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One More Death 

Upcoming execution rallies moratorium supporters

Convicted murderer Robert Bacon is scheduled to be executed this Friday at Central Prison in Raleigh. Advocates of a death penalty moratorium say Bacon's case is one of the most glaring examples of all that's wrong with the capital punishment system. Bacon was convicted and sentenced to death in 1987 by an all-white jury for the stabbing death of Glennie Clark, the estranged husband of Bonnie Clark, with whom Bacon was having an affair. Both Glennie and Bonnie are white; Bacon is black.

The NC Supreme Court threw out the first death sentence and ordered a new sentencing hearing. Bacon was sentenced to death again by an all-white jury in 1991. Bonnie, who was a co-defendant in the case, was given a life sentence. Bacon was originally scheduled to be executed September 21, but Gov. Mike Easley postponed it until October 5 due to the upheaval caused by the September 11 terrorist attacks. Now, after more than 10 years on death row, it appears Bacon's time has run out.

Since Bacon's 1991 conviction, many people have come forward -- including key participants in the case -- to say that justice has not been served. The case has also garnered the involvement of a wide cross-section of Charlotte's religious, legal and human rights community, and even prompted Rep. Mel Watt to write a letter to Easley in support of Bacon's clemency petition. Collectively, these folks charge that Bacon's case demonstrates how the system is rife with inequities, and that racism and discrimination played a major part in the jury's decision.

Bacon was convicted and sentenced to death by two all-white juries in Oslow County in Jacksonville, NC, which is approximately 20 percent black.

In sworn testimony given in May, Pamela Bloom Smith, a juror in Bacon's re-sentencing case, said she doesn't feel Bacon was got a fair shake. She acknowledged that during deliberations, some jurors stated they felt it was wrong for Bacon to date a white woman, and that blacks are more likely to be involved in a crime, and that he deserved what he got.

Police investigator Dennis Dinota, who was involved in the Bacon case, gave sworn testimony in April that he felt co-defendant Bonnie Clark was more culpable in the murder, and believed that she dominated Bacon and manipulated him into the killing.

I believe Bonnie was the guiltier of the two, Dinota said in his statement. She was cold-blooded and she was the brains of the operation. I believe there should be a balance between the sentences when two people are involved. . .both should get a life sentence.

Federal Judge Robert B. King and State Supreme Court Justices Henry Frye and James Exum have noted in separate published opinions that Bacon's case was permeated by unfairness and inconsistent, inherently self-contradictory results.

We're screaming about this one, said Ted Frazer, a member of the Charlotte Coalition for a Moratorium Now. The injustices in this case just jump out at you; how much more obvious can it be?

For years, death penalty critics have been saying that the capital punishment system is flawed, and that factors like race and income often influence who is given the ultimate punishment.

In addition, new information has been released indicating that the race of a murder victim plays a big role. According to a study conducted at UNC-Chapel Hill, when a murder victim is white, the likelihood the perpetrator will receive a death sentence increases 3.5 times. The chances that a minority defendant who kills a white victim will receive the death penalty are more than double the chances that a white defendant will face execution. Moratorium supporters say the Bacon case practically personifies these findings.

Proponents of a moratorium have made some headway. The General Assembly recently passed two bills, one that banned the execution of the mentally retarded, and a second bill that gives prosecutors the authority to seek first degree murder convictions without seeking the death penalty. But with executions continuing and other proposals, such as the Racial Justice Act and the Moratorium bill, stalled in the House, folks like Frazer say there is still far to go.

You can't continue saying the system is not broken, says Frazer. Until we get to the point where our representatives feel they could lose their legislative position over this, we have to continue to raise hell. It's the only way we're going to create a change in the system.

On the same day Bacon is scheduled to be executed, People of Faith Against the Death Penalty (PFADP) will launch a 17-day speaking tour across North Carolina, called the North Carolina Journey of Hope. The journey will kick off with an October 5 concert at the Neighborhood Theatre featuring folk musicians like Charlie Kind and Karen Brandow. Volunteers around the state will organize more than 200 speaking events, which will feature murder victims' family members and others. The journey will end in Raleigh on October 18 to join the start of the 25th anniversary conference of the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty. If you would like to help with the expenses related to the speaking tour, or get any additional details, you may contact the PFADP at 919-933-7567 or www.pfadp.org.

Contact Sam Boykin at (704) 944-3623 or sam.boykin@cln.com.

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