With executions long on hold here in North Carolina, it’s easy to forget that we still have a long way to go in joining the most of the rest of the civilized world in abandoning the death penalty. What’s more, as this recent post by Kristin Collins on the blog of the NC Coalition for Alternatives to the Death Penalty reminds us, men still reside on death row in our state who were sentenced under the most absurd and outrageous of circumstances. Here’s Collins:
“Almost a year ago, Kenneth Neal was quietly removed from death row after 19 years awaiting his execution.
According to the judge’s order entered that day in March 2015, Neal was resentenced to life in prison without parole because he is intellectually disabled. In the years since Neal’s 1996 conviction, the Supreme Court has ruled that it is unconstitutional to execute people with significant intellectual disabilities.
What went unmentioned is that Neal likely never would have been sentenced to death in the first place had he not been assigned a notorious convicted felon as a defense attorney.
On trial for his life, the courts assigned Neal an attorney who had, just a few years before when he was a district attorney, been caught up in a highly publicized child pornography sting. The attorney had been caught with sex tapes of children as young as 7 and 8, performing incestuous sex acts between siblings and parents — and the jury was well aware of the lawyer’s crimes. Read Neal’s full story here.”
Of course, such facts would have been unlikely to trouble the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, who infamously declared that the Constitution did not bar the execution of even an innocent person who had received a “fair” trial.
In the weeks and months to come, it’s clear that the vacancy on the U.S. Supreme Court created by Scalia’s passing will force the Court closer to the center of the American political debate than, perhaps, ever before. And whatever the outcome of that contest, it’s hard to imagine that the next Justice appointed will be as avid and enthusiastic of a death penalty defender as Scalia.
Let’s fervently hope that’s the case, anyway.