November 28, 2011
The North Carolina Senate is meeting today in an unusual short session. One issue on the table – and the chopping block – is the Racial Justice Act. The Conference of District Attorneys (in a letter the NAACP contends is inaccurate and misleading) has urged legislators to effectively repeal the landmark bill. Defense attorneys have submitted a letter of their own, urging the General Assembly to preserve inmates’ right to present evidence of racial bias in the administration of the death penalty.
More to come as this story develops.
Asheville Citizen-Times: Racial Justice Act ‘Fix’ Would in Essence End It
Fayetteville Observer: Prosecutors See Danger in Sentence Reviews
Wilmington Star-News: Effort to Repeal Racial Justice Act Would Tip the Scales the Wrong Way
Winston-Salem Journal: District Attorneys Call for End to Racial Justice Act
Letters to the Editor/Op-Eds/Blog Posts:
District Attorneys v. The Law by James Coleman (Duke law professor)
Racial Justice Act is Necessary by Hannah Autry
Nothing New in Death Row Debate by Scott Mooneyham
Our Judicial System Should be Color Blind by George Burazer
Racial Justice Act Should be Defended by Cecil Bothwell (Asheville city councilman)
In Defense of NC’s Racial Justice Act by scharrison @ BlueNC
Detecting Bias in Death Penalty Cases by Frank Baumgartner (UNC political science professor)
November 21, 2011
In Gaston County, Danny Hembree was sentenced to death for the murder of Heather Catterton. Although the victim’s family supported the death penalty, her father recognized, “This was a no-win situation. They’ve lost a son. We’ve lost a daughter.”
The Robeson County trial of Larry Robinson continues without media coverage.
The State is presenting evidence in the Stanly County trial of William Robinson. Robinson is accused of shooting a man during a 2006 robbery.
November 10, 2011
In Cumberland County today, prosecutors are arguing that Gregory Weeks, the Senior Resident Superior Court Judge for the county, should be disqualified from hearing claims under the Racial Justice Act. Weeks is a 23-year veteran of the bench – who also happens to be African-American. Of course, prosecutors aren’t saying that they want Weeks off the case because he’s black. They claim that Weeks should recuse himself because he has presided over some of the death penalty trials in question, and therefore might be a witness. If this were the State’s true motivation, it seems that they would also have moved to recuse Judge William Wood, who is presiding over Racial Justice Act claims in Forsyth County. Wood, who is white, has also been the trial judge in a death penalty case affected by the RJA.
Duke University law professor Jim Coleman says, “It looks like they’re trying to get rid of an African-American judge and have the case heard by someone who likely would not be African-American…They’re accused of manipulating the jury on the basis of race. It’s ironic that they would do something that looks like they’re trying to … manipulate the judge who would hear the case [for the same reason].”
The State made its motion on the eve of the first real test of the RJA, a hearing that was to take place before Judge Weeks on November 14th. That hearing may now be delayed. The State’s motion is highly unusual and perhaps unprecedented. Attorney Ken Rose says, “I’ve been doing this 30 years. I’ve never seen a judge recused for that reason.” Judge Weeks has retained his own lawyer, Fred Webb, to argue that it is inappropriate to call a judge as a witness under these circumstances.
Media here, here, here, and here.
November 7, 2011
Two death penalty trials noted in DW’s last post have resolved with a sentence less than death.
In Buncombe County, a jury rejected first-degree murder and instead found Brandon Lee Gross guilty of second-degree murder. He will be sentenced to a term of years. Still no word from the local paper or TV stations.
In Alamance County, Dennis Alan Mills pleaded guilty and accepted a sentence of life without the possibility of parole. Prosecutors alleged that Mills shot two men to death following an argument over a sandwich. Mills previously served time for the shooting death of his uncle.
November 1, 2011
Six death penalty trials started in North Carolina over the last few weeks.
Larry Robinson (Robeson) and Brandon Gross (Buncombe) – Progress unknown.
The guilt-or-innocence phase is wrapping up in the Gaston County trial of Danny Hembree. Prosecutors allege that Hembree strangled Heather Catterton in 2009, while defense attorneys say Catterton died of a drug overdose.
In Alamance County, efforts were underway to pick a jury for the sentencing phase of Dennis Mills‘ trial when Mills moved to withdraw his guilty plea for two 2010 shootings.
The Guilford County trial of Isaam Chaplin came to an abrupt halt when the prosecution suddenly located what they believe to be the murder weapon. A gun seized by police in another county came up as a “hit” in a police database, prompting the judge to delay the trial indefinitely while both sides examine the new evidence.
Jury selection has just gotten underway in the Stanly County trial of William Robinson. Robinson is accused of a 2006 robbery-murder in Albemarle.
November 1, 2011
9 – Henry Skinner (TX)
10 – Anthony Juniper (VA)
15 – Oba Chandler (FL)
15 – Reginald Brooks (OH)
16 – Guadalupe Esparza (TX)
18 – Paul Rhoades (ID)