First Posted: 8/14/2010
A Surry County death-row inmate is claiming reverse discrimination under a new state law that a local attorney and N.C. General Assembly member believes is giving more weight to statistics than the facts surrounding a crime.
While racial bias in the justice system usually involves accusations of blacks being treated unfairly, Carl Stephen Moseley, 44, of Mount Airy, has taken the unusual step of charging that he was sentenced to die because he is white.
Moseley is one of nearly 150 inmates on death row in North Carolina who are seeking relief under the new Racial Justice Act, which was passed by the state General Assembly and later signed into law.
Under the law, if an inmate can prove race was a significant factor, in the seeking or imposition of capital punishment against them, they can have their death sentences transformed to life without parole instead.
This can be done through use of statistics and other evidence to attempt to show that a defendants race had a bearing on the sentencing.
Moseley, who is on death row at Central Prison in Raleigh, is a convicted double-murderer of two women who were found dead in 1991 after becoming involved with the Mount Airy man at a nightclub in Winston-Salem.
Dorothy Woods Johnson was killed in April 1991 after last being seen dancing with Moseley at the nightclub, with her body discovered in a field in Forsyth County.
Then in July of that year, the nude body of Deborah Jane Henley was found in a remote section of Stokes County after she accepted a ride from the club with the Mount Airy man.
Both women had been sexually assaulted, strangled, beaten and cut. Moseley was convicted of two counts of first-degree murder in the womens deaths along with rape and a first-degree sexual offense and sentenced to die for his crimes.
In seeking to have his death sentence reversed under the states Racial Justice Act, Moseley is claiming that the court system is biased against whites.
A motion filed by attorneys for the Mount Airy inmate states that the reverse bias he allegedly suffered was a result of efforts to eliminate discrimination against black defendants.
In attempting to prove that contention, Moseleys motion cites figures showing that prosecutors around the state sought the death penalty against a larger percentage of white defendants than those of other races during the decade of the 1990s.
The dozen people executed in North Carolina between 1984 and 1991 were all white, Moseleys motion further claims. And in another time frame during the 1990s, the numbers show that whites were much more likely to go to trial, face a death sentence and actually receive that penalty than non-whites.
Moseley also has encountered problems while incarcerated, including amassing six infractions from November 1992 to October 2008, according to state penal records. These have related to theft of property, illegal clothing, disobeying an order, fighting, using profane language and weapon possession.
Rep. Sarah Stevens of Mount Airy, who has been an attorney for 24 years and is completing her first term in the General Assembly, said Saturday that Moseleys reverse-discrimination claim has teeth.
Thats not what they expected to happen when they did this bill, Stevens, a Republican, said of the Racial Justice Acts backers in the Legislature.
Like other of the new laws critics, she views it as a back-door approach to curtail the use of capital punishment in North Carolina by showing that it is racially discriminatory against blacks.
However, Moseleys motion is a twist on that. He can use the exact-same statistics and hell use them from a different perspective, the local lawmaker and attorney said in discussing the law.
It seeks to do away with the death penalty.
The main problem Stevens sees with the Racial Justice Act is that it relies on statistics in arguing whether a death sentence was appropriate for a particular inmate rather than the facts surrounding the specific crime.
Its the wrong way to approach this, she said. It simply has to do with the trial of a capital case by statistics, and it doesnt go to the individual case which is supposed to be what our justice system is all about.
Stevens indicated that people can put spins on statistics in an effort to prove various things, but that they simply are being misused by inmates in a desperate attempt to avoid being put to death.
Along with establishing guilt of a defendant beyond a reasonable doubt during the trial phase, the courtroom is the place to argue the idea of whether capital punishment is appropriate for a certain crime, Stevens said.
This is determined after a detailed examination during the sentencing phase of a capital trial which establishes that an act was premeditated and especially heinous, among other findings.
There should be a better way to deal with it … than statistically, Stevens said of the process that determines if people should die for their crimes.
Based on her involvement in some murder cases in Surry County during her years as an attorney, Ive never seen racial prejudice used in our courts, Stevens said.
No matter what we do, she added, there are some people who are never going to change. Stevens pointed out that one death-row inmate seeking to have his death sentence thrown out under the new law was convicted of 13 rapes and nine murders.
She is concerned that the states justice system might be headed down the wrong path with the use of statistics to provide relief to those in various social classifications, including whites, on the basis of discrimination.
Is the next thing gender? Stevens asked. A white woman is the least likely to get the death penalty. People just cant believe a white woman is going to kill people.
Other Inmate Claims
In all, 148 death-row inmates in North Carolina are seeking relief under the new act, 53 of whom are white.
Of all 159 convicts on death row, 99 are non-white. The 87 black inmates included in that number make up more than half the states death-row population.
Supporters of the new law say this disparity shows that death sentences are disproportionately meted out to blacks, since they make up only about 22 percent of North Carolinas population, according to the most recent U.S. Census figures.
Contact Tom Joyce at [email protected] or at 719-1924.