Under the Dome

Perdue met with Charlotte officer's widow

Gov. Bev Perdue met this afternoon with Jennifer Shelton, widow of a slain Charlotte police officer and an advocate for overhauling the Racial Justice Act.

"She seemed to listen to everything I had to say and take it into account," Shelton said afterward, adding that Perdue "seemed a little surprised that (the law) has been delaying trials."

Shelton said she left with the impression that Perdue, a Democrat, wants to take a look at how the law is working.

Shelton spoke at a news conference last week organized by Republican lawmakers pushing for changes in the new law. They complained that the law, passed last year, is being used by accused killers, including white defendants, to delay their trials.

The event included Shelton's first public comments about the prosecution of the man accused of fatally shooting her husband, Charlotte-Mecklenburg police Officer Jeff Shelton, and his partner, Sean Clark, in 2007. That trial was delayed from July to October after the defendant, Demeatrius Montgomery, filed a motion under the Racial Justice Act.

"The governor clearly admired Jennifer’s strength, and expressed sincere sorrow at what she’s going through," said Chrissy Pearson, Perdue's communications director and the wife of a Cary police officer, who attended the meeting. Perdue "goes straight to the source about issues that are important to her, or concern her. In this case, Ms. Shelton wanted to share her personal story and the governor was more than happy to welcome her to the capitol."

The law, when it passed last year, was portrayed as a safeguard against the death penalty being disproportionately imposed against African-American defendants. Under the law, murder suspects may present evidence of racial bias, either at trial or after being sentenced to death.

Judges can consider statistical evidence that suggests race played a key factor in prosecutors' decision to seek, or a court's decision to impose, the death penalty on a disproportionate number of people from a racial group. A judge could prohibit prosecutors from seeking a death sentence or overturn a death sentence on appeal and impose life without parole.

Last week Shelton criticized the law as a tool to help criminals get away with their crimes.


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The facts about RJA


The RJA has not caused any delays:

• In the eight months prior to the RJA’s enactment on August 10, 2009, there were seven capital trials in North Carolina. In the nine months since the RJA was enacted, seven capital trials have occurred or are in progress. Therefore, trials have been ongoing at the same exact pace since the passage of the RJA.

• Moreover, so far this year there have been more capital trials (five) than there were this time last year prior to the RJA’s passage (three).

• Some have pointed to Demetrius Montgomery’s case in Charlotte as an instance in which the RJA has been used as a delay tactic. In that case, the judge has moved the capital trial from July 2010 to October 2010 to allow for consideration of RJA-related issues.

• Even if Mr. Montgomery’s trial does not begin until October, his case will have gone to trial as quickly as every other capital case in Charlotte in the past eight years. Since 2002, Charlotte capital cases that have gone to trial have taken on average 4 years and 4 months between the time of indictment and the time of trial. Mr. Montgomery’s offense was in March 2007. If he goes to trial in October, it will have only been 3 years and 7 months since his case began.

• It is extraordinarily premature to make any judgments about the effectiveness of the RJA at this point. There has not yet been one RJA hearing in the state. All defendants have done in their cases is ask the State to provide information.

Statistics are a reliable and essential means of proving racial disparities:

• If people facing the death penalty can show that there are racial disparities in the way our State decides who lives and who dies, and if the prosecution is unable to rebut that showing, then the death penalty cannot stand in those cases.

• It only makes sense that defendants are allowed to present statistics to make their case under RJA. For years, statistics have been relied on to prove claims of racial discrimination in employment and voting rights. There is no reason capital punishment should be any different.

• It is critical that defendants be able to use statistics to prove racial disparities. It is very rare that people involved in capital cases come out and directly admit racial motives. Without statistics, there would be no way to address the racial disparities in the death penalty, and that is unacceptable.

• Currently, a statistical study of North Carolina’s capital punishment system is underway. This study will be even-handed and comprehensive. It is being conducted by out-of-state law professors from Michigan State University. It is being funded by private sources. The study’s researchers have requested, and have been provided, information from North Carolina state agencies.

• If the study shows that the facts of the crime are more significant than the race of the defendant or the victim in predicting who is sentenced to death then the defendant will not be able to avoid the death penalty under the RJA.

• The RJA is not a quota system. All people facing the death penalty will be able to present evidence under the RJA. Judges will only set aside death sentences in those cases where the statistical evidence shows that race plays a role in who lives and who dies.

The RJA addresses unacceptable racial disparities:

• The RJA involves an issue of great public concern to our State and should be handled with care and deliberation. Since 2007, three North Carolina death row inmates have been exonerated of their crimes: Jonathan Hoffman, Glen Chapman, and Bo Jones. All three are black men accused of killing white victims.

• A Charlotte Observer investigation in 2000 found that those who killed whites in the Carolinas were more likely to wind up on death row than those who killed blacks. The investigation also found that blacks who killed whites were three times more likely to face execution as murder suspects generally.

• Another study conducted in 2001 by professors from UNC-Chapel Hill concluded that the odds of being sentenced to death increase by 3.5 times when the victim is white. This conclusion was reached even after a sophisticated statistical analysis considered the effects of non-racial factors that might influence whether a case results in death, such as the criminal record of the defendant or the heinousness of the crime.

• In 1987, the United States Supreme Court in McCleskey v. Kemp ruled that racial disparities were “an inevitable part of our criminal justice system” and refused to recognize the injustice that exists when statistics show that race affects how we as a society choose who lives and who dies.

• In McCleskey, the Supreme Court said that statistical evidence of racial disparities in the death penalty “are best presented to the legislative bodies,” which are able to evaluate this issue “in terms of their own local conditions.” In passing the RJA, the General Assembly responded to the Supreme Court’s invitation to create a state-specific tool for addressing racial injustice in our system of capital punishment.

• After retiring, the justice who wrote the majority opinion in McCleskey, Lewis Powell, said that he regretted his decision in that case.

Perdue goes 'straight to the source about important issues'

EXCEPT maybe a REAL NC JOBS plan that would further prohibit employers from hiring ANY ILLEGALs in NC...

How about saving the construction industry by REQUIRING all PERMITTED construction jobs in NC be CERTIFIED by permit holder as being completed with ZERO ILLEGAL LABOR? ... even democrackkks like this idea!


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