Death Penalty Debate: New Study On Race & Jury Selection

Executions have been on hold in NC for the past five years and some new information may further complicate the issue.

Central Prison in Raleigh is home to North Carolina's 157 death row inmates. Some of them have been there since 1985. Twenty-eight of them, all convicted of first degree murder, are from Eastern Carolina. But with the death penalty on hold the debate rages about what exactly to do with these killers, and what it means for all involved.

Tom Bennett is the Executive Director for the NC Victim Assistance Network. He says, "Crime victims are getting yanked around emotionally and it's despicable. It's a terrible thing to do to people."

While Bennett advocates for crime victims and their families, others fight for those facing death. Tye Hunter is the Executive Director for the Center for Death Penalty Litigation. Hunter says, "Are we going to kill people based on, ya know they're probably right?"

Hunter's center represents 40 people currently on death row. "When people support the death penalty one of their assumptions is there's no question about the person's guilt, that any questions about the person's guilt has been resolved in the accused's favor and that lots of courts and judges have looked at this. But our system, it's not that accurate."

Hunter says the cases of death row inmates having their convictions tossed out and set free are a clear example of a broken system. Some of those exonerations helped lead to the current death penalty moratorium. Since then, three more people have been set free, while others wait.

So where ultimately is the debate over the death penalty headed? More litigation certainly could be filed, but Bennett suggests letting voters decide. "I would love to see this state have a referendum on the death penalty and abide by whatever the public decides."

But Hunter says it's not quite that simple. Several current legal challenges need to be resolved in the courts, such as how North Carolina executes those on death row, execution protocol, and whether lethal injection constitutes cruel and unusual punishment. And the argument over the role race plays is about to be ratcheted up. Hunter says, "We're gonna show the court system some things and they are not going to like it. I don't like it. It's uncomfortable."

At a hearing next week in Fayetteville, Hunter's firm will detail a study on jury selection completed by Michigan State. He says the study reveals on all cases with people still on death row in North Carolina, qualified African Americans were kicked off the jury two to three times the rate of white people all over the state for twenty years.

But Bennett says appeals based solely on race, which he says virtually all death row inmates have made under the state's Racial Justice Act, are very broad and vague. "In order to have a basis for an appeal the perpetrator and attorney would have to show that there was an intent to show racial prejudice."

Intent or not, it seems to be one more hurdle in determining whether executions will resume in North Carolina, or be banned permanently.


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Comments are posted from viewers like you and do not always reflect the views of this station.
  • by Tony Thigpen Location: 28525 on Nov 10, 2011 at 08:26 PM
    "Vengeance is mine saith the lord." But the convicted should be restrained from society, for the protection of the people.
  • by Yeah Right on Nov 10, 2011 at 07:31 PM
    Pull the switch, push the plunger, Quit whining, I am tired of paying for these dirtbags to get educated and get big and strong with state of the art Prisons. My tax dollars should go the education system not the Penal System...
  • by shoot em, hang em, boil em in hot oil on Nov 10, 2011 at 06:51 PM
    Some have no fear of life in prison. That is all too apparent. The death penalty will help prevent violent crimes. Think about the innocent victims for a change.
  • by 40some on Nov 10, 2011 at 06:17 PM
    Just go ahead and take care of all the white people on death row where there is no doubt. Put them in front of the firing squad, all five of them.
    • reply
      by I Counted 58 on Nov 10, 2011 at 08:57 PM in reply to 40some
      It's hard to say on a few of them (Hispanic? Asian? Black/White Mixed?) but for sure, nearly half are White. (a couple are extremely ugly to look at and it would be doing us all a favor to put them down)
      • reply
        by 40 on Nov 11, 2011 at 10:31 PM in reply to I Counted 58
        Great, we could almost cut the bill in half then.
  • by Res Ipsa Location: NC on Nov 10, 2011 at 05:24 PM
    Hey, Mr. Hunter, what about those cases where there is NO DOUBT. OK to execute? Then his argument changes. As far as the Racial Justice Act. Take a look at their statistics. Statistics don't lie, only those who twist them to their position do. Where is the rest of the story? If you are going to look at this issue, then dig deep and find the bias of those preparing the statistics. Those who are creating a cottage industries of lawyers, that Hunter Pays and that Indigent Defense Pays MILLIONS TOO while the Court System gets NO $$$ from RALEIGH. Tail Wags Dog!
  • by Bob Location: New Bern on Nov 10, 2011 at 04:58 PM
    The Death penalty is only effective when it is carried out. It is a proven deterant to many serious crimes. I agree with Ryan.
    • reply
      by Anonymous on Nov 11, 2011 at 03:35 PM in reply to Bob
      Please cite me an academic peer reviewed study that shows it beinga deterant to certain crimes.
    • reply
      by uh on Nov 11, 2011 at 08:39 PM in reply to Bob
      If it were a proven deterrent, wouldn't the crime rate be going down, rather than up? Sure, the person executed never commits another crime. We could execute innocent people too, and they would be guaranteed never to commit a crime as well, right?
      • reply
        by Justice Is Colorblind... on Nov 14, 2011 at 09:16 PM in reply to uh
        The death penalty is a 100% deterrent for the criminal who is put to death. There is a 100% guarantee that once executed, a death row inmate will NEVER commit another crime. Mr. Robinson--despite the fact that he has been on death row in maximum-security incarceration for over 17 years--has continued his psychopathic spiral of violence, depravity and utter disregard for human life. He has been cited for possessing contraband, selling prescription drugs, arson, and violent assault dozens of times. He has racked up over 100 violations while incarcerated. Even in prison he is a danger to society--the other inmates and the prison staff. If his sentence were carried out, there would be a LOT of wives and children of NC prison employees who would breathe a big sigh of relief. He murdered a 17 year old boy by shooting him in the face with a sawed off shotgun--this trial is NOT about his guilt--that is well established, and the Defense has admitted as much. This trial is about whether the sentencing was biased. You tell me--does a man who car-jacks, robs, kidnaps, and then shoots a former classmate (who he barely knew and had no issues with) in the face with a sawed-off 12ga shotgun at point-blank range while the victim begs for his life, and then the murderer brags to his family and friends that he "robbed and shot a quick" be rightly given the death sentence or not? Robinson's sentencing has NOTHING to do with the race of the jury. And although the crime was ADMITTED to be a hate-crime, it was committed BEFORE North Carolina had hate-crime statutes on the books, so Robinson's racist motivations didn't even officially enter into the equation (although they SHOULD). If you want to talk about "racial justice", let's talk about Eric Tornblom--his innocent victim...
  • by Ryan Location: Havelock on Nov 10, 2011 at 04:33 PM
    This one will probably get yanked too... The only problem with the death penalty is that it's not used often enough or fast enough..... Two years, or two appeals... done job.
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