STUDIES: FBI Uniform Crime Report Finds Murder Rates Declined in 2008

The annual crime report released by the Federal Bureau of Investigation showed a decline in the national murder rate.  The rate dropped 4.7% in 2008 compared to 2007. Despite a regional decline, the South still has the highest murder rate among the four geographic regions: 6.6 murders per 100,000 people, higher than the national rate of 5.4. The Northeast still maintains the lowest murder rate at 4.2. There were 16,272 murders or non-negligent manslaughters in 2008, according to the report.  (FBI Uniform Crime Report for 2008 (published Sept. 2009)). The South has accounted for over 80% of executions since 1976 (971 of 1176 executions), while the Northeast accounted for less than 1% (4 of 1176).  Of the 20 states with the highest murder rates in the country, all of them had the death penalty in 2008.

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Gov. Perdue Signs North Carolina's Racial Justice Act--NAACP Commends Passage

Governor Beverly Purdue of North Carolina signed the state's Racial Justice Act into law on August 11, concluding a long period of legislative action surrounding this death penalty statute.  Gov. Purdue said in a news release, "I have always been a supporter of death penalty, but I have always believed it must be carried out fairly.  The Racial Justice Act ensures that when North Carolina hands down our state’s harshest punishment to our most heinous criminals – the decision is based on the facts and the law, not racial prejudice.”  The law allows pre-trial defendants and death-row inmates to challenge racial bias in the death penalty system through the use of statistical studies.  Prosecutors would then have the opportunity to rebut the claim that the statistical disparities indicate racial bias.  If proven, a judge could overturn the death sentence or prevent prosecutors from seeking the death penalty.

The state conference of the NAACP issued a statement, commending the sponsors of the bill and the governor.  They cautioned, "This law does not assure racial justice, but it can help bring it about. The law is one of the most powerful legitimate weapons we can use to rid our state of the criminal justice practice of racial bias.  It does not address the roots of the problem – stereotypes, fear and even racism – but it is a start."

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Racial Justice Act passes in North Carolina

On August 5, the North Carolina senate passed a bill allowing pre-trial defendants and death-row inmates to challenge the death penalty process through the use of statistical studies. The Racial Justice Act allows a defendant facing a capital trial or an inmate sentenced to death to use evidence showing a pattern of racial disparity as a way of challenging racial injustice in the death penalty.  Prosecutors would then have the opportunity to rebut the claim that the statistical disparities indicate racial bias.  If proven, a judge could overturn the death sentence or prevent prosecutors from seeking the death penalty.  Sen. Floyd McKissick (D-Durham) (pictured), the chief sponsor of the bill in the Senate, said,  “[The law] is critically needed to correct any type of conduct that might be impermissible when it comes to the imposition of the death penalty.”  The House had passed the Racial Justice Act earlier.  Governor Beverly Purdue is expected to sign the bill into law.  

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RACE: Research Experts Say Racial Bias Still Exists in Death Penalty

Renowned researchers David Baldus, Professor of Law at the University of Iowa, and George Woodworth, a fellow of the American Statistical Association, recently wrote about the ongoing problem of racial disparities in capital cases.  Professors Baldus and Woodworth were responsible for the acclaimed study on race and the death penalty in Georgia that was brought before the U.S. Supreme Court in 1987 in McCleskey v. Kemp.  In response to claims that North Carolina does not need to pass the Racial Justice Act, the researchers pointed to "several studies, including one done at UNC-Chapel Hill several years ago, that found that a defendant's odds of getting the death penalty in North Carolina increased by 3.5 times if the victim is white."  They wrote further: "Our published review of all studies completed up to 2003 reaches the same conclusion. No one who has read the research literature could claim that white-victim cases more frequently result in death sentences because they are more heinous and aggravated than black-victim cases. Studies that provide the strongest evidence that those who murder whites are substantially more likely to receive death sentences than those who murder blacks use well-accepted statistical tools to filter out the effects of these various non-racial factors."  Their entire op-ed may be read below:

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Racial Justice Act Passed In North Carolina House and Senate

On July 15, the House of Representatives of North Carolina voted 61-53 to pass the Racial Justice Act. A similar bill already passed the state senate, though that bill contained an amendment to bypass some objections to the state's execution process.  The new law, if finally approved, would allow judges to consider whether racial bias played a role in the decision to seek or impose the death penalty.  "This is a fairness bill," said Rep. Larry Womble, the Forsyth Democrat who helped champion the bill. "If we're going to kill people, we must be as fair and objective as we can. This allows one more chance for justice to be blind. ... It's not a get-out-of-jail free card for anybody."




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Racial Justice Act Moves Closer to Passage in North Carolina

On May 12, the North Carolina Senate Judiciary Committee approved a bill to prevent racial bias in the administration of the death penalty. The senate's action came just hours after a House panel passed a nearly identical bill, known as the Racial Justice Act.  The bill allows those convicted or accused of capital murder to argue through the use of statistical studies that race played a role in their death sentence or a prosecutor’s decision to seek the death penalty.  If that bias is proven, a judge could vacate the death sentence or order that capital punishment not be sought.  The next step for either version of the Racial Justice Act is a vote on the House or Senate floor. Two years ago, the House approved a similar bill.  A video about the Racial Justice Act produced by the North Carolina Coalition for a Moratorium may be viewed here.



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NEW RESOURCES: Death Row U.S.A. Winter 2009 Released

The NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund has released the latest Death Row U.S.A. report, covering death penalty statistics through January 1, 2009.  The total number of death row inmates decreased from 3,309 a year earlier to 3,297.  The states with the largest number of death row inmates were California with 678, Florida with 402, and Texas with 358.  The states (with 10 or more inmates) with the highest percent of minorities on death row were Texas at 70%, Connecticut at 70%, and Pennsylvania with 69%.  The complete Death Row U.S.A. report may be found here.

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NEW RESOURCES: Latest "Death Row USA" Report Released by NAACP Legal Defense Fund

According to the latest edition of Death Row U.S.A. published by the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund (LDF), the size of death row decreased slightly as of July 1, 2008 compared to Jan. 1.  After increasing steadily for about 25 years, the death row population started decreasing in 2000.  The current total of defendants on state and federal death rows is 3,307, of whom 45% are white, 41.6% are black, and 11% are Latino/Latina.  Over 98% of those on death row are male. The states with the largest death rows are California (662), Florida (399), Texas (367), and Pennsylvania (226).  Among states with at least 10 people on death row, Texas, Connecticut, and Pennsylvania have the highest percentage of minorities among those on death row--70%, 70%, and 69% respectively.  The full report can be read here.

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BOOKS: Thomas Cahill's "Story of Dominique Green"

Bestselling author Thomas Cahill has written a new book, “A Saint on Death Row: The Story of Dominique Green,” about his encounter and gradual understanding of the life of a Texas death row inmate named Dominique Green.  Green, who was only 18 at the time of his arrest, was executed in 2004.  Cahill's story of Green's life highlights issues of race, poverty, and abuse, tracing details of his childhood through his years on death row.  Thomas Cahill is probably best known for his New York Times bestseller “How the Irish Saved Civilization.” This newest book will be published by Doubleday and will be released in March 2009. 




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BOOKS: Life and Death Matters: Seeking the Truth About Capital Punishment

Life and Death Matters: Seeking the Truth About Capital Punishment is a new book that  documents author Robert Baldwin’s personal journey in confronting racism and the death penalty in the Deep South.  Baldwin shares his evolution in a conversational, first-person style with a declared faith perspective.  Written for people of all beliefs and backgrounds, he focuses on the myths and misconceptions about prisons and the death penalty discovered through his personal experiences. 

Baldwin began his career as a medical doctor and now devotes his time to public service work in prison ministry and to helping children born deaf and hard of hearing.



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