April 20, 2011
A subcommittee of the North Carolina House of Representatives voted unanimously today in support of a bill that would exempt persons with severe mental illness from execution. Under H659, a defendant who is found to have a severe mental disability could still be punished for first-degree murder (they would receive life in prison without the possibility of parole), but they would not be eligible for the death penalty.
A “severe mental disability” is defined as any mental disability or defect that significantly impairs a person’s capacity to do any of the following:
- Appreciate the nature, consequences, or wrongfulness of the person’s conduct;
- Exercise rational judgment in relation to conduct; or
- Conform the person’s conduct to the requirements of the law.
The bill also requires that:
- The person’s mental disability manifested itself prior to the crime;
- That the disability not be manifested primarily by repeated criminal conduct; and
- That the disability not be solely attributable to the acute effects of alcohol or other drugs.
The bill has both Republican and Democratic sponsors and is now moving on to the House Appropriations committee.
April 20, 2011
After nearly seven weeks of jury selection, opening arguments will be heard this morning in the Columbus County case of Danny Lamont Thomas. Thomas is charged with four murders and one attempted murder in three separate incidents in 2005. (Somehow this gets second billing in the local paper to a trial involving an insurance fraud arson.) If convicted, Thomas could face the death penalty.
April 7, 2011
After four days of jury deliberations, James Richardson was found guilty of first-degree murder for the killings of Andrew Kirby and Landon Blackley. After the verdict was announced, the District Attorney informed the court that, upon request of the victims’ families, he was no longer seeking the death penalty. Richardson was sentenced to life without the possibility of parole. He maintains his innocence.
April 5, 2011
Four Republican House members introduced a bill yesterday designed to repeal North Carolina’s landmark Racial Justice Act. Representatives Burr (Montgomery, Stanly, Union), Stevens (Alleghany, Surry), Ingle (Alamance), and Stam (Wake) have sponsored House Bill 615 in an effort to short-circuit ongoing litigation and prevent the courts from answering the ultimate question posed by the RJA: does race play a role in the administration of the death penalty in North Carolina?
These legislators have good reason to fear a close look at racism in the death penalty. In Rep. Stam’s home county of Wake, prosecutors are 2.6 times more likely to remove a qualified African-American from the jury than a similarly situated white person. (Many people say that there are fewer blacks on capital juries because black people don’t believe in the death penalty, but the “qualified” jurors considered here include only persons who could consider imposing a sentence of death.) A statistical analysis showed that the probability of this disparity occurring by chance is less than four in ten billion. A different statistical study showed similar rates of discrimination against black citizens across the state.
A judge in Forsyth County recently ruled that the Racial Justice Act is constitutional. The bill that seeks to repeal the RJA falsely states that the RJA is not in compliance with the US Supreme Court’s decision in McCleskey v. Kemp. The 1987 McCleskey decision held that a death row petitioner could not rely solely on a statistical study showing that race affected Georgia’s system of capital punishment in violation of federal law. However, the McCleskey court specifically invited state legislatures to pass statutes allowing for the consideration of statistical studies to show that racial bias existed in violation of state law. McCleskey v. Kemp, 481 U.S. 279, 319 (1987). The Racial Justice Act embraced the challenge set forth by McCleskey; it does not violate it.
There is nothing to fear from the truth. The legislature should resist this effort to repeal the RJA and allow the courts to complete the task they started last year – ensuring that the death penalty is administered fairly and free of racial bias. Real leadership means not searching for ways to get out of dealing with difficult issues. Support for HB 615 (The Racial Injustice Act) is support for willful ignorance, and support for a system that pushes men and women toward execution despite obvious cracks in the hull. House Republicans are truly flying Southwest on this one.
April 1, 2011
Both sides are presenting their closing arguments this morning in the guilt-or-innocence stage of James Richardson‘s trial. A Pitt County jury will soon decide whether Richardson is the person who killed two men in a drive-by shooting in 2009. The defense presented evidence that someone else pulled the trigger, but the State maintains it was Richardson.
If they convict Richardson of first-degree murder, the jury will decide whether to sentence him to death or to life without the possibility of parole.
April 1, 2011
5 – Cleve Foster (TX)
5 – Daniel Wayne Cook (AZ)
6 – Wayne Kubsch (IN – stay likely)
12 – Clarence Carter (OH)