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LETTER: No evidence of discrimination in death penalty sentencing

Regarding the Racial Justice Act, Chris Fitzsimon claims that “no one seriously responded to the studies cited by RJA supporters that prove race plays a role in who is sentenced to death in North Carolina.” Actually I have responded to these claims for some 28 years, following the assertion that North Carolina murderers of blacks are less likely to get the death penalty than murderers of whites. I testified in the case of John Rook, a white man who raped and murdered a white woman. His attorneys unsuccessfully argued exactly this type of racial discrimination. This was long before the Racial Justice Act was passed.
In 2001 Fitzsimon issued a press release and held a news conference announcing a new study by UNC Political Scientist Issac Unah and UNC School of Law Dean Jack Boger, said to be “the most comprehensive race study to come out of the South in nearly two decades.” The News and Observer reported on April 19 that Chris Fitzsimon, the sponsor of the study, “twice invited critics of the study to examine the data,” but the authors said “they won’t release all their data until they’ve submitted a scholarly report of publication.” I have pointed out that their analyses were deeply flawed, and none of their three versions has been accepted for publication to this date. These versions contradicted one another; indeed, one version said “local prosecutors in the South who once made race-conscious decisions … now appear race-neutral.”
 I have repeatedly asked Unah and Boger for their data but have been refused. It was produced in court in Durham two years ago, but Unah succeeded in having it sealed by the court. The past year has seen references to a new study by Catherine Grosso that claims to produce similar results, but it has not been subjected to peer review and no report has been issued. Like Unah, Grosso is trying to have the data sealed by the court; what do they have to hide?
It is a fact that murders involving white victims tend to be more aggravated than murders involving black victims and more deserving of the death penalty. Unah›s data showed that 96 percent of the murderers of blacks are black themselves, so this supposed discrimination could be remedied by executing more black murderers. I doubt that this is what Fitzsimon has in mind.
I do not believe there is valid statistical evidence of racial discrimination in the death penalty. Death penalty opponents should focus their attention on other issues such as morality of the death penalty.

Elliot M. Cramer
Chapel Hill

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  1. Dick Adams

    Any informed person knows that discrimination is not the issue. The abolishment of the death penalty is the goal. Only a very small percentage of individuals have been engaged in this effort for many years. Most of which have never had a real job. Most are paid by the tax payers to advocate for those who choose not to obey the laws of God or man. The studies used to sell their opinions were conducted by individuals who think like they do. These studies are paid for by tax money. There are studies from the other point of view, but the readers do not hear or have them put before them. We could start by informing the citizens that the one hundred and fifty six death row inmates were responsible for the death of two hundred sixty five citizens of North Carolina. More people have been murdered in North Carolina in the last nine years than americans killed in the middle east war.