[Deathpenalty] death penalty news----NORTH CAROLINA
rhalperi at mail.smu.edu
Mon Apr 2 00:41:24 UTC 2007
Hardly open & shut
The death penalty discriminates against the poor, the uneducated and
minorities, a Durham defense attorney told a group of more than 150 people
gathered at First Baptist Church on Broadhurst Road Thursday evening.
"I've seen it firsthand the injustice throughout North Carolina in capital
litigation," said attorney Jay Ferguson, who is also a member of the
People of Faith Against the Death Penalty. "I am opposed to it on
religious, moral and practical grounds."
Ferguson presented the people who attended the information session with a
slew of statistics that support his opposition to capital punishment.
60 % of the 166 people sitting on North Carolina's death row represent
minorities, and 98 percent of those people were defended by
court-appointed counsel because they couldn't afford to pay an attorney,
"The race of your victim influences if you end up on death row," Ferguson
said. "80 % of the people on death row had victims who were white yet in
the past 10 years only 42 % of homicide victims were white. ... If there
was no racial disparity, there would be no disparity in those figures."
Ferguson said it sends a message.
"It says that as a society we value white life more than non-white life,"
said Ferguson who is white.
Capital punishment is often touted as a crime deterrent. Ferguson disputed
"The death penalty isn't used as a criminal justice issue but rather a
political issue," he said and cited homicide statistics from 4 states.
North Carolina has a homicide rate of 6.9 for every 100,000 people. New
York's rate is 4.5. In Massachusetts it's 2.7 and in Texas the homicide
rate is 6.2 for every 100,000 people. Capital punishment is legal in North
Carolina and Texas with Texas ranking No. 1 in its execution rate,
"If the death penalty was a deterrent, you would expect to see the states
with the highest execution rates with the lowest number of homicides, but
we are seeing the exact opposite," Ferguson said.
Inadequate attorneys are sometimes blamed for why people end up on death
"One in six death row inmates were represented by lawyers disciplined by
the State Bar," Ferguson said. "Overall only 1 percent of attorneys are
ever sanctioned by the State Bar."
After Ferguson provided the crowd with information, he answered several
questions. Then Stephen Dear, the executive director for the People of
Faith Against the Death Penalty, explained what people who oppose capital
punishment can do about it.
Contacting legislators, signing petitions, holding rallies and prayer
vigils and organizing press conferences were among his suggestions.
Tammy Olsen, who is a student at Coastal Carolina Community College, heard
about the information session from an instructor and while she wasn't
against the death penalty, she decided to attend just to listen.
"You hear about murders and you are sorry for the victims," she said. "You
want something to happen to them because the victim didn't have a choice
about whether they lived or died."
After hearing the presentation, Olsen's opinion changed a little.
"It makes you think different," she said. "I'm still not quite sure."
Vernon Kelley, a sociology instructor at Coastal Carolina Community
College, isn't confused about where he stands on the issue. He is against
the death penalty and supports information sessions like the one at First
Baptist Church Thursday, he said.
"I think it's extremely important," he said. "It mobilizes people. It
mobilizes young people and gets them involved and active in their
community. The issue is plain. It's racist and biased against poor
The Rev. James Brown, who is the pastor of First Baptist Church, on the
board of directors of People of Faith Against the Death Penalty and one of
the organizers of Thursday's event, said that informing the public is key.
"Tonight is to empower as well as inform the masses that they may speak to
those in elected positions and convey to them that they do not favor the
death penalty," Brown said.
(source: Jacksonville Daily News, March 30)
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