North Carolina

Newly discovered innocence cases show how old problems still haunt the N.C. death penalty

March 10, 2021

Last month two men were newly added to the list of innocent people who had been sentenced to death in North Carolina.

Anthony Carey was to be executed for a murder he took no part in, based entirely on the testimony of a 16-year-old who had made a deal with the police. The teen said that while he robbed and murdered a gas station attendant, Carey was a passenger in a getaway car parked blocks away. In exchange for that testimony, the prosecutor allowed the teen to plead guilty to second-degree murder while Carey went to death row.

John Thomas Alford was sent to death row for a shooting in an auto parts store, even though four people testified he’d been playing basketball with them at the time of the crime; even the co-defendant who carried out the murder said Alford wasn’t involved.

The district attorney withheld that last piece of evidence, saying he didn’t want to “confuse the jury” by showing them evidence of Alford’s innocence. Instead, he focused on a suspect lineup where four witnesses picked Alford. However, police polluted the lineup by showing witnesses Alford’s photo beforehand, a tactic that all but assured they would select him.

Both men were tried in Charlotte in the 1970s and had their convictions overturned after spending about a year on death row. Their exonerations had been lost to time until the national Death Penalty Information Center discovered them in the course of researching a new report. Nationwide, DPIC uncovered eleven new death row exonerations, bringing the total to 185 — one for every eight executions that have been carried out in the United States.

With the addition of these cases, North Carolina has sentenced 12 innocent men to death since 1973. They spent a total of 157 years in prison for crimes they didn’t commit.

Both Carey and Alford are Black men who were accused of killing white people — once again bearing out the truth that Black men are more likely to be wrongly convicted , especially in cases with white victims. Of North Carolina’s 12 exonerees, 10 are Black, one is Latino and only one is white. Seven of the cases involved white victims.

Though these exonerations happened close to 50 years ago, many of the systemic flaws they exposed play a role in current death row cases.

For instance, several people on North Carolina’s death row were implicated by unreliable witnesses or co-defendants who were seeking deals in their own cases. Others were convicted with the help of tainted eyewitness identifications, which are a frequent cause of wrongful convictions. And under North Carolina’s felony murder rule, people can still be sentenced to death for killings they did not personally carry out, or for which they were not even present.

News stories from the time also noted that Alford had an all-white jury, which discounted the testimony of four Black witnesses who provided him an alibi. “To hear those four tell it, all they did was play basketball,” one juror told the Charlotte Post. “They didn’t work. How could you believe somebody who doesn’t work?”

The exclusion of Black jurors remains a pressing problem across North Carolina. Recently, the N.C. Supreme Court ruled that almost everyone on death row should be allowed to present evidence of systemic discrimination in jury selection under the Racial Justice Act.

These cases are also a reminder that every wrongful conviction harms not just the person who receives the death sentence but their family and community.

Carey’s brother Albert was sentenced to death alongside him, as the alleged driver of the getaway car, and he was never exonerated. Instead, he was resentenced to life and spent three decades in prison because of a 16-year-old’s allegation.

According to interviews in the Charlotte Post, Alford’s mother took a second mortgage on her home to pay for his defense. His stepfather had to work a second job at night to pay it off. And hundreds of community members contributed to his legal defense fund for a second trial. His mother said she asked herself during the ordeal, “Why is this happening to us? Are we being punished? What’s the use of trying to live a good, decent life?”

A system as error-prone as the death penalty breeds distrust that can last for generations and creates harm that can never be healed, no matter how many people we exonerate.

Military Court Dismisses Appeal Of Serial Killer On Death Row

December 12, 2017

Ronald A. Gray has lost another court battle aimed at stopping his execution.

A military appeals court dismissed Gray’s request for extraordinary relief last month.

Gray, a convicted serial killer whose crimes were committed in Fayetteville and on Fort Bragg, had asked the court to review his case as he sought to have his convictions and death sentence vacated.

The Nov. 13 opinion of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces was the latest in a nearly 30-year legal battle over Gray’s case.

On Monday, an Army spokeswoman was not immediately able to comment on whether there are any other pending legal proceedings in the case. The spokeswoman also could not comment on whether an execution date has been scheduled or will be scheduled.

Gray is the longest-serving inmate on the military’s death row and is the only current prisoner whose execution has been approved by a president — a requirement before the military can carry out a death sentence.

President George W. Bush approved Gray’s execution in 2008, but a federal court issued a stay of execution to allow Gray to make an appeal.

Late last year, a federal judge removed that stay, potentially clearing the way for the Army to schedule Gray’s death.

The military appeals court, which has heard numerous appeals as part of the Gray case, ruled last month that it did not have the jurisdiction to provide the relief Gray sought in the form of a writ of error coram nobis, a legal order that allows a court to correct a judgment based on the discovery of a fundamental error, which did not appear in the records of the original trial.

Gray’s legal team has argued he was tried while incompetent to stand trial; that he was denied due process when military authorities failed to disclose evidence about his competency during appeal; that his appellate counsel rendered ineffective assistance; that his sentence was the result of racial discrimination; and that the military death penalty violates evolving standards of decency under the Eighth Amendment.

The latest opinion stated that if the court did have jurisdiction, Gray failed to prove those claims and show he is entitled to extraordinary relief.

The court wrote that Gray’s case is final, after years of legal wrangling.

“Appellant has exhausted all of his remedies in the military justice system,” according to the opinion.

Gray has had numerous appeals to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces, the Army Court of Criminal Appeals and various civilian federal courts.

A former resident of Fairlane Acres near Bonnie Doone in Fayetteville, Gray was an Army cook before he was convicted of a series of rapes and murders in Fayetteville and Fort Bragg. His crimes were committed in 1986 and 1987 on Fort Bragg and near Fairlane Acres Mobile Home Park off Santa Fe Drive.

Gray killed cab driver Kimberly Ann Ruggles, Army Pvt. Laura Lee Vickery-Clay, Campbell University student Linda Jean Coats and Fairlane Acres resident and soldier’s wife Tammy Wilson, and raped several other women.

A former Army private, Gray was convicted during two trials. A Fort Bragg court sentenced him to death in 1988, after convicting him of the rape and murder of two women and the rape and attempted murder of a third woman, among other offenses.

A civilian court in 1987 sentenced him to eight life sentences, including three to be served consecutively, after convictions on charges of two counts of second-degree murder, five counts of rape and a number of other offenses all related to different victims.

Gray has been confined at the U.S. Army Disciplinary Barracks at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, since he was sentenced to death.

If he is executed, it would be the first death sentence carried out by the U.S. military since 1961. An execution would likely take place at the United States Penitentiary in Terre Haute, Indiana — the same facility where, in 2001, terrorist Timothy McVeigh was executed for the bombing of a federal building in Oklahoma City in 1995.

North Carolina wants easier, more secretive executions

The national debate over capital punishment has proceeded in a variety of disparate directions, with some states deciding to end the practice altogether. But in North Carolina, the Republican-led legislature has apparently concluded that the status quo on executions needs to be tweaked in a more alarming way – making it easier for the state to kill people with greater secrecy.
With little debate, the North Carolina Senate voted along party lines 33-16 Monday night to approve a bill aimed at restarting executions in the state.
The legislation, House Bill 774, would repeal the current law requiring that a physician be present to monitor all executions …. The bill would also remove from public record the names of companies that make, supply or deliver the drugs used in lethal injection, and it would exempt the execution protocol itself from the oversight of the state’s Rules Review Commission.
There would be no public oversight of the protocol, nor would that information – from the types of drugs to the doses to the sequence – be required to be made public.
According to local reports, North Carolina hasn’t been able to kill any of its prisoners since 2006, in large part because doctors in the state balked, creating a de facto moratorium.
So, GOP state lawmakers determined that if state law requires doctors to oversee executions, and doctors won’t go along, it’s time to change the law so that doctors need only sign the death certificate after the execution takes place. Instead, the new state law would allow physician assistants, nurse practitioners, or EMTs to monitor the executions.
As for the secrecy, North Carolina has a Public Records Act, but this new push would create an exception to the state law – when North Carolina kills prisoners with a chemical cocktail, the contents can be kept secret. The names of the pharmaceutical companies that supply the drugs will also be hidden from public scrutiny.
The name of the legislation is the “Restoring Proper Justice Act,” apparently because its sponsors’ sense of humor leans towards the macabre.
A report from the News & Observer added that the state House, which also has a Republican majority, has already approved a similar measure, but the 2 versions will have to be reconciled and passed in each chamber.
Gov. Pat McCrory (R) has not yet said whether he intends to sign the bill. The state currently has 148 people who’ve been sentenced to death.
Source: MSNBC news, July 30, 2015

NORTH CAROLINA -Bernard Lamp receives death penalty for 2008 Iredell murder

february 19, 2014 (iredell)

Two weeks to the day after he was convicted of first-degree murder, Bernard Lamp was sentenced to death Wednesday for killing Bonnie Lou Irvine nearly six years ago.

The same jury that convicted him Feb. 5 deliberated a little more than four hours over two days before recommending the death penalty in Iredell County Superior Court.

Although it is called a recommendation, Judge Ed Wilson is required to accept the jury’s recommendation and, after asking each juror if that was his or her recommendation, he pronounced the sentence on Lamp.

Prior to the sentencing, Wilson asked Lamp if he had anything to say. He made no comment and left the defense table as the jury was exiting the courtroom.

The death sentence will be automatically sent to the N.C. Court of Appeals for review. That is standard in all death sentences.

It is likely to be several years before the death sentence will be carried out. The last execution in North Carolina was in 2006. There are currently more than 150 inmates on death row at Central Prison in Raleigh.

Lamp showed no reaction as Wilson read the jury’s recommendation. One of his attorneys, David Freedman, rested his head on his hand, as he had been doing since the jury knocked on the jury room door and indicated a recommendation had been reached.

Irvine’s sister, Debbie Powers, who was the first witness in the guilt phase and who has been in court for most of the trial, showed no reaction.

Wilson complimented Powers and her two brothers, who also attended much of the trial, for their support.

“You’ve done your sister proud,” he said.

District Attorney Sarah Kirkman and Assistant District Attorney Carrie Nitzu hugged Powers after court was recessed.

Kirkman said she was satisfied with the jury’s decision.

“Ms. Nitzu and I respect the jury’s decision, and our thoughts and prayers are with the victim’s family at this time,” she said. One of Lamp’s two defense attorneys, Vince Rabil, walked over and shook hands with the prosecution.

The sentencing phase brought to an end a case that began in mid-March 2008 when Lamp was arrested driving Irvine’s Volvo near Troutman. Irvine had been reported missing on March 8 but was last seen by her roommate at their Cornelius home on Feb. 28.

That’s the day, according to trial testimony, that she met Lamp in person after contacting him two weeks earlier via a Craigslist ad placed by him.

Her body was found the day after Lamp was arrested. She was buried in the backyard of a home on Weathers Creek Road that belonged to a friend of Lamp’s. She had been beaten and strangled, either one of which could have caused her death, according to expert testimony.

This was the first case in Iredell County in which a jury recommended the death penalty since 2010 when Andrew Ramseur received the death penalty for killing two people at a Statesville convenience store during a robbery in 2007.

NORTH CAROLINA – Unresolved challenges put death penalty on hold in N.C.- Cornell Haugabook Jr.

October 3, 2012

New Hanover County prosecutors decided last month to seek the death penalty against Cornell Haugabook Jr. for the June killing of a Chinese food delivery driver, despite doubts about whether such a sentence will ever be carried out.

North Carolina has not executed an inmate in six years because issues with the state medical board and unresolved litigation have led to a de facto moratorium. So while the state continues to pay for costly capital trials, no one is actually being put to death.

New Hanover County District Attorney Ben David, who is also president of the N.C. Conference of District Attorneys, said the moratorium has become a point of concern among prosecutors. “Any decision to move forward (with the death penalty) has to include a frank discussion with the victim’s family about the realistic possibility of the punishment being carried out,” he said.

The issue is particularly timely for New Hanover County, which is preparing to try Haugabook for his alleged involvement in the robbery and fatal shooting of Zhen Bo Liu. The 60-year-old immigrant was attempting to bring a food order to an address on South 13th Street when he was robbed and shot in the foot and face. Haugabook, 20, is one of six men facing charges in connection to the crime, but he is the only one legally eligible for the death penalty.

The district attorney’s office is also seeking death for Andrew Adams, 56, who is accused of bludgeoning 24-year-old Latricia Scott with a hammer and then burying her body in his backyard. Adams was arrested in January.

Prosecutors face a litany of hurdles when seeking death. For one, jurors have shown a growing reluctance to impose the penalty, a shift that some scholars attribute to a string of highly publicized exonerations. Even after a death sentence is secured, ongoing appeals and litigation challenging the constitutionality of lethal injection, the state’s sole execution method, have tied up executions for the indefinite future.

Critics say pursuing capital punishment amid a moratorium is an expensive gamble. That argument has gained traction as shrinking budgets and the frustratingly slow growth of the economy prompt some states to re-examine their criminal justice policies.

Philip Cook, a professor at Duke University, authored a study two years ago that analyzed costs associated with North Carolina’s death penalty in 2005 and 2006. He concluded the state would save $11 million annually by abolishing capital punishment.

But supporters of the death penalty fear cost concerns might undermine what they view as an appropriate form of justice for especially heinous crimes.

“Justice should not have a price tag,” David said. “Ask a victim’s family whether it’s too costly.”

With 46 executions since 1976, North Carolina had been among the most active users of capital punishment, according to data from the nonprofit Death Penalty Information Center, based in Washington, D.C.

But recent years have seen a turnaround. Even before the state’s moratorium took hold, executions had grown exceedingly rare for several reasons. The number of death sentences handed out has trended downward since 2000, dropping from 18 that year to three in 2007, according to Isaac Unah, a political science professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

The decline coincides with the state’s creation of the Office of Indigent Defense Services, which scholars say is the single biggest contributor to the drop.

The office has led to enhancements in the way poor defendants are represented.

“Prosecutors stop asking for death so easily knowing they’re going to be faced with much more substantial defense teams on the other side,” said Frank Baumgartner, another UNC Chapel Hill professor who has studied the death penalty.

In New Hanover County, the decision on whether to seek death is made by a committee of senior prosecutors, who analyze so-called “aggravating factors,” which include things like whether the crime was especially heinous or was committed for monetary gain. David said prosecutors have one month after the indictment is issued to declare if they are seeking the death penalty.

“This is not arbitrary or capricious,” David said. “This is a thorough review of the facts and the law that the legislature has set forth.”


NORTH CAROLINA – man once on death row charged in wife’s slaying – Joseph Green Brown

September 17,2012

Joseph Green Brown refused to run from his troubled past. He’d tell audiences he was only hours from being executed on Florida’s death row. He’d talk about how an appeals court overturned his rape and murder convictions in 1986 and how he walked out of prison a free man – with a goal of ending the death penalty.

Now Brown is back in jail, this time facing first-degree murder charges in the death of the woman he married 20 years ago, Mamie Caldwell Brown of Charlotte.

“This is just horrible,” said Sherry Williams, Mamie Brown’s aunt. “From what we could tell, he was sweet and caring. And now this? We are all in shock. How could this happen?”

Brown was in a Mecklenburg County courtroom Monday for a preliminary hearing. The judge ordered the 62-year-old Brown held without bond until a Sept. 26 hearing. A daughter of the victim shouted, “Oh, my God!”

Mamie Brown, 71, was found dead in her apartment last Thursday after police were asked to check on her. Joseph Brown was arrested late Friday at a hotel in Charleston, S.C.

Joseph Brown was convicted and sentenced to death for a 1973 rape and murder in Hillsborough County, Fla. His conviction was reversed in 1986 because of false testimony from a co-defendant.

During a brief hearing in Charlotte, Brown was escorted into a courtroom in handcuffs. Wearing an orange prison jump suit, he glimpsed at his wife’s family in the courtroom, but quickly turned away.

Outside, Mamie Brown’s family said Brown never hid that he was on death row. In fact, they said, he embraced it.

“He went around talking to groups about it,” Williams said. “He even talked to my church about it. He told people what they had to do to stay out of trouble. He was a good motivational speaker. That’s how he made a living.”

It’s unclear whether Brown had an attorney Monday afternoon.

Charlotte-Mecklenburg police are still investigating Thursday’s slaying. District Attorney Bill Stetzer said prosecutors would present the case soon to a grand jury.

Brown’s 1974 conviction and death sentence by a Florida jury was for raping and murdering Earlene Treva Barksdale, the owner of a clothing store. He was scheduled for execution Oct. 17, 1983, but a federal judge ordered a stay 15 hours before he was to be put to death. The U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals overturned the conviction in early 1986, saying the prosecution knowingly allowed false testimony from a leading witness.

The prosecution decided against retrying Brown and he was released from prison on March 5, 1987.

After his release, Brown took the name Shabaka and frequently spoke out against the injustice and finality of the death penalty, including to a U.S. House Judiciary subcommittee in 1993.

Richard Blumenthal, now a U.S. senator from Connecticut, represented Brown on appeal as a volunteer attorney for the NAACP Legal Defense Fund. He was in private practice at the time.

Blumenthal said in 1987 that the Brown case changed his view of the death penalty “because it provided such a dramatic illustration of how the system could be fallible and cause the death of an innocent person.”

Blumenthal declined to comment Sunday on his involvement in the case, and did not respond to requests for comment Monday.

After prison, Brown went to the Washington D.C. area where he met his future wife. They got married about 20 years ago and moved to Charlotte about five years ago, family members said.

“We thought they were happy,” said Marcus Williams, who is Mamie Brown’s cousin.

He said the family didn’t worry about Brown’s past.

“He didn’t seem like a threat. He was upfront about everything. He was always smiling and trying to help people. He was a motivational speaker. He liked to warn people what could happen in the legal system,” he said.

Joyce Robbins, another relative, said she stared at Brown in court.

“He had a blank look. I don’t know that person. I’ve never seen him before,” she said.

J. Michael Shea, a Tampa attorney who defended Brown on the Florida murder charge, said over the years, they appeared together on television shows and spoke at law schools. He said he talked to Brown by telephone at least each Christmas, and last saw Brown about a decade ago when both appeared on the Jenny Jones syndicated TV talk show to discuss the case.

He said Brown cared about his wife.

“I can recall that he cared a lot about this woman. I mean, he always talked very favorably about her. And usually when I talked to him (on the phone) she was there. I could either hear her say, `Oh, hello Michael,’ in the background or she actually got on the phone or whatever. So it was a real shock that this has happened.”

He said Brown was an effective speaker.

“Joe was a good example of why we shouldn’t have it,” Shea said. “It’s a real sad thing that this happened because he was a real champion for the anti-death penalty group.”

NORTH CAROLINA – North Carolina House committee votes to remove TVs for death row inmates

June 7, 2012  Source :

RALEIGH – A divided House committee agreed Wednesday to prohibit North Carolina death-row prisoners from watching television despite the warning by Central Prison’s warden that removing TVs could increase violence among the condemned inmates.

The measure is a direct response to a convicted killer’s letter – printed in a newspaper in January -in which he boasted of being a “gentleman of leisure” on death row, watching color TV and taking frequent naps. He wrote, “Kill me if you can, suckers.”

Republican Rep. Tim Moore, who is shepherding the bill through the House, said Danny Hembree’s letter was galling and caused a ruckus in Gaston County, where Hembree was convicted last year of killing a 17-year-old girl and dumping her body in South Carolina. Moore told the judiciary subcommittee hearing the bill none of the 156 prisoners awaiting execution should receive the TV privilege.

“To think he’s there watching TV, that other murderers are there watching television, having that benefit, that’s just not right,” said Moore, who lives in nearby Cleveland County. “Anything we can do to make death row a less pleasant place, we should.”

Moore said he and other legislators recently visited Central Prison, a maximum-security prison for male offenders where nearly all of the state’s death-row prisoners reside. The four women are at the N.C. Correctional Institution for Women, also in Raleigh.

Hembree is segregated from other death-row prisoners and doesn’t have access to TV, the state Division of Adult Correction said.

Central Prison Warden Kenneth Lassiter told the committee that television is a management tool for prisoners and its privilege is already limited. Lassiter said the bill, if approved, would have “the potential to escalate security issues at the facility.”

“It will create an environment that violence could increase due to the fact that the inmates are idle,” he said. “It’s an isolated situation on death row, so inmates don’t have the normal movement of other inmates inside the facility.”

Death-row inmates at Central Prison share common areas in housing pods where they can watch television.

Prisoners must purchase ear buds and a small radio to listen to the television audio over a certain frequency, division spokeswoman Pamela Walker said. A Central Prison prisoner committee makes recommendations to administrators about which shows they’d like to watch on over-the-air channels. Prison officials decide which shows are appropriate.

“They’re not living the life of luxury,” Lassiter said.

Several Democratic committee members voted against it, apparently in deference to Lassiter’s concerns. Rep. Jennifer Weiss, D-Wake, said she was worried about the effect the lack of television could have on the state workers staffing the prison.

“I hear regularly about the dangers they put themselves in every day to keep all of us safe,” Weiss said, adding she wants “to make sure whatever we do here doesn’t jeopardize their safety.”

The bill’s next stop is the House, where lawmakers are expected to weigh that warning against trying to make a get-tough statement on criminals.

A judge earlier this year declared a mistrial in another murder trial involving Hembree, who was accused of strangling another woman, storing her body in the basement of his mother’s home and later dumping the body and setting it on fire to cover up evidence.

Hembree, 50, mocked in his letter how what he called the very slim chances that he would be executed in the next 20 years.

“Is the public aware that I am a gentleman of leisure, watching color TV in the A.C., reading, taking naps at will, eating three well-balanced meals a day?” Hembree asked.

Hembree’s sister said later that his brother wrote another letter to his family that talks of his despair on death row.

Innocent, but broke…Glen Chapman was exonerated from death row in 2008. Why hasn’t he received the $750K he deserves in compensation?

May 21, source :

Glen Edward Chapman, or “Ed,” was exonerated in 2008 after spending 15 years on death row for crimes he did not commit. Though North Carolina is one of the 27 states with statutes that provide some level of compensation for the wrongfully convicted, the state continues to refuse Chapman any compensation for the loss of his freedom, reputation, family, friends and much more.

Chapman was sentenced to death in 1994 at the age of 26 for the murders of Betty Jean Ramseur and Tenene Yvette Conley in Hickory, N.C. After more than a decade of court appeals, Superior Court Judge Robert C. Ervin ordered a new trial based on revelations that detectives “lost, misplaced or destroyed” several pieces of evidence that pointed to another suspect. It was also discovered that lead investigator Dennis Rhoney lied on the witness stand at Chapman’s original trial. Shortly thereafter, the district attorney dismissed all charges against Chapman due to lack of sufficient evidence leading to his exoneration in 2008.

Chapman is just one of a growing number of wrongfully convicted inmates who have been cleared thanks to criminal justice reforms and new DNA testing laws put in place over the last decade. But oftentimes the hardship doesn’t end there.

In 2007, the New York Times interviewed 137 former prisoners exonerated by modern DNA testing methods and found that half were “struggling — drifting from job to job, dependent on others for housing or battling deep emotional scars. More than two dozen ended up back in prison or addicted to drugs or alcohol.”

According to a 2009 report by the Innocence Project, an organization devoted to exonerating the wrongfully convicted, an astounding 40 percent of people exonerated by DNA testing have received zero compensation, due in part to the 23 states around the country that do not offer assistance to the wrongfully convicted. That leaves exonerees like Alan Northrop, who lost 17 years behind bars in the state of Washington, with little to no help in rebuilding their lives.

Even in states that do offer compensation, the amount is often woefully inadequate in helping exonerees reestablish themselves, though compensation varies by state ranging from $20,000 in New Hampshire regardless of the years spent behind bars to $80,000 per year of wrongful imprisonment in Texas.

Most state compensation statutes, however, include conditions for eligibility. Last year, Texas refused to compensate Anthony Graves the $1.4 million he would have received for the 18 years he spent on death row because the judge did not include the words “actual innocence” on the document ordering his release. Texas reversed its decision only after nationwide media attention led to a massive public outcry.

In North Carolina, the exonerated are eligible to receive $50,000 for each year of wrongful imprisonment capping out at $750,000 but only if they are granted a pardon of innocence by the governor who is not required to give a reason for her decision. Chapman filed a pardon request in 2009 but a decision has yet to be made. The office of North Carolina Gov. Bev Perdue did not respond to a request for comment.

Chapman’s experience is consistent with statistics from the Innocence Project that show it takes an average of three years to secure compensation. Meanwhile, the wrongfully imprisoned face an uphill battle almost immediately upon release, starting with where they will sleep that night and how they will get their next meal. Only 10 states even offer the kinds of services — housing, transportation, education, healthcare, job placement, etc. — crucial to helping exonerees transition back into society as free citizens.

Chapman was not notified he was going to be released until the day he was freed. On April 2, 2008, a guard told him to “Pack up” and 10 minutes later he was out the door.  No one asked if he had a ride or a place to stay.

Luckily he had help from Pamela Laughon, a college professor and chairwoman of the psychology department at the University of North Carolina, who spent eight years working on Chapman’s appeal as a court-appointed investigator. The two immediately clicked when they met and have been inseparable since.

Laughon told Salon she was shocked her client was released with just 10 minutes’ notice and no ride or money. “Years ago they used to let them out with at least a bus ticket,” she says. Nevertheless, the two had already decided that if and when Chapman was released he would live with Laughon until he got on his feet.

That meant Chapman would have to move to Asheville, N.C., which worked out for the best because he did not want to return to Hickory. “When I go back to Hickory the hair on my neck stands up,” says Chapman. The town reminds him of the trauma from his trial when family members testified against him and the time he spent incarcerated instead of watching his two young sons grow up.

Laughon was happy to help. “I had lawyers calling me from all over the state asking me if I was nuts. I spent eight years trying to get this man released. There was no way I was going to drop him off at a homeless shelter or the projects where he grew up,” she told Salon.

With Laughon’s assistance, Chapman set up a checking account, got a driver’s license for the first time, found housing, learned how to use a cellphone and more.

She helped him manage his finances, which quickly dwindled given that he hadn’t received an income in 15 years. Over a decade in prison led him to mishandle the money he did have because, Chapman says, “I was so unused to having things that I wanted to buy everything. I went shopping crazy.” It was moments like this that having Laughon’s support was crucial to Chapman’s ability to readjust to society as a free man.

Laughon also went on job interviews with him to help explain his background to prospective employers. “I’m a college professor and chair of a department, so I have some cred,” she says. “He’s a black guy in the south. If he told an employer ‘by the way I was wrongfully convicted and spent the last 15 years on death row,’ people would look at him like he was crazy and laugh.”

With help from one of Laughon’s students, Chapman found a job at a hotel a few weeks after his release. Four years later, he still works there, which he says is the longest he’s ever held a job.

Still, life is a struggle. Laughon argues that Chapman needs the compensation because, “He’s stuck in minimum wage, being paid the lowest legal amounts you can pay a human being.”

The pardon of innocence pending before Gov. Perdue is important to Chapman not just for the compensation but also because it would be an official declaration of innocence. Laughon calls his current predicament “a no man’s land between not being guilty or innocent.”

Rev. Dr. T. Anthony Spearman, a pastor in Hickory and third vice president of the North Carolina NAACP, points out that without an official declaration of innocence, “His family is still at odds with him, not knowing whether he’s a criminal or not. The stigma of being a felon is still on him.”

Spearman went on to compare wrongful conviction to a crime in and of itself. “To be incarcerated, locked up for 15 years wrongfully, is to me a criminal act and the state needs to make up for that,” he told Salon. “The government needs to go head over heals to make sure these men receive apologies and make sure that they can get on with their lives meaning compensation, education, whatever they need to survive.”

Jean Parks, an active member of Murder Victims’ Families for Reconciliation (her sister was murdered) and People of Faith Against the Death Penalty in Asheville, agrees that Chapman needs be pardoned but feels that monetary compensation for the wrongfully convicted does not go far enough. “Money should be a part of it to help cover for lost wages and lost opportunities but the state’s response should go beyond that,” says Parks. “It should include an official apology and some social services to help the person get reacclimated to society, find a job, and reestablish oneself as a productive member of the community.”

Laughon argues that states should provide a “life coach” to do for the exonerated what she did for Chapman, which she describes as “somebody that’s going to navigate all the many day-to-day things like managing a bank account, how paychecks will be taxed, and the other kinds of life skills you and I do second nature.” She believes her experience with Chapman serves as a successful case study of the “life coach” approach.

In the meantime, Chapman has an interview with the clemency office on May 30, a signal that Gov. Perdue will likely come to a decision soon. He is determined to stay positive no matter what the outcome and insists he has no bitterness toward the people who put him on death row. “I can forgive. That doesn’t mean I have to forget,” says Chapman.

He upholds that principle by traveling across the state when he can to speak about his exoneration and bring awareness to the flaws in the criminal justice system. He admits he was not aware of the death penalty before his conviction but “now that I do know, I’m going to do everything I can to put an end to it.”

Since his exoneration, Chapman has written a book called “Life After Death Row.” His next book, “Within These Walls,” will be released later this year and includes his diary entries from death row. He says, “It’s going to be a tear-jerker.” Chapman will also be featured in an upcoming episode of B.E.T.’s “Vindicated,” a documentary-style television show that tells the stories of exonerated prisoners.

If he receives compensation, Chapman hopes to open a bed and breakfast. He also dreams of one day opening a shelter for at-risk women.

Chapman acknowledges that none of this would be possible without someone like Laughon in his life. “When I first met Pam it was like meeting an old friend for the first time. To this day, she’s like my big sister,” he says. “She’s been there for me from start to finish. I don’t think I would have made it without her.

NORTH CAROLINA – Judge Blocks Death Sentence Under Law on Race Disparity

april 20, 2012 source :

Marcus Reymond Robinson

Concluding that racial bias played a significant factor in the sentencing of a man to death here 18 years ago, a judge on Friday ordered that the convict’s sentence be reduced to life in prison without parole, the first such decision under North Carolina’s controversial Racial Justice Act.

Reading a summary of his ruling from the bench, Judge Gregory A. Weeks of Cumberland County Superior Court said that “race was a materially, practically and statistically significant factor in the decision to exercise peremptory challenges during jury selection by prosecutors” when the inmate, Marcus Reymond Robinson, was being tried.

The disparity was strong enough, the judge said, “as to support an inference of intentional discrimination.”

From the jury box where they sat, the relatives of the man Mr. Robinson killed, Erik Tornblom, watched in disappointed silence. Mr. Robinson, wearing all white, was seated with his lawyers, his head lowered as the judge read his ruling.

The state said it would appeal.

The landmark ruling is expected to be the first of many under the law, which allows defendants and death row inmates to present evidence, including statistical patterns, that race played a major role in their being sentenced to death.

Over the course of the hearing, lawyers for Mr. Robinson presented the findings of a study by Michigan State University researchers showing that prosecutors used peremptory challenges to remove blacks from juries more than twice as often as they used such challenges against whites. The study, which Judge Weeks called valid and reliable, found that disparity existed statewide, and to an even greater degree here in Cumberland County and in Mr. Robinson’s trial in particular.

Prosecutors, who have fiercely opposed the law since it was passed in 2009, criticized the Michigan State researchers’ methodology, but, more pointedly, they said that jury selection was a “complex discretionary system,” with thousands of possible reasons to remove a potential juror. To assume that race was the motive behind many of these decisions, prosecutors said, was not only wrong, but offensive.

“They do not have evidence of purposeful discrimination,” Rob Thompson, an assistant district attorney in Cumberland County, said in his closing arguments. “They do not have some secret society of prosecutors maniacally plotting to remove people from juries. They do not have any of that because there is no such evidence. It doesn’t exist. They have numbers.”

NORTH CAROLINA – Guilty But Innocent – Henry Alford

april, 17, 2012 source :

The recent flurry of news stories involving inmates claiming innocence but accepting guilty pleas in exchange for release from prison warrants some discussion. The particular plea bargain is known as an “Alford plea” and originated in the United States Supreme Court case of North Carolina v. Alford in 1970. The Supreme Court upheld the plea agreement entered by the trial court, despite defendant’s protests of innocence, and determined that since defendant was adequately advised of the plea arrangement by his lawyer and entered the plea voluntary, the plea bargain would stand. The underlying facts of the case are relevant to this discussion.

Henry Alford had been indicted on a charge of first-degree murder in 1963. Evidence in the case included testimony from witnesses that Alford had said after the death of the victim that he had killed the individual. Court testimony showed Alford and the victim argued at the victim’s house. Alford left the house, and afterwards the victim received a fatal gunshot woundwhen he opened the door responding to a knock.

Alford was faced with the possibility of capital punishment if convicted by a jury trial. The death penalty was required pursuant to North Carolinalaw at the time if two conditions in the case were satisfied. The defendant had to have pleaded not guilty, and the jury had to decide not to recommend a life sentence (this is not the law today). Had Alford pleaded guilty to first-degree murder, he would have avoided the death penalty and been sentenced to life in prison. The defendant did not want to admit guilt. Alford pleaded guilty to second-degree murder, and said he was doing so to avoid a death sentence if he had been convicted of first-degree murder after attempting to contest that charge. Alford was sentenced to 30 years in prison, after the trial judge in the case accepted the plea bargain and ruled that the defendant had been adequately apprised by his lawyer.

Alford filed an appeal requesting a new trial arguing he was forced into a guilty plea because he was afraid of receiving a death sentence. The Supreme Court of North Carolina ruled that the defendant had voluntarily entered the guilty plea, with knowledge of what that meant. Following this ruling, Alford petitioned for a writ of habeas corpus in the United States District Court for the Middle District of North Carolina, which upheld the initial ruling, and subsequently to the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit which ruled that Alford’s plea was not voluntary, because it was made under fear of the death penalty. “I just pleaded guilty because they said if I didn’t, they would gas me for it,” wrote Alford in one of his appeals.

The defendant appealed to the US Supreme Court with Justice Byron White writing for the majority. In a 6 to 3 decision, the Court held that for the plea agreement to be accepted, the defendant must have been advised by a competent lawyer who was able to inform the individual that his best decision in the case would be to enter a guilty plea. The Court ruled that the defendant can enter such a plea “when he concludes that his interests require a guilty plea and the record strongly indicates guilt.” The Court only allowed the guilty plea with a simultaneous protestation of innocence as there was enough evidence to show that the prosecution had a strong case for a conviction, and the defendant was entering such a plea to avoid this possible sentencing. The Court went on to note that even if the defendant could have shown that he would not have entered a guilty plea “but for” the rationale of receiving a lesser sentence, the plea itself would not have been ruled invalid. As a factual basis existed that could have supported Alford’s conviction, the Supreme Court held that his guilty plea was sustainable while the defendant himself still maintained that he was not guilty.

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