South Carolina

South Carolina

Bryan Stevenson Puts the Charleston Massacre and the Use of the Death Penalty in Historical Context

In an interview with The Marshall Project, Bryan Stevenson (pictured), director of the Equal Justice Initiative and author of Just Mercy, discussed the role the history of slavery, lynchings, and racial terrorism in the South played in the racially-motivated killings of nine black people in an historic black church in Charleston, South Carolina. In the interview, Stevenson described the historical use of the death penalty as a tool to reinforce a racially discriminatory social order. This, he says, is manifest in race-of-victim disparities in death penalty cases: "In Alabama, 65% of all murder victims are black, but 80% of all death sentences are imposed [when victims] are white. And that’s true throughout this country. We’ve used it particularly aggressively when minority defendants are accused of killing white people."  Occasionally, he says, states will seek the death penalty for a white man accused of a racially-motivated murder, masking the need for an open and honest discussion of this country's race problems. "You'll see lots of people talking enthusiastically about imposing the death penalty on this young man in South Carolina. But that’s a distraction from the larger issue, which is that we’ve used the death penalty to sustain racial hierarchy by making it primarily a tool to reinforce the victimization of white people." Given its historical legacy as tool of racial oppression, Stevenson urges the abolition of the death penalty, saying, "If I were the governor of South Carolina, I’d say: 'We’re going to abolish the death penalty, because we have a history of lynching and terror that has demonized and burdened people of color in this state since we’ve became a state.'...And I think every southern governor should do the same. That’s when you’d get the different conversations starting in this country. Then you might get some progress."

South Carolina Vacates the Conviction of 14-Year-Old Executed in 1944

On December 16, a South Carolina judge vacated the conviction of George Stinney, Jr., the youngest person executed in the U.S. in the last century. Judge Carmen Mullen wrote: “I can think of no greater injustice than the violation of one’s Constitutional rights which has been proven to me in this case.” Stinney, a black, 14-year-old boy, was convicted by an all-white jury of killing two young white girls. Police said Stinney confessed to the crime, but no confession was ever produced. His sister said in an affidavit in 2009 that she was with Stinney on the day of the murders and he could not have committed them, but she was not called to testify at his trial. The Stinney family was forced to leave town because of danger of violence. His trial lasted just 3 hours, and the jury deliberated for only ten minutes before finding him guilty. He was sentenced to die by electrocution. His attorneys did not file an appeal, and he was put to death less than three months after the offense.

Efforts Underway to Exonerate 14-Year-Old Executed in South Carolina in 1944

Attorneys representing the family of George Stinney, Jr., recently filed a request for a posthumous exoneration of Mr. Stinney, the youngest person executed in the U.S. in the 20th century. Stinney, an African-American 14-year-old, was executed in 1944 for the murder of two young white girls less than three months after a trial that was filled with errors. Although Clarendon County, South Carolina, where the trial took place, had a population that was 72% black, only whites served on Stinney's jury. Stinney's lawyer offered virtually no defense. His relatives, who could have offered an alibi, were not called to testify. Stinney allegedly made a confession, but the contents of his statement have never been revealed. His attorney did not file an appeal, so no court ever reviewed his trial. In a supportive brief in the effort to clear Stinney, the Civil Rights and Restorative Justice Project of Northeastern University School of Law stated, "The prosecution of George Stinney constituted a grave miscarriage of justice, causing great suffering for his family...Stinney’s shocking treatment was inconsistent with the most fundamental notions of due process, including but certainly not limited to the right to effective assistance of counsel."

ARBITRARINESS: South Carolina Frees Man Who Faced Execution

Joseph Ard, who spent 11 years on South Carolina's death row and a total of 19 years in confinement, was freed from prison on July 31. Ard was sentenced to death for the 1993 shooting of his pregnant girlfriend.  After his conviction, new lawyers unearthed evidence that corroborated Ard’s claim that the shooting was accidental, resulting from a struggle with his girlfriend over a gun.  Ard was granted a re-trial in 2007, and his lawyers presented scientific testimony that his girlfriend had gunshot residue on her hands, supporting Ard’s account of a struggle. The jury found Ard guilty of involuntary manslaughter, and the judge sentenced him to time served. Aimee Zmroczek, one of Ard’s lawyers, said, “The state Supreme Court once upheld his death sentence, so if that decision hadn’t been overturned, he might have been put to death by now.” Ard was the first person in South Carolina to be sentenced to death for murder involving an unborn child.  The prosecution did not seek the death penalty in the re-trial.


Read more here: http://www.thestate.com/2012/07/31/2376084/inmate-goes-from-death-row-to.html#.UBqhjchku_Z#storylink=cpy

NEW VOICES: South Carolina Officials Point to Costs and Uncertainty for Death Penalty's Decline

Use of the death penalty has decreased in South Carolina, and some state officials are pointing to the high costs and uncertainty of capital punishment as reasons for this decline. The state has had only one execution in the past three years, and the size of death row has declined almost 30% since 2005.  No one was sentenced to death in 2011.  Prosecutor David Pascoe initially planned to seek the death penalty for a mother who killed her two children, but later changed his mind, with cost being one factor:  "Once you file for the death penalty, the clock gets moving and the money, the taxpayers start paying for that trial," he said.  Representative Tommy Pope (pictured), a state legislator and former prosecutor who sought the death penalty for Susan Smith in a similar murder, now would tell victims' families to consider agreeing to a life-without-parole sentence instead of the death penalty.  Life without parole was adopted by the state in 1995.  It "allow[s] them a measure of closure that three retrials in a death penalty case never would," Pope said. 

South Carolina Inmate Released After Nearly 30 Years on Death Row

Edward Lee Elmore was released from prison in South Carolina on March 2 after agreeing to a plea arrangement in which he maintained his innocence but agreed the state could re-convict him of murder in a new trial.  He had been on death row for nearly 30 years after being convicted and sentenced to death in 1982 for the sexual assault and murder of an elderly woman in Greenwood, South Carolina. The state's case was based on evidence gathered from a questionable investigation and on testimony with glaring discrepancies. Elmore’s appellate lawyers discovered evidence pointing to Elmore's possible innocence that prosecutors had withheld. Originally, state officials repeatedly claimed the evidence had been lost. The evidence included a hair sample collected from the crime scene. After being tested for DNA, the evidence suggested an unknown Caucasian man may have been the killer.  In February 2010, Elmore was found to have intellectual disabilities and thus was ineligible for execution; he was taken off death row.  In November 2011, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit granted him a new trial because of the prosecutorial misconduct in handling the evidence. The court found there was  “persuasive evidence that the agents were outright dishonest,” and there was “further evidence of police ineptitude and deceit.”

BOOKS: "A Murder Case Gone Wrong"

Raymond Bonner's new book, Anatomy of Injustice: A Murder Case Gone Wrong, is about to be published and was noted earlier by DPIC.  An excerpt from the book appeared recently in The Atlantic.  Andrew Cohen, also writing in The Atlantic, called it "the book of the century about the death penalty." Cohen commented that “Bonner's book comes at a crucial time in the modern history of the death penalty. It comes at a time when views are slowly hardening against the current unreliable and expensive system. It comes at a time when several states are looking to eliminate their capital regimes. It comes at a time when even the conservative Supreme Court has sent a signal that capital cases must be handled better. It's a book that surely comes too late for some death row inmates but perhaps just in time for others.” In Anatomy for Injustice, Bonner recounts the case of Edward Lee Elmore, a man with intellectual disabilities, who has been tried, convicted and sentenced to death three times for a murder, and was recently granted a fourth trial when the reviewing court acknowledged “grave questions about whether it really was Elmore who murdered [the victim].”  Read the excerpt from Anatomy for Injustice.

DPIC RESOURCES: New State Pages Now Available

DPIC is pleased to announce the completion of our State Information Pages for all 50 states and the District of Columbia.  These state profiles provide historical and current information on the death penalty for each state, including famous cases, past legislative actions, and links to key organizations and state officials.  For frequently updated information, such as execution totals, the size of death row, or the number of exonerations, see our State-by-State Database.  Readers are encouraged to send additional information, pictures, and links to organizations in their state.  You can reach the State Information Pages through the "State by State" button at the top of every page on our website or under the "Resources" tab in our main menu.

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