judge ordered that if Bellamy is retried, the maximum penalty shall be life without the possibility of parole.

Among the evidence not turned over was a statement by one of the prosecution’s key witnesses indicating that one of the victims in the case was armed.  This statement was also not revealed to counsel for Bellamy’s co-defendant, Travis Ramseur, who was convicted and sentenced to life without the possibility of parole last summer.

It must be mentioned that this scandal happened to erupt just as the legislature was considering a bill that would shield prosecutors from sanctions for similar discovery violations.  Learn more here and here.  The latter link tells the story of Chris Foye, who pleaded guilty to a crime he did not commit in order to avoid the death penalty, only to learn later that the State Bureau of Investigation had concealed DNA evidence that would have exonerated him.

Capital Trial Update 3-25-11

March 25, 2011

There is no word on the Danny Thomas trial in Columbus County.

Testimony is continuing in guilt-or-innocence phase of the James Richardson trial in Pitt County.

In Iredell County, the Al Bellamy trial has been halted after it was learned that prosecutors withheld some 1700 pages of evidence from the defense, turning them over only after the trial had started.  The defense has moved for a mistrial to be declared, or in the alternative, for the death penalty to be removed as a possible punishment.  In a case where a man’s life is on the line, it’s really not too much to ask for the State to comply with the law.  The State has had nearly six years to turn this evidence over.  It is unclear whether these materials were ever turned over to the lawyers for Bellamy’s co-defendant, who was tried last year.

Tony Summers Sentenced to Death

March 23, 2011

A Guilford County jury voted yesterday to sentence Tony Savalis Summers to death for the 2006 killing of Lavell Williams.  Summers will be the 158th inmate on North Carolina’s death row.  He is the only person sentenced to death in North Carolina so far this year.  More media here.

Summers Jury Decides Sentence

March 18, 2011

In Greensboro, a jury is continuing its deliberations on the appropriate sentence for Tony Savalis Summers.  Summers has been convicted of first-degree murder, so the only sentencing options available are the death penalty or life without the possibility of parole.  DW will update when the sentence is announced.

Capital Case Underway in Iredell County

March 15, 2011

In Statesville, testimony is soon to begin in the capital trial of Al Bellamy.  Bellamy is accused of killing two men and injuring a third in 2004.  If Bellamy is convicted of first-degree murder, the jury will decide whether to sentence him to death or to life without the possibility of parole.

Bellamy’s cousin and co-defendant Travis Ramseur has already been tried and sentenced to life without parole.

NC Supreme Court Hears Lethal Injection Arguments

March 14, 2011

The  North Carolina Supreme Court is hearing oral arguments this morning in a case involving five death row inmates and the Council of State.  This is the next step in ongoing litigation between the five inmates – Jerry Conner, James Campbell, J.T. Thomas, Marcus Robinson, and Archie Billings – and the Council of State, the group charged with approving North Carolina’s lethal injection protocol.  Briefs for the parties are here and here.  The central question before the Court today is whether the Wake County Superior Court was wrong to find that the inmates cannot challenge the Council’s decision to change the procedure by which they would be executed.

Update: Video of the argument is currently available online here.

Summers Jury Deliberates

March 14, 2011

In Guilford County this morning, a jury is deliberating on the question of whether Tony Savalis Summers is guilty of first-degree murder and other charges in a 2006 case. Summers could face the death penalty if convicted.

More as the story develops.

Illinois Abolishes Death Penalty; Could NC Be Next?

March 11, 2011

This Wednesday, Illinois Governor Pat Quinn signed a bill abolishing the death penalty in Illinois. After speaking with a variety of people on both sides of the issue, Gov. Quinn reached the conclusion that “our system of imposing the death penalty is inherently flawed [and] that it is impossible to devise a system that is consistent, free of discrimination…and always gets it right.” (Read the Governor’s statement here.)  Governor Quinn expressed concern about wrongful convictions, racial discrimination, the lack of a deterrent effect, the financial strain imposed by capital punishment, and the failure of the death penalty to bring closure to victims’ families. Thus, Illinois became the 16th state to ban capital punishment. The inmates on death row have had their sentences converted to life without parole and the money that would have been used for their special housing and legal costs has been redirected to law enforcement and victim support groups.

Many in North Carolina took notice of Illinois’ historic step. “Even a flawless capital punishment system raises serious ethical questions,” wrote The Charlotte Observer, “But the truth is, the death penalty in America is nothing close to flawless. It is riddled with irreparable problems and needs to be abolished.” The paper argued, as did Governor Quinn, that the punishment of life without parole is sufficient to punish the offender and protect society from further harm – “without the risk of the state killing an innocent person.” The recent false evidence scandal at the state forensics lab is an indelible stain on the possibility of fairness in North Carolina capital cases.

Mark Kleinschmidt, of the Fair Trial Initiative and the NC Coalition for a Moratorium, has called upon North Carolina lawmakers to consider abolishing the death penalty in the Tarheel State. “We applaud Governor Quinn for recognizing that a fatally flawed system cannot be fixed and precious funds are much better spent on solving crimes and assisting victims,” said Kleinschmidt. He continued, “The capital punishment system in North Carolina is fraught with all of the same problems as Illinois. Innocent people have been sentenced to death, costs are exorbitant for such an ineffective policy, and recent studies have demonstrated significant racial bias.”

As the Death Penalty Information Center observes, there are now fewer active death penalty states in America than at any other time in the modern era. New Jersey abolished the death penalty in 2007, followed by New Mexico in 2009. The national tide is slowly shifting away from capital punishment. DW hopes that North Carolina will soon see its way to joining states like Illinois in choosing sound legal, correctional and fiscal policy over winning easy political points at the expense of human lives.

Capital Trial Update 3-11-11

March 11, 2011

The trial of Tony Summers is ongoing in Guilford County.

The Robeson County trial of De’Ante Harris has been delayed, and there is no media update on the Columbus County trial of Danny Thomas.

The trial of James Earl Richardson is expected to begin next week in Pitt County.  Richardson is accused of a 2009 drive-by shooting that killed two men outside of a nightclub in Greenville.

No Death Penalty for Watson, Slaydon

March 2, 2011

In Lee County, Ebony Watson pleaded guilty to second-degree murder just as her trial was getting underway.  Prosecutors had initially sought the death penalty.

In Randolph County, prosecutors also backed away from seeking death for Melba Slaydon and her son Ronald Gibbs.  Slaydon pleaded guilty to first-degree murder and accepted a sentence of life without the possibility of parole.  Gibbs will not face the death penalty when he goes to trial later this year.

Meanwhile, the Tony Summers trial is continuing in Guilford County and jury selection has begun for the Danny Thomas trial in Columbus County.  There is no word on the De’Ante Harris trial in Robeson County.


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