While prosecutors have a large amount of discretion in their work, they are not permitted to hide evidence that could be exculpatory for a defendant.
In a recent Colorado case, prosecutors possessed two reports that that pointed to other suspects since the beginning of the case, yet disclosed them 15 months after defendant David Bueno was convicted.
Bueno and codefendent Alex Perez were charged in 2004 with the stabbing death of inmate Jeffrey Heird at Limon Correctional Facility. The state sought the death penalty against them.
Defense attorneys had specifically asked for evidence relating to the other suspects mentioned in the report. The Colorado Supreme Court upheld the dismissal of charges against Bueno and Perez.
Such prosecutorial misconduct is an example of the importance of holding prosecutors accountable both in the courtroom and at the ballot box.
On Wednesday, a Wake County jury sentenced Donovan Richardson to life in prison for his role in a 2014 double murder. He is one of three men accused in the crime of murdering two elderly men at their home in Fuquay Varina. One of the other men pleaded guilty and will serve life in prison, and the other has yet to be sentenced but pleaded guilty to being an accessory to the murder.
Richardson’s trial marks the 9th capital trial in Wake County in a row to end in a life sentence. It has been 10 years since a Wake County Jury has sent someone to death row.
Learn more at http://www.cdpl.org/wake-jury-opts-life-without-parole-rejects-death-penalty-9th-trial-row/
The US Supreme Court issued Georgia death row inmate Keith Tharpe a stay of execution last week because of racial bias from a juror who sentenced him back in 1990 for the murder of his sister-in-law, Jacquelin Freeman.
The justices granted him the stay while they decide if they will take up the appeal. If they decide against it, the stay will be lifted and Tharpe will be executed despite racial bias.
Tharpe’s attorneys argued that juror Barney Gattie violated his constitutional rights to a fair trial in his 1998 affidavit, when he referenced Tharpe using the n-word and wondered if “black people even have souls.” His attorneys further argued that he is ineligible for execution because he is intellectually disabled.
This furthers the argument that capital punishment is inundated with bias. The decision between death and life in prison rests not only on the severity of the crime, but also race and income.
Unfortunately, this kind of blatant racism is not an anomoly, even in capital cases. To learn more about this case and others in which overt racism played a clear role in capital sentencing, click here.
In a display of courage and commitment to justice, Missouri Governor Eric Greitens halted the execution of Marcellus Williams mere hours before he was scheduled to be executed on Tuesday. DNA testing raised questions about whether he had committed a murder during a 1998 burglary.
Williams’ attorney cited DNA evidence found on the murder weapon that matched another unknown person instead of Williams. Greitens issued the stay of execution in order to appoint a Gubernatorial Board of Inquiry to look into Williams’ claims of innocence. The five-member board will “consider all evidence presented to the jury, in addition to newly discovered DNA evidence, and any other relevant evidence not available to the jury.” News of the stay of execution was met with cheers by execution protesters outside of Governor Greitens’ office. Many attribute the stay to a very strong social media campaign.
In a released statement, Greitens said “a sentence of death is the ultimate, permanent punishment. To carry out the death penalty, the people of Missouri must have confidence in the judgment of guilt.” We commend the stand Greitens has taken, but firmly believe that there is no way to ever ensure “confidence” in a death sentence. This case demonstrates the power of social media as a platform for change and reform.
North Carolina has not carried out an execution in 11 years, but still will not take the next logical step to abolition. As activist, social media is a powerful tool to use in the fight to abolish the death penalty once and for all. North Carolina legislators need to know that our state no longer wants or supports the death penalty.
No timeline has been set for this inquiry. Learn more about this case here.
This month, Carolina Justice Policy Center Intern Olivia Pennoyer visited an inmate on death row. She documented her experience in an essay:
This summer I met a man on death row. Usually when this fact finds its way into conversations with friends and family, they ask questions: Why? Were you scared? What did you say?
To answer the first, this summer I had the incredible opportunity of interning with the Carolina Justice Policy Center and the Center for Death Penalty Litigation in downtown Durham. Both of these organizations are comprised of some of the most talented criminal justice reform attorneys in North Carolina. I chose to apply to these community partners because even as a freshman in college, I knew I wanted to learn more about the system. My life leading up to this work had been reading statistics about race, poverty, privatization and the law, but my research was only scratching the surface. In order to be truly informed, I had to dive head first into the work that would inevitably lead me to meeting a prisoner on death row.
In relation to fear, I felt none. Central Prison in Raleigh, North Carolina definitely is intimidating though. Located only a five minute drive from a busy intersection and a smattering of fast food restaurants, it’s funny to think I could have driven right by it and have never even known it was there. The buildings themselves are placed back behind barbed wire and high walls. Once I passed the initial guard’s post and walked up to the front doors, I was met with grim fluorescent lighting and a front desk with two more guards. I have heard horror stories from female attorneys in my office, but luckily, I have yet to experience any sort of guard harassment. Next, I climbed onto an elevator with no buttons. It was operated by a man watching me from behind a glass mirror. Those tense few seconds before the elevator doors opened were probably the only moments that scared me. I was genuinely worried someone would forget I was in there. Finally, I checked in again with three more guards and there, through the window, I could see several men in bright blood orange jumpsuits.
Now, I’m sitting across from him, and I have redacted his name to respect his privacy. There is a glass window between us that has to be more than 6 inches thick. And we talk. He tells me about his favorite NPR stations, delivers a few solid Trump jokes, discusses the most recent books he has read and tells me how eager he is for George Martin to finish Game of Thrones already! We sit for two and half hours. In this time, we have managed to cover everything from Led Zeppelin to Cesar Millan, and he has left me with a lot to think about.
He was convicted before I was even born as are many of the men on death row in North Carolina. He told me about his time in the military, and I think about how much respect is given to veterans in normal day to day life in my community. He asked me about iPods. As an inmate, he had never seen or used one. Our technological cultures are so different that it feels impossible to wrap my head around. There were aspects of our lives that overlapped in dramatic ways, and yet I left feeling that I had never met a man more isolated from modern life.
We, as a society, have a habit of treating people like they are disposable; this visit has solidified that to me. We imagine the men on death row as Jeffrey Dahlmers or Ted Bundys, but if you seek it out, you realize that is not who is there. The conversation I had with this inmate could have taken place anywhere. We could have been talking over dinner or run into each other at a shopping mall. He could have been a childhood friend of my dad’s who came over to visit. The truth is I genuinely enjoyed spending time with him, and he enjoyed talking to me as well. His attorneys have told me he receives visits few and far between and any human interaction is a positive one. In all honesty, I plan to visit him again on Monday. When we fail to face our humanity, we risk losing it all together.