north carolina

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.

STUDIES: Racial Bias in Jury Selection

A new study of trials in Caddo Parish, Louisiana, revealed that potential jurors who were black were much more likely to be struck from juries than non-blacks. The results were consistent with findings from Alabama, North Carolina, and other parts of Louisiana, highlighting an issue that will be reviewed by the U.S. Supreme Court this fall. In Caddo Parish, an area known for its many death sentences, prosecutors used peremptory strikes against 46% of black jurors, but only 15% of other jurors, according to the study by Reprieve Australia. The racial composition of the juries appeared to make a difference in the ultimate outcome of the cases. The study found that no defendants were acquitted by juries with 2 or fewer black jurors, but 19% were acquitted when 5 or more jurors were black. In an Alabama study, prosecutors used peremptory strikes to remove 82% of eligible black potential jurors from trials in which the death penalty was imposed. A study of death penalty cases in North Carolina found that prosecutors struck 53% of black potential jurors but only 26% of others.


In the death penalty case from Georgia that will be heard by the Supreme Court, Foster v. Chatman, all black prospective jurors were excluded from the jury. Prosecutors marked the names of black prospective jurors with a B and highlighted those names in green. Whenever such potential jurors had noted their race on questionnaires, prosecutors circled the word “black.”


Exclusion of Blacks From Juries Raises Renewed Scrutiny,” New York Times, August 16, 2015; U. Noye, “Blackstrikes: A Study of the Racially Disparate Use of Peremptory Challenges by the Caddo Parish District Attorney’s office,” Reprieve Australia, August, 2015)

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.

Woman’s Serial Killer Claims Can’t Be Verified: Investigators – MIRANDA BARBOUR 19 -YEAR- OLD

Authorities have expressed doubt and skepticism over the claims of a teenager who told the Daily Item, a small newspaper in Sunbury, Pa., that she had been killing people since she was 13 as part of a satanic cult.

“As of this date, there has been no verification of any of the information that has been the subject of media coverage regarding prior acts of the defendant, Miranda Barbour,” Anthony Rosini, the district attorney of Northumberland County, said in a statement today to

Any information about alleged crimes “committed in other jurisdictions has been or will be forwarded to the appropriate law enforcement agencies and the FBI for investigation,” he said.

In a jailhouse interview with a reporter from the Daily Item, Barbour, 19, said that she went on a cross-country satanic killing spree that claimed at least 22 victims, according to the newspaper.

The claim, if true, would make her a rare female serial killer.

Barbour is charged along with her husband of three weeks of murdering Troy LaFerrara, a Pennsylvania man she met on Craigslist. She claimed that she had solicited LaFerrara for sex on Craigslist in November. Authorities said Barbour and husband Elytte Barbour stabbed LaFerrara to death while in her car.

The suspect told the newspaper she had killed what she calls “bad people” from Alaska to North Carolina. Police in Alaska, California, North Carolina and Texas have been called to check out Barbour’s story, authorities said. The FBI said it “will offer any assistance requested in the case.”

Noelle Talley, spokeswoman for the North Carolina Bureau of Investigation, told that authorities were in touch with their counterparts in Pennsylvania and will “remain in contact with them to determine if there is any credible information related to any unsolved homicide in North Carolina.”

Bill James, a baseball writer and statistician who analyzed prolific murderers in the book, “Popular Crime,” told that authorities have every reason to be skeptical of Barbour’s claims.

“I don’t think there has ever been a 19-year-old that killed 22 people. I don’t think that has ever happened in the country,” he said.

Still, James said authorities are right to follow up on Barbour’s claims to the newspaper.

“You have to assume you could be dealing with a killer until proven otherwise,” he said. “A lot of times you never know the truth.”

Despite her confession to the newspaper, a lawyer for Barbour entered a not-guilty plea at her arraignment. was not able to immediately reach Barbour’s family members or her public defender.

february 15, 2014

Nineteen-year-old satanist Miranda Barbour admits to killing Troy LaFerrara of Port Trevorton. In a prison interview Friday night, she said that she considered sparing his life until he said the wrong thing. She also said LaFerrara was one of dozens of such victims she killed in the past six years.

Barbour, with her husband, Elytte Barbour, 22, of Selinsgrove, has been charged by Sunbury police in the Nov. 11 fatal knifing of LaFerrara. She requested an interview that was recorded by the Northumberland County Prison on Friday night.

While she offered scant details of her participation in slayings in Alaska, Texas, North Carolina and California, city police confirmed Saturday they had been working, prior to her revelations Friday night, with investigators from other states and the FBI about Miranda Barbour’s possible connection to other killings. The majority of her murders, she said, took place in Alaska.

City police on Saturday would not comment on the status of those investigations.

At 22 victims, “I stopped counting”

Asked Friday night how many people she had killed, Miranda Barbour said through a jailhouse phone: “When I hit 22, I stopped counting.”

She wants to plead guilty to LaFerrara’s murder, and said she is ready to speak with police about her other victims.

“I can pinpoint on a map where you can find them,” she said.

LaFerrara, Miranda Barbour said, was Elytte’s first victim.

The 42-year-old Port Trevorton resident was killed on the Barbours’ three-week wedding anniversary.

“I remember everything,” Miranda Barbour said. “It is like watching a movie.”

She said she agreed to sex for $100 with LaFerrara, whom she met through a Craigslist ad. The two met in the parking lot of the Susquehanna Valley Mall in Hummels Wharf, and drove nearly six miles to Sunbury.

At one point, she planned to let LaFerrara out of her Honda CRV.

“He said the wrong things,” she said. “And then things got out of control. I can tell you he was not supposed to be stabbed. My husband was just supposed to strangle him.”

Time to “get it out”

According to court documents, Miranda Barbour knifed LaFerrara 20 times as Elytte Barbour sprang from the floor of the back seat to strap a cord around LaFerrara’s neck.

As she said upon her arrest, Miranda Barbour on Friday night repeated that LaFerrara tried to grope her, but she said it was his words that set her off.

“I lied to him and told him I just turned 16,” she said.

“He told me that it was OK. If he would have said no, that he wasn’t going to go through with the  arrangement, I would have let him go.”

Miranda Barbour said she doesn’t care whether people believe her, that she wanted to tell her story to The Daily Item because she wanted to come clean and stop living a lie. She said she felt no remorse for her victims and said she killed only “bad people,” a belief she traced through a troubled childhood.

She said she was sexually molested at age 4 and was introduced to murder at 13, literally in the hands of a man who led her to satanism — beliefs that she said she held at the time of the LaFerrara homicide.

“I feel it is time to get all of this out,” she said. “I don’t care if people believe me. I just want to get it out.”

Suspect: I joined satanic cult

Miranda said when she was 4, she was sexually molested by a relative.

Elizabeth Dean, Miranda’s mother, confirmed Saturday that her sister’s husband was later arrested and charged with sexual abuse of a minor and sentenced to 14 years in prison.

“It was bad,” Dean said. “I never let (her) stay anywhere except for my sister’s house, and I was devastated when I found out.”

Nine years later, Miranda joined a satanic cult in Alaska. Soon after, Miranda said, she had her first experience in murder.

Barbour said she went with the leader of the satanic cult to meet a man who owed the cult leader money.

“It was in an alley and he (the cult leader) shot him,” she said, declining to identify the cult leader.

“Then he said to me that it was my turn to shoot him. I hate guns. I don’t use guns. I couldn’t do it, so he came behind me and he took his hands and put them on top of mine and we pulled the trigger. And then from there I just continued to kill.”

While in the satanic cult, Miranda became pregnant. The cult did not want her to have the baby, so, she said, members tied her to a bed, gave her drugs and she had an “in-house abortion.”

However, her mother on Saturday said that when Miranda told her about the abortion, she took her daughter to a doctor who said there were no signs of an ended pregnancy.

Miranda said she spent the next three years in Alaska, continuing in the satanic cult and participating in several murders.

“I wasn’t always there (mentally),” she said, adding that she had begun to use drugs. “I knew something was bad inside me and the satanic beliefs brought it out. I embraced it.”

During those three years, Miranda said she became pregnant again.

“And I moved to North Carolina,” she said. “I wanted to start over and forget everything I did.”

She left Alaska as a high-ranking official in the satanic world, leaving the father of her second pregnancy, a man named Forest, the No. 2 leader in their cult, who was murdered.

Ready to talk to police

Although Miranda would not say who else may have been involved in the alleged murders, she said all police have to do is talk to her because she is ready to speak.

“I would lure these people in,” she said. “I studied them. I learned them and even became their friend. I did this to people who did bad things and didn’t deserve to be here anymore.”

Sunbury police Chief Steve Mazzeo said authorities are aware of Miranda’s claims of murders, are taking them very seriously, and are also aware of Friday night’s interview. Prison officials have been cooperating with his department, Mazzeo said.

“We are reviewing the recording of The Daily Item interview and I will not confirm or deny anything at this point,” he said.

“I will however say that through investigations by lead officer Travis Bremigen he has been in contact with several other states and is working with law enforcement from various cities and towns.

“From information we gathered and from information gathered from her interview we are seriously concerned and have been in contact with the proper authorities.”

During the interview, Miranda was asked that, given her small stature, how people would believe she would be capable of murder.

“Looks,” she said, “can be deceiving.”

Asked why she pleaded not guilty to the LaFerrara murder, she simply said: “I didn’t want to.”

“When I was at my arraignment and the judge asked me how do I plead, I was ready to say guilty and my attorney (chief public defender Ed Greco) grabbed the microphone and said not guilty.”

Miranda Barbour said she has not spoken with her husband since the day she was arrested, but saw The Daily Item photo of Elytte Barbour’s new teardrop tattoo that he displayed at his most recent court appearance.

Husband “proud of what he did”

Elytte Barbour is being held in Columbia County Jail.

“He is proud of what he did,” she said. “I will always love him.”

Miranda said she has no regrets for any of her alleged crimes.

“I have none,” she said.

“I know I will never see my husband again and I have accepted that. I know I wanted to talk about all this because I know I had a 20-year window where I would possibly get out of jail and I don’t want that to happen. If I were to be released, I would do this again.

“By no means is this a way to glorify it or get attention. I’m telling you because it is time for me to be honest and I feel I need to be honest.”

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.”


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.

full article : click here 

North Carolina’s death penalty debate

Viewpoint: Los Angeles Times

The machinery of death is ripping itself to chunks in North Carolina. Would that this would happen in more places — like, say, California.

Conservatives and prosecutors in the Tarheel State are up in arms over a 2009 law that allows death row inmates to reduce their sentences to life without parole if they can prove racial bias in sentencing or jury selection — even if the bias wasn’t directed at them but at others. In other words, if convicts can show a statistical pattern of racial bias statewide, they can use it as evidence that their own trial may have been skewed. And they don’t have to be minorities to appeal; a white inmate who can show excessive dismissal of black potential jurors might be able to dodge the executioner.

Opponents of the law are calling it a backdoor way to end the death penalty, and they’re probably not wrong. That’s because it’s not going to be very hard for inmates to demonstrate racial bias. A Michigan State University study found that, between 1990 and 2010, North Carolina prosecutors dismissed black potential jurors at twice the rate of nonblacks in death penalty cases.

But it’s not an ideal solution. The approach is laden with complications and, moreover, North Carolina has a potential nightmare brewing: Because the sentence of life without parole didn’t exist there before 1994, it’s possible that inmates sentenced before then who successfully overturn their death sentences could be set free.

The better way? Borrow a page from Illinois, New Mexico and other states that have done away with the death penalty and replaced it with life without parole.

Capital punishment imposes ruinous costs on states, it can’t be reversed if an inmate is later exonerated, it’s highly questionable whether it can be carried out in a humane manner, and it protects society from killers no better than putting them away for life. As for the possibility of racial bias in sentencing, there probably isn’t a reliable way to eliminate it. North Carolina is going through the back door when, with more honesty and fewer complications, it could go through the front.