The Injustice of the “Racial Justice Act”

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Location of state of XY (see filename) in the ...

Location of state of XY (see filename) in the United States (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

On September 23, 1997, in broad daylight on Interstate 95 in North Carolina, two brothers, Kevin and Tilmon Golphin, murdered North Carolina Highway Patrolman Ed Lowry and Cumberland County Sheriff’s Deputy David Hathcock in cold blood. They then took off in their vehicle, and a civilian chased them as they fired on his car multiple times. Police tracked them down to Dunn, NC, where after a shootout with police, they were captured. They were sentenced to death, but Kevin Golphin, who was seventeen at the time of the murders, had his sentence commuted after the United States Supreme Court ruled that the death penalty could not be applied to those who committed crimes as minors. Now Tilmon’s death penalty is commuted.

In 1999, Christina “Queen” Walters was convicted and sentenced to death. She and her accomplices murdered two young women and shot another woman eight times, severely wounding her, as part of their initiation rite for a gang. Interviews with her in prison have shown her to be a self-centered psychopath without remorse who only cares about herself. Her death sentence is now commuted.

Quintel Augustine murdered Officer Roy Turner on November 29, 2001. He was sentenced to death. His death sentence is not commuted.

Senior Resident Superior Court Judge Greg Weeks is responsible for the commutations. He was following the “North Carolina Racial Justice Act,” barely passed by a (then) Democratic Party controlled legislature and signed by Governor Bev Perdue (who has consistently shown her disdain for the will of the people of North Carolina). The law puts the onus of proof on prosecutors in death penalty convictions to show they were not racially biased in striking black jurors.

Judge Weeks clearly had an agenda from the beginning when he took all three cases. I agree with Al Lowry, the brother of the murdered highway patrol officer, who yelled at the judge, “Judge, you had your mind made up the first day.” Judge Weeks was aware that both the prosecution and the defense have only a set number of strikes, and that both must accept a jury before it is seated. He was surely also aware that jurors in any case may be struck for any number of reasons unrelated to race. In death penalty cases, prosecutors want jurors who are not opposed in to the death penalty. To assume racial bias because more black potential jurors were excluded from a jury than white jurors is itself a sign of racial bias. Different reasons were cited by the prosecution for striking the black jurors from each of the juries–and white jurors were struck, too. The so-called “civil rights leadership” seems to have no problem with predominately black jurors convicting whites–neither do I–but their double standard is telling.

I believe that in cases of psychopaths are are clearly guilty, as the defendants were in these cases of brutal murder, the death penalty is justified. Appeals to the teachings of Jesus while ignoring Paul in Romans 13 artificially separate the teachings of Jesus from His apostles and are therefore theologically suspect. If a person has a conscience and is salvageable, then I am all for a life sentence, even in a brutal murder. However, defendants such as those in these cases who clearly have no conscience are beyond help, at least in this life. Study after study has shown that psychopaths remain psychopaths, and lack conscience, a fundamental trait of being a moral creature. Jurors saw this, and that is why these people were convicted. To imply that they were treated unjustly is an insult to the integrity of the prosecutors and an insult to the integrity of the jurors.

The “Racial Justice Act” should be repealed, although cowards in the NC State Legislature who are afraid to stand up to ideological thugs may keep this from happening. The law itself is unjust. Judge Weeks’s rulings were unjust. God bless the families of the victims of these brutal crimes who have been raked over the coals once more by an unfair criminal justice system.

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Thoughts on the Death Penalty

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Back in the 1970s, a father tortured his small daughter to death. He forced her to walk without stopping, denied her food, and when she asked for water, he gave her hot sauce. She died slowly, agonizingly. The father was given a prison sentence, and if I remember correctly, it wasn’t life in prison.

In a famous case in Indianapolis from the late 1960s, a teenaged girl was left with a neighbor while her parents were away. The neighbor tortured the girl to death, helped by her own children and by children from the neighborhood. This torture continued over a period of weeks until the girl died. The neighbor was given only a few years in prison, and died a natural death after her release.

Such heinous crimes are those in which I think the death penalty would be justified. Those who kill in this most gruesome way most often lack any conscience or even a concept of a conscience. Ted Bundy probably had a moral sense to some degree, for he would not kill any woman he could not dehumanize. But he deserved to die in Florida’s electric chair.

The only proper justification for capital punishment is the ancient notion of desert–not the “desert” a person eats after dinner, but “desert” in the sense of a person getting the justice he deserves. Although the death penalty deters the person executed, it does not tend to deter crime in any other way. When the British had over 200 capital crimes in the eighteenth century, including pickpocketing, crooks would pick the audience members’ pockets at a public hanging of a pickpocket. But an argument from desert is not concerned with utilitarian considerations. Someone who commits murder damages the very fabric of human society so much that such a person deserves to die.

The real problem with the death penalty, from my perspective, is practical–what if someone innocent is executed? That is why I believe that unless a case is as solid as the case against Bundy or the murderers in the two cases mentioned above, life in prison is the preferable option. In addition, since some murderers retain a moral sense and a conscience, it may be best to give those murderers life in prison in case they repent. Just because a person deserves to die does not imply that he must be put to death.  But in the case of sociopathic or psychopathic murderers, and in the case of murders that are particularly heinous (such as the two cases mentioned at the beginning of this post), these individuals should be executed. This argument assumes that the murderers have free will; a delusional paranoid schizophrenic who commits a brutal murder while delusional belongs in a mental hospital.

Many Christians oppose the death penalty even though Jesus told Pilate in the Gospel of John that Pilate had no authority unless God had given it. St. Paul, in Romans 13, states that the governmental authority “bears not the sword in vain,” a clear reference to deadly force. For those Christians who hate St. Paul, I would remind them that St. Paul is in the canon of Scripture–and they are not.

It is sad that the moral fabric of some human beings is so destroyed by their murderous choices that they deserve death. Christians should be, I think, more reluctant than many secular proponents of capital punishment to put it to use. But some people are “desperately wicked,” as my Greek teacher at David Lipscomb College, Dr. Harvey Floyd, used to say, and death is the only proper punishment for them when they commit atrocious murders. It seems to me that those who deny any need for capital punishment are blind to the extent of human evil and cruelty in a fallen world.