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More lousy national publicity for North Carolina today and its political leadership. The New York Times has joined the list of media outlets to report on the Governor’s failure to grant a pardon to two men (Henry McCollum and Leon Brown) who were wrongfully imprisoned for more than three decades for a crime they did not commit.

In case you’ve already forgotten, the men were released more than six months ago, but have failed to receive a pardon that would open the door to financial compensation for 31 years of their lives that were stolen. This is from the new Times article – “Pardons Elude North Carolina Men Exonerated After Decades in Prison”:

“Mr. McCollum, 50, was released from prison last September after DNA evidence showed that he did not rape and murder a young girl in 1983. But since then, he and his half brother, Leon Brown, who was also exonerated and freed from prison in the same case, have led anything but a glamorous post-prison life. Instead, because of legal decisions made to help accelerate their release, as well as Gov. Pat McCrory’s deliberate approach to granting what is known here as a pardon of innocence, both men have clung to a minimal existence, absent substantive remuneration, counseling or public aid in transitioning back to society….

Mr. McCollum and Mr. Brown each received $45 when they left prison and have lived on charity since. They resided for a time at a home here, where Mr. Brown slept on a couch in one room and Mr. McCollum’s mattress and box spring rested on the floor in another.

Without money for a car or any knowledge about how to drive one, the men walked to a grocery store to buy subsistence fare like canned potatoes and pork and beans. Mr. McCollum, who was a janitor while he was incarcerated, said he wanted to apply for a job, but he was reluctant until he had a pardon.”

Come on, Governor, do the right thing and help these men.

Commentary

McCollum BrownIf you’re like most people, you probably missed Governor McCrory’s announcement yesterday touting a new state plan to help a peanut operation create 78 jobs over three years in Chowan County. Though all well and good as far as these announcements go, what really stands out about this one was its inclusion of the Governor’s statement that he was especially happy to have pardoned one of the company’s leaders in 2013 for crimes he committed several decades ago.

To which all a caring and thinking person can say in response is: a) Bravo! Thousands of good North Carolinians undoubtedly deserve such second chances, and b) Speaking of which, Governor, what in the heck is going on with the pardon applications of Henry McCollum and Leon Brown?!

McCollum and Brown, you’ll recall, are the half brothers who were found innocent last year of crimes for which they were imprisoned more than 30 years. In other words, they didn’t commit a terrible crime and then later get their lives together; they were wrongfully and horrifically railroaded into prison and served decades for crimes they didn’t commit. McCollum was sentenced to death!

Meanwhile, tomorrow marks the six-month anniversary of the pardon requests the men submitted — a period during which the men have received no compensation for the terrible injustice inflicted upon them by the state of North Carolina. As Raleigh’s News & Observer reported last month:

“The men, who are half-brothers and who are intellectually disabled, were each given $45 in cash when they left prison in September – the sum total of help they have received from the state. They live in Fayetteville with their sister, who struggles to pay the rent and keep the light and water bills paid. They have depended on the kindness of supporters for all their money.

A Superior Court judge declared them innocent in September. North Carolina law authorizes payment of $50,000 a year, up to a maximum of $750,000, to incarcerated individuals later proven innocent. But the brothers first need to obtain a pardon of innocence from the governor.”

Earth to Governor McCrory: The time for action is long past due. Do the right thing and help these men and their families — now. And if you want to learn more about the subject, all you have to do is walk a couple blocks down the street from the mansion and attend a panel discussion that Campbell Law School will be holding Thursday evening. Here are the details: Read More

Commentary

DeanSmithI didn’t attend UNC and had only lived in North Carolina for a year when Coach Dean Smith won his final NCAA championship in 1993. I do have two daughters who are both Chapel Hill grads, but save for that and my admiration/appreciation for the school, any connections to Coach Smith that I have ever enjoyed have been, to say the least, extremely attenuated. Indeed, for my college basketball coaching hero — the late, great John Robert Wooden — Smith was an up and coming rival back in the day.

It is therefore, above all, a sense of gratitude that I feel today to the troubled, if unwitting, souls at the Pope-Civitas Institute for producing a list in recent weeks — the so-called “Map of the Left” — that would include us both. What a gift that they actually got the darned thing out before Coach Smith passed.

Indeed, the more I think about it, the more I am struck by what a great gift the Pope-Civitas people have given to the hundreds of caring and thinking folks who were named. From now on, all of us will always be able to proudly wear the badge of honor of having been associated with such a great man.

And as David Zirin of The Nation (among many others), explained this morning, there were loads of great reasons that Smith was included on the “map” — especially his passionate opposition to racism in all of its ugly manifestations (most notably the death penalty). Even if the silly Civitasers want to think of it as a “vast and shadowy network,” the so-called “map” is, for the most part, a list of people and organizations dedicated to truth, love, sunlight and modernity — i.e. the same things Smith fought for throughout his admirable life.

RIP Coach Smith. All members of the progressive cause in our state are honored to have had such a marvelous teammate.

Commentary

Death penaltyToday’s exoneration of Joseph Sledge after 36 years behind bars for a crime he did not commit gives rise to one overriding question today:

How many more men wrongfully convicted and imprisoned (or even sent to Death Row) is it going to take before the stubborn defenders of the death penalty in North Carolina finally admit that it is simply impossible to impose such a punishment in a fair and foolproof way?

Unless one simply goes along with the mind-boggling and terrifying position of Antonin Scalia that there is nothing wrong or unconstitutional  with executing a person “who had a full and fair trial but is later able to convince a court that he is ‘actually’ innocent,” any honest person must simply admit that the time has finally come to end the death penalty once and for all.

Commentary

It’s tragically absurd that people have been forced to resort to this, but the family, friends and advocates helping Texas death row inmate Scott Panetti have launched a petition drive to help promote his effort to gain clemency.

The following description of Mr. Panetti’s situation comes from the good folks at the Texas Defender Service:

Scott Panetti was honorably discharged from the Navy at the age of 18. Eighteen months later, he was diagnosed with “early schizophrenia.”

Scott Panetti has suffered from severe mental illness for over 30 years. It first manifested itself at least a decade Scott Panettibefore the crime for which he was convicted and sentenced to death in Texas. His severe mental illness has infected every stage of his capital case and although Mr. Panetti continues to be severely mentally ill, Texas now plans to execute Mr. Panetti on December 3, 2014.

This is the enduring image of Mr. Panetti’s case: a paranoid schizophrenic wearing a TV-Western cowboy costume; on trial for his life, insisting on defending himself without counsel; attempting to subpoena the Pope, John F. Kennedy, and Jesus Christ; and raising an insanity defense. Mr. Panetti’s pro se performance was an abomination and his trial was a mockery of the criminal justice system. Read More