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Racial Justice Act case could affect NC death row inmates

Credit: iStock

By Shanteya Hudson, March 8, 2024

A first-of-its-kind case in Johnston County could affect the futures of more than 100 people on death row in North Carolina. It’s the Racial Justice Act case of Hasson Bacote.

Gretchen Engel, executive director of the Center for Death Penalty Litigation, said that what sets this hearing apart is that it’s examining patterns and implications of racism in the death penalty for the entire state, rather than focusing solely on Bacote’s individual case.

“This is a case that will allow the court to consider an unprecedented amount of evidence related to the question of whether the death penalty is administered fairly in North Carolina, or whether race affects who sits on the juries,” she said.

Bacote was sentenced to death in 2007 for his role in a deadly robbery. Last week, Engel said, experts showed how racial disparities in jury selection disproportionately affect Black jurors across the state. This week, experts explored the history of the death penalty in North Carolina, and racism in Johnston County.

About 136 people are on death row in North Carolina; about 60% are people of color. According to the North Carolina Coalition of Alternatives to the Death Penalty, nearly half were sentenced by majority-white juries. By addressing the systemic issues that underpin capital punishment, Engel said, the evidence presented in this hearing could have far-reaching impacts.

“If the judge finds that there is discrimination across the state of North Carolina, not simply in Mr. Bacote’s case,” she said, “that could have implications for other people who are under sentence of death and residing on death row here in our state.”

After Bacote’s team presents its evidence, the state will present its case. North Carolina hasn’t executed anyone since 2006 because of legal issues surrounding lethal-injection drugs. The governor is unable to schedule executions because of ongoing litigation related to the Racial Justice Act.

This story is republished from NC Newsline under a Creative Commons license. Read the original story.