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In case you missed it, North Carolina is about to release yet another person who spent two decades in state prison for crimes he did not commit — thus further highlighting the absurdity of the death penalty in the 21st Century. This is from a post on the N.C. Innocence Project blog:

On Monday, a Superior Court judge in North Carolina dismissed all charges and vacated the convictions of Michael Parker who was convicted of multiple sex crimes against his three children. Parker spent more than 20 years behind bars and is expected to be released from Craggy Correctional Center today.

In January 1994, Parker was convicted of eight counts of first-degree sex offense and four counts of taking indecent liberties with a minor. He was sentenced to eight consecutive terms of life imprisonment for the first-degree sex offenses and an additional 40 years on the indecent liberties convictions.

Asheville attorney Sean Devereux brought the case to the Duke Law School Wrongful Conviction Clinic in 2011, about a decade after he was approached by Parker. Devereux told the Citizen-Times that Parker was convicted during the satanic ritual abuse frenzy of the late 1980s and early 1990s. According to the Citizen-Times, Devereux said that not a single one of those satanic ritual sexual abuse accusations has proven to be true. He said that all of the defendants have seen their convictions overturned.

According to the judge’s ruling, advances in child medical examinations and forensic interviewing techniques warranted granting Parker’s petition for relief and that most of the evidence presented at trial was unreliable. The motion also listed ineffective assistance of trial counsel and recantation of one of the children’s testimony, among other vital factors to grant relief.

Devereux said that last year Parker was offered a deal to plead guilty, which would have vacated his convictions and allowed him to leave prison based on time served, but Parker refused to take the deal.

Click here to read more details on the Asheville Citizen-Times website.

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Death penalty(Cross-posted from the blog of the NC Coalition for Alternatives to the Death Penalty).

By Kristin Collins

Yesterday, a California court confirmed what we have known in North Carolina for years: The death penalty is so dysfunctional as to be not just unconstitutional, but futile.

The ruling said of a system in which inmates sit on death row for decades, and only a tiny percentage of those sentenced to death are ever executed:

“… for too long now, the promise has been an empty one … It has resulted in a system in which arbitrary factors, rather than legitimate ones like the nature of the crime or the date of the death sentence, determine whether an individual will actually be executed.”

Lest anyone offer the “simple” solution of executing people more quickly, let’s pause to remember the more than 140 innocent people who have been freed from death row. Seven of them were in North Carolina, and some spent more than a decade on death row before their innocence was recognized.

North Carolina’s system is no different from California’s. Since 1977, when the modern death penalty began, nearly 400 men and women have been sentenced to death, and only 43 have been executed. Read More

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Willie WombleHow many times is a North Carolinian previously convicted of murder going to have to be found to be innocent before it’s universally acknowledged that the death penalty is a hopeless relic of a bygone age?

Let’s hope today’s unanimous recommendation by the state Innocence Inquiry Commission that Willie Henderson Womble was wrongfully convicted 38 years ago for a murder in Granville County adds more fuel to the fire. The decision provides more powerful evidence that our justice system remains hugely flawed and that it is simply impossible to guarantee that our state does not commit the most heinous of all imaginable acts by a government — i.e. the execution of an innocent human being.

And while it’s obviously true that Mr. Womble did not receive the death penalty, it’s also clear that he has been forced to endure something just short of it with the loss of 38 years of freedom. Moreover, as Mr. Womble’s case also makes clear, there’s every reason to believe that numerous innocent humans have been executed in all of our names down though the decades.

The bottom line: Womble’s case once again highlights a deplorable reality that must be brought to an end and set right as soon as possible.

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ICYMI, the Sunday Wilmington Star News argues forcefully that a speedy resumption of executions in North Carolina (as is urged by their hometown Senator, Thom Goolsby) makes no sense at all.

“Polls show that most Americans still support selective use of the death penalty. To many, the “eye for an eye” approach is just punishment for those who commit murder and leave victims’ families to forever grieve. About 60 percent of respondents in an October Gallup poll said they support capital punishment, compared with 35 percent opposed. But that support was the lowest in 40 years. A poll of North Carolinians by the liberal, Raleigh-based Public Policy Polling found that 70 percent of residents oppose the death penalty if life without parole is an option.

Regardless of whether they support capital punishment in principle, many Americans have trouble accepting that the possible execution of an innocent person is a necessary by-product of the justice system.”

What the paper might have also noted is that since executions were halted almost eight years ago, North Carolina has seen a significant drop in its murder rate. So much for the tired old “deterrence” argument (as if the people troubled enough to commit murders rationally contemplate their potential punishments before acting).

You can read the entire editorial by clicking here.

 

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The Associated Press reported yesterday that there is more more evidence of discrimination against Latinos by the long-troubled Alamance County sheriff’s office:

“Two university professors hired by the U.S. Department of Justice to analyze traffic stops by the Alamance County Sheriff’s Office say statistical data conclusively shows deputies there are racially profiling Latino drivers….

John Lamberth, retired chair of the Department of Psychology at Temple University, concluded that Johnson’s deputies cited Latinos for violations at a rate more than six times higher than for whites. He said the statistical odds were far less than one in a million that such a sizable racial disparity could occur by chance.

‘The observed disparities in … traffic enforcement are larger than any I have previously observed at a law enforcement agency in the United States,’ wrote Lamberth, who has testified as an expert in numerous court cases.”

Let’s hope that a settlement can be reached in the case in the near future and that Alamance can start enforcing laws fairly like the vast majority of law enforcement agencies.

You can read the entire story by clicking here.